[DNF]leche Ride Report: Across the Santa Cruz Mountains

With what little energy we had remaining, we mounted our bikes with higher hopes. Our aspirations of finishing the fleche had waned but was not completely shut out. While our bikes were stacked outside In-n-Out, a group of teenagers mistakenly identified us as a fixed gear group. This boosted our morale quite a bit and with the sprinting strength of Garrett Chow, I even managed to take Castroville’s city limit sign. 

18 felt like 30

To everyone’s surprise, the wind had died down and there may have even been a slight tailwind. After the 5 hours of headwind hell, an actual pace of 18 miles per hour felt like we were zooming along at 30 miles per hour and casual conversation began to rejuvenate our morale. 

“Thank goodness we’re out of that god forsaken valley” 

“This has been the best and worst ride of my life”

“Do you think the other Flèche teams are as miserable as us?”

But it was too early to feel optimistic. We still had to get 40 miles to Corralitos and 35 miles and 1,700ft of climbing in the Santa Cruz Mountains before finishing with a 50 mile slog through the Peninsula. The ominous quote of “For the night is dark and full of terrors” reminded me that we had not made it through the night.

After a brief extra break at Safeway in Freedom (yes, that’s an actual city’s name), we started our climb over the Santa Cruz mountains. Although Indians Road was by far the best part of the ride, I was most surprised at how pleasant riding up Eureka Canyon Road was at night. The giant redwoods shut out any remaining bits of light now and the ambient babbling of the nearby creek was a welcome change from the howling wind of the Salinas Valley. The high that the group experienced post In-n-Out dinner had faded and I was left alone in my thoughts for the next two hours as I dropped back behind the pack. The road twisted and winded like a good mountain road should, but I was too drained of everything at this point to enjoy a classic road climb. Like making coffee in the morning, I mindlessly made the motions of biking. Pedal, pedal, pedal. I started to become delusional. I thought to myself: 

If I turned into a zombie, I could probably still ride a bike to catch humans. I would be fat zombie. Or, maybe I would be a very fit zombie.

I caught myself falling asleep on a short descent. So, I ate my remaining caffeinated shot blocks and continued on to find the rest of the team waiting up for me.

As I rejoined the group, Ian debriefed me on our status. “We have 60-70 more miles to go, with 5 hours left. We probably won’t make up too much time on the descent, so it’s likely we will have to DNF.”  After a little more discussion, we decided that we would spend some time in the Denny’s in San Jose to rest and officially DNF there. 

Of course, I wasn’t thrilled that we DNF’d but I felt relieved that there was no longer a pressure to hustle back to San Francisco. My body ached now and I was happy to allow more time at Denny’s for bacon, sausage and naps. 

The thrilling descent out of the Santa Cruz mountains expelled the sleepiness from my body. It twisted and turned in pure darkness. It was like the roller coaster, Space Mountain, but with larger consequences for not paying attention. Gabe led us through a shortcut that required us to do about a mile of single track around the reservoir. Even at 3am I was excited to get off the road and onto some dirt. It was hard see around the turns without a headlamp but in the end we all survived. 

The final descent down Los Gatos Creek Trail was 2 miles of dirt fire road that paralleled the river flowing from the dam. The trail was graded perfectly so that you can cruise at about 16-20 miles per hour without pedaling. It was at this moment while we were cruising on a dirt path at 3 in the morning that I remembered why I liked doing these torturous endurance rides. To me, randonneuring is the ultimate test of how much pain I can endure AND still enjoy riding a bike. My saddle pounded my ass with every bump in the trail, my hands blistered from gripping the hoods too tight, and my legs felt as if they were full of lead, and despite all of that, I was grinning from ear to ear.

Nap time

2 thoughts on “[DNF]leche Ride Report: Across the Santa Cruz Mountains

  1. When you stop in a place like Denny’s, do you bother to pack a lock, or do you just stack your bikes outside and keep an eye on them? The weight of a lock seems substantial, but maybe a cheap cable lock?

    • We usually ask the establishment if we can bring in our bikes and sometimes they allow us to (not much traffic at Denny’s at 4am) but this year we just left them outside, secured by the infalliable helmet lock method.

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