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The Best Buddies Challenge ride was my third (and last) century for the year. And what a spectacular ride it was! Check out my photo album, or use Google Earth to fly over the route.
I have to admit, when I previewed the route on a map last week, it finally registered with me that 100 miles is a long distance. (Duh.) On the other centuries I've ridden, the route loops and twists around, ending where we started; you just don't get the full sense of how far you've traveled.
The day dawned clear and cool, and I soon found myself doing something I adamantly avoid - pedaling my bicycle on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1). And not just for a couple of miles - for close to 95 miles. About 300 riders tackled the century route, forming a somewhat disorganized peloton led out of Carmel Valley to the coast by the California Highway Patrol. We were privileged to have several pro cyclists on the ride - notably, Dave Zabriskie and Axel Merckx, world-renowned racers who competed in this year's Tour de France (and many other races). Wisely, they rode at the front, staying clear of all the amateurs. The word "exhilaration" comes to mind - a mixture of thrill and terror, as the pace would slow abruptly and then pick up again. The peloton moves as one organism; somehow, we came through unscathed, no crashes!
Once we reached the highway and could travel at top speed, for a few miles we got a taste of what it must be like for the riders of the Pro Tour bike races: CHP buzzing along beside us on motorcycles, lights flashing; T-Mobile and Jelly Belly team cars zooming past; photographers hanging out of their cars, sitting through the open windows. What a trip! The hills start rolling, and the pack breaks up. Other riders were always in sight; many passed me, but I passed plenty, too.
The road was not closed, but tourist season is behind us and traffic was light. The scariest moments were the two or three times that a north-bound driver pulled out to pass another car, thus hurtling toward me at high speed in the south-bound lane.
Perched on the seat of my bicycle, I gazed down the cliffs at countless little coves along the way, hidden to the auto-bound. Sparkling water in all shades of blue, huge undulating beds of kelp, and the distant sound of crashing waves.
For me, the thing that's hard about a long ride is gauging how hard to push myself. Too hard at the start, and I might not be able to drag myself through the final miles. Too slow, and I risk crossing the finish line unceremoniously in a car, when they close the course. The fastest riders completed the route in just under five hours (non-stop); I spent just under seven hours on the bike - a little more than eight hours overall (with stops). In all, I climbed close to 6400 feet and burned about 3,000 calories.
There were no steep hills, but a few sustained climbs. Two of those challenge the legs late in the ride, after mile 72. But the most puzzling stretch was a "false flat" - it just didn't look like a hill, but I was crawling. I even got off the bike to check my equipment, convinced that I was fighting a brake pad dragging against a wheel!
At the finish in San Simeon, each rider was announced and cheered. Inside the barn, live coverage of the finish line was projected on a large flat panel screen and our tired muscles were soothed with professional massages. Later, as guests of the Hearst family, we feasted at a barbecue on their ranch - on beef that may have grazed on the same hillside. We were entertained by the band Cheap Trick, after speeches by various notables - from some intellectually disabled folk who benefit from Best Buddies, to Maria Shriver and her husband, our Governor. For the first time this year, Arnold joined Maria on the short course (15 miles).
On Sunday morning, we were treated to a tour of Hearst Castle before being whisked back to Carmel on buses. All of the funds we raised go directly to benefit Best Buddies; the event and our perks were underwritten by a long list of sponsors. With the help of my family and friends, and some generous corporate matching contributions, I raised more than $5,000 for Best Buddies International.
I can't wait to do this ride again, next year!