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It was over 100 degrees when I left for Monterey on Friday afternoon, and I was relieved that we would be riding along the coast, where it would be cooler. The next morning, we weren't far down Highway 1 when the first patches of fog appeared. There are cyclists who prefer not to repeat a route, but I'm not one of those. How could anyone not appreciate the views along the coast? And the fog changes everything. Take a virtual tour with my photos, or use Google Earth to fly over the route.The Pacific Coast Highway snakes its way along the cliffs at the edge of the continent; at one point I found myself eye-level with a small flock of pelicans silhouetted against the fog. As I made my way slowly up a long hill, a turkey vulture glided a few feet overhead but ultimately opted to find a more manageable lunch. Our route passed through the Los Padres National Forest, where the sour smell of ash still hangs in the air from the fires that scorched the land earlier this summer. Here was the aftermath of the epic battle waged by the firefighters, with Highway 1 as the demarcation line: brown trees to the east, green trees to the west.
There were more riders tackling the century route this year. Paradoxically, there also seemed to be more traffic than last year (blue Sebring convertibles are particularly popular). At one point, a line of cars pulled far to the left to give us plenty of space. The Bone-headed Move of the Day Award goes to the motorcyclist who took advantage of this gap to pass a Lincoln Navigator on the right, splitting the lane between the SUV and me. Further down the road I passed an emergency crew tending to a downed motorcyclist. Same guy? We'll never know.
There are three long-ish hills on the route, and the last two materialize around mile 72. I passed a few people who were walking their bikes up the hill, dejectedly proclaiming that they had trained for this ride. Far below us, in the fog, sea lions were laughing. At the end of the day, I had climbed 6,345 feet over more than 96 miles, and my legs weren't complaining like they did last year.After enjoying my post-ride massage, I got cleaned up and headed for the barbecue at Piedras Blancos. Totally at random, I happened to sit next to one of the professional cyclists who rode the long route with us, Ryder Hesjedal from Team Garmin Chipotle. He was very gracious, and what a thrill to chat with him! The Black Eyed Peas treated us to a concert, and one of the Buddies - Brett Banford - stole the show when he joined the band on stage and danced. Check out Brett's performance on the show So You Think You Can Dance. This is why we ride!
When the concert ended, it was on to the next party for me. I owe a huge thanks to everyone who sponsored my ride this year, for my fund-raising success landed me an invitation to a special party on the grounds of Hearst Castle. For me, the highlight of this event was the rare privilege to swim in the Neptune Pool. I was determined to go the distance, propelled by my best imitation of a breast stroke. There are sound reasons why triathletes swim before they bike . . . but I managed to keep my head above water and safely cross the pool twice. I thought of William Randolph Hearst as I enjoyed my evening at his estate, and I imagined he would be pleased that we were there to enjoy his home as guests, not just as museum visitors.
Not your average day: rise at 5:00 a.m., bicycle almost 100 miles, swim a few laps in a spring-water pool adorned with antiquities, and party till midnight.
On Sunday morning, I returned to Hearst Castle as a tourist before boarding our bus back to Carmel Valley. 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. I am proud that, thanks to my family and friends and some generous corporate matching donations, I will have raised close to $7,000 for Best Buddies International this year!
Sign me up for 2009!