Where do I begin? I suppose I should start with the drive up to Calabasas, which took two and a half hours thanks to my decision to leave at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday. It was okay though, I got to make a few phone calls, talking to my friend James who committed to crewing Race Across America with us (sorry about the unemployment thing though!!!) and then to Phil who was about twenty minutes behind me dealing with the same horrible LA traffic that I was dealing with but sounding much less irritated about it than I did. I arrived, checked into the room and then went to the registration area to check in and get my number and route slip. I ran into some Bike Forums friends...Lee, Frank, Gary, Jim...then Phil arrived. We all talked for awhile and Phil and I eventually decided that we were hungry and that dinner was beginning to sound like a good plan. I was trying to wait for George to arrive before eating, but with no word from him my hunger won out and we headed out in search of food. We ran into Mike along the way and he joined us at the Italian restaurant across the street. George eventually joined us, starving and a bit wacky from the long drive. ;) We enjoyed our dinner, then made our way back to our rooms to prep for the early morning start.
The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Ten more minutes? Please????? No? Damn. I guess I should get up and start getting ready. In contrast to the wonderful pre-ride breakfast that I was spoiled with at the Solvang Double, our breakfast this time was Bonk Breaker energy bars. It was quick, easy and required nothing more than opening the package, so I was happy with that. We filled our bottles with Sustained Energy and set out for the start. George was starting at 6:15 a.m., as he was doing the double century, and I was taking the 6:30 a.m. start, which was the earliest start for the century riders. I ran into more Bike Forums members at the start line...caligurl, sirlance, Tony, Karen, Lee. I ended up rolling with Karen, Tony and Lee, but took off, trying to gain some time in the beginning of the course. I went into this ride with the expectation of riding by myself all day. I've found that I climb better if I'm alone and can ride at my pace, ensuring that I'm not blowing myself up trying to keep up with others.
So the morning air was cold...okay...I'll take that back. The morning air was FREEZING! I immediately regretted my decision to leave my full fingered wool gloves in my suitcase and though I recall starting the ride with fingers, by the time I reached Pacific Coast Highway, I was beginning to wonder if they were still with me since I couldn't feel them. At all. Oh well, minor details, who needs fingers anyway? Once on the coast, I joined up with a group that formed a paceline to make our way south to Topanga. We weren't moving as quickly as I would have thought we would, but when I considered that I'd be putting out more effort on my own, I decided to stay put and conserve my energy for the climbing that was yet to come. The next turn on the route sheet took us onto Topanga Canyon, where the climbing would begin and the group would break up. I was alternately passing and being passed by people on the climb and jumped on with a couple of guys as they were passing people. I kept pace with them for a bit, but as they gained speed I decided to let them go and do my own thing. Not paying attention to the route slip, I thought that the first stop was a full rest stop, so I was making an effort to finish both of my bottles of SE before I arrived at the 27 mile point. Of course, I roll in and it's just a sticker stop! I filled up with water, got my sticker and took off for the real rest stop, which was 12 miles away.
On the way to the rest stop at Peter Strauss Ranch, I realized that the velcro on my saddle bag was rubbing on my new shorts, so I knew that would be something I would have to take care of when I rolled in. When I got to there I saw Bill from Bike Forums volunteering and I asked him for tape, a band aid...anything to cover that exposed velcro. He tightened my bag as much as he could and told me that the ladies out front had the tape. After filling my bottles with SE, loading up on Endurolytes and Advil, I went in search of the ladies with the tape. They kindly fixed me up, so that I wouldn't have to worry about it for the rest of the day, and let me know that the next sticker stop would be at the bottom of Deer Creek. I might have whimpered a little bit at that point, the memory of descending that road the weekend before, still fresh in my mind. They told me that it would be fine, and off I rolled. I still had quite a bit of climbing to do, so I tried to concentrate on that instead of the Deer Creek descent that I was going to have to deal with. I was in and out of the next rest stop quickly, just long enough to fill my bottles with more SE and be on my way. I had done this portion of the course before, and it was helpful to know what was coming next. After a steep climb on Cotharin I was approaching Deer Creek. I knew that I had to descend this section in the drops, trying to do it on the hoods last week was unsuccessful and resulted in me having to stop at least five times on the way down. Taking a deep breath, I was off. My speeds were higher and I felt more confident descending this time, but I still had to stop once to shake my arms out...it's better than five though! I couldn't believe how many people were flying down this descent...I'm not sure that I'll ever have that level of confidence. I made it to the sticker stop at the bottom, declared "THAT SUCKED!!!" as one of the volunteers kindly topped off my bottles, and I was off, turning south on PCH and heading toward Decker.
I was behind a group approaching the turn onto PCH, but I had to stop to wait for some cars to go by before I could make the turn safely. This was one of the only "flat" sections of the ride, so I was trying to catch up to their little paceline, but was having a hard time. At that point another paceline rolls by me and one of the guys created a gap and told me to jump in, but I had just been on the verge of blowing up trying to catch the other guys, so I opted to latch onto the back so I could drop off easily if I needed to. I was with them for a short while before deciding to let them go so I could take it easy and conserve for Decker. Ahhh Decker...the climb about which I declared "it's not that bad" after our little preview ride last week was kicking my ass. Of course, I made that declaration having taken it on 26 miles into the ride and here I was, facing it at mile 68 and eating my words. I saw a guy get off and start walking his bike and decided that I would take a minute to recover before I kept going, and pulled off to the side of the road to rest. Surprisingly I didn't feel discouraged by the need to do this. I had really been on top of not wasting anytime at the rest stops, felt that I was riding smart thus far and that I should take the rest when I really needed it. Getting clipped back in and going again was a challenge, but I resumed my climb feeling better from the small amount of rest I had just taken. I made it to the sticker stop located a few miles up the climb where I talked to one of the volunteers about how Decker was hurting a lot more today than it did last weekend and he said "you weigh nothing, you should be flying up these hills"...ummm...thanks, but it's far from the truth and I told him that maybe if I dropped ten pounds, that might be true, but at this point I wasn't flying...I was eeking my way up! Back to climbing Decker again, I was off...the last part isn't as steep as the first section, but the climbing was starting to add up and my legs were beginning to feel it.
The Decker climb out of the way, there were some rollers before the descent down Mulholland. Thanks to some coaching from George, I've abandoned my death grip on the brakes style of descending and have learned to enjoy this part of riding. I'm still more cautious than some, but have come a long way from where I was at a few months ago. The descent down Mulholland was great, and well deserved after all of the climbing we had done up to this point. I made my way to the sticker stop at Peter Strauss, asked Bill to "sticker me" before I filled my bottles up with SE one last time and ran to the bathroom so I could roll out quickly. Before I left Bill told me that I only had 30 more miles...some rollers and then two more good climbs before the finish. I love when people tell me what to expect. Yes, I could look at my route sheet, but I wouldn't have known to expect the rollers on the way to the Stunt Road climb, so it was easier to pace myself with that knowledge. Thank you Bill!! The ladies at the front cheered me on as I left, which always feels good. The volunteers at these events really make the experience great and Planet Ultra seems to attract the best ones, everyone was great!
The next ten miles seemed to drag on forever, but along the way a group of guys passed me and told me that I was doing great, and that made me feel so much better. It's the little things that keep me going on these rides. Usually I have George there motivating me, but this ride was different because I was riding alone. It seemed though, that every time I needed that extra little bit of motivation, either a volunteer or a rider would say something encouraging...their timing was impeccable. :) I turned on to Stunt Road and began what would be one of the harder climbs of the day. Four miles long, it was not nearly as steep as Decker, but at mile 90, it felt like it dragged on forever. Shortly after the climb began, another rider began riding alongside me silently. We seemed to be pacing each other up the climb, but the funny thing was that we probably rode side by side for over a mile before we finally looked at one another. It was when another rider passed us and shouted out "we're almost to the top...only 1.5 miles and another 500 feet of climbing" that we both went "HUH????" He said "I don't know about you but..." and I replied "yeah, my idea of almost to the top is half a mile...tops!!" and we had a good laugh about perception. As I continued to climb, wondering if I would ever reach the summit, a car drove by and one of the Bike Forums members yelled "go Brandy!!" <~~~See...more motivation just when I needed it!!!
As I approached the final sticker stop at the top of Stunt Road, I noticed that Bobbi Fisher was working the stop. I yelled "STICKER ME BOBBI" and she told me that I was doing great, that there was just one more good climb, then a short but steep climb on Cold Canyon. It was so nice to see her smiling face there, but I didn't stay long, probably under a minute because I knew that I could recover on the descent down Schueren before I would have the last significant climb of the day which was Piuma. Feeling good, I climbed Piuma and got a little shout out from the ladies who had been working the Peter Strauss stop, and enjoyed a wonderful descent. I was about to take a corner and a guy behind me says "I'm behind you" I thanked him for the heads up and he says "the only time I can pass you is on the descents, you drop me on the climbs!" and I realized that he had in fact been passing me on descents since at least Little Sycamore earlier that morning. I caught up to him again on the Cold Canyon climb and after the little ego boost he gave me, I had to step it up and get that last climb done! From the turn onto Mulholland, I felt amazing! Nothing like knowing that you're a short six miles from the finish. I hammered the whole way back and rolled in at 9 hours and 4 minutes according to my Garmin. Of course, dismounting, parking the bike and making my way to the timekeeper, they recorded me at 9 hours and 7 minutes.
Overall, it was an amazing day on the bike. I accomplished my goal of taking only short, but necessary stops and ended up with only 31 minutes of off the bike time for the whole day. I didn't have a time goal in mind, as I've never done a course like this before, but I have to say that I am very happy with my effort!