San Francisco, CA to Arcata, CA in two days – Ultra-Ride Report: June 13-14, 2016
Distance: 352 miles
First off, I could not have done this so well without my sister, Lani. I would have had to buy a lot more stuff too. I would have had to buy my toothbrush when I got to the hotel that I would not have even know where to book it since my sister took care of the reservations. I would have had to bike in the same nasty clothes the next day (I hate doing that). I would have had to buy a new outfit for my journey back! I honestly don’t know what I would have done without my sister as support on this trip. So, my first thing to do is give her hell of a lot of credit for this feat of mine.
I’ve done something as crazy before if not more crazy. I’ve ridden from SF to SD in three days (avg 200 mi/day) straight. It was hard! I was doing more centuries back then. These days as you know, I’m more of a Ironman 70.3 triathlete. I knew I had the fitness to do something like this. It would just be long days in zone 1 and 2. However I didn’t expect some of the impact that this kind of riding would have on my arms and wrists! I’ll get more into that later. The week before, I did an 80 mile day with some big elevation gains and another long day in the saddle in some Bay Area heat. That was it though! I haven’t even ridden a century in probably two years. I prepared my nutrition based on my triathlon experience and my long rides of that week. I thought I would just need 3000 calories each day, so I purchased my favorite fuel: Huma chia gels, Probar energy bites and protein bars, and Clif Bar nut bars. I used Skratch Labs hydration mix for two of my three bottles. I figured I could stash most of the fuel in my sister’s car and re-up as necessary. It worked out more or less. But I ate a lot more junk—I mean comfort-food than I expected.
Now now, you’re probably thinking “duh you can’t just eat race fuel all day!” Well, think about the logistics of carrying “real” food on such a ride. Carrying less, like in a race, is best. I’m not out there to “enjoy the scenery.” To be honest, I’m not out there to “enjoy it,” as you may feel the term “enjoy,” implies. I worship California, it’s people and natural environments. However, I also worship endurance challenges. Feeling the pain is something I get a huge kick out of. Pushing through barriers when my mind and body is telling me to stop and just lay in a pile of soft leaves and eat big macs is something I live for. It is my adult way of playing! I think back to the days when I would just want to go skate. When I just wanted to go ride my bike up and down our long driveway over and over again. Forward motion is my natural way of playing. It may look strange to a future-anthropologist, but hey when have I ever based my decisions of what future-anthropologists or alien lifeforms doing research on the human race think about me?!
With a rear bottle cage mount on my Specialized Tarmac, my same old Armadillos from a year ago, my go pro mounted, and a few new front and rear lights, I was set. Oh but wait. Will it be cold? It’s summer right? Well I’ll just get arm warmers anyway. Thank Buddha, I did, because it turns out I would have 100 miles of head winds on the first day and a good 75 the next day with not much sun and lots of chilly coastal winds. It was straight up cold. I got a ton of free gear from one of my favorite pro triathletes, Max Fennel, at the Escape expo a week prior and I found an interesting item I never used before. It was a balaclava thing. It was epic! I needed that so badly and I didn’t even know before I went. It kept my head warm while also warming my ears and neck. I even used it to cover my mouth when some dust and truck exhaust were spewed towards me. I would have been so screwed without those two items.
My Garmin was of course key too. I needed to know where I was going and how hard I was pushing. I kept everything below zone three. There’s no way to do this in that zone or higher. Even high zone two was unsustainable. It was disheartening to see my speeds trickle down to avg by the end of those long two days. I couldn’t push it any further. It’s not easy to pace for something this long. Breaks were essential, but I had to be strict about them too. Quick 10-15 minute breaks add up and the long lunch breaks can be planned to be 1 hour, but then turn into 2.5-3 before you know it. It’s all about time-management strategy on these ultramarathon rides. I can only imagine the planning and strategies involved in the RAAM. Maybe I’ll do that someday.
I went pee only about six times each day. I was really surprised about this. I also used way less water than I planned. I think all of my training in Hawaii has allowed me to retain water much more. I have always been quite the camel, but I was surprised how I didn’t need that much water this whole trip. I needed protein and calories. I barely sweat with the cold temperatures and my full cover-up from head to hands. The weather was perfect though. I could not have asked for better temperatures and moderate sun exposure for a long ride like this.
I left Berkeley on the BART transit system at 4:20am and made it out of the Embarcadero BART station before 5am. I was on the Golden Gate Bridge with it’s lights still lit and the dark purple sky was hardly a sign of sunrise. The descent into the north Bay and the climbs in and out of that area were little teasers of what was to come in Humboldt. My helmet light was blaring and my blinkers were strobing. I definitely was excited with my new GoPro Hero Session to take videos and pictures. I’m no George Lucas, but I’ll be damned if I don’t win a few Oscars for some of my footage and videos. Also, Natty Geo is probably going to hit me up after they checkout my Instagram. No, just playing. But really though—you should check it out @wilddavidwild
The only real hill that day was leaving Fairfax and heading up and over Sam P Taylor park and into Olema only 50 miles into the ride. I hit the coast and it was nice and cool. OK I was actually freezing and this slowed me down I think. I cruised through the foggy Tomales Bay and wanted to eat some oysters but decided to decline their scrumptious offers. I took a strange side road into Valley Ford by taking a road called, “Middle Road.” I took a little break there after being yelled at by a driver to watch out (friendly) for the wide tractor that took up an entire two lane road. Middle Road was pretty dang quiet aside from that. Eerily quiet. I sat under a Eucalyptus grove and ate some snacks and rested my legs. That road was pretty crummy now that I think of it. There were lots of pot holes By the time I got to Jenner, I was definitely ready for some espresso and snacks. This was already 70 miles in and I was feeling fresh! The sun was just about to peek out and I was loving the quiche they had just made (just for me!?). Then this old dude comes out and tells me about the head wind. I was a little taken aback by his insistence that I would be “blasted, soon enough” as he put it. I said, “Well I’m fine now, so thanks.” He wasn’t exactly encouraging.
One hour later, sure enough, there was that head wind. Meaning at about mile 90, until mile 170 in Mendocino at the very end of the day, I had a ceaseless headwind. It was a mental challenge at most. I was able to deal with the fact that my average speed would decrease even with the steady heart rate and average power. That power also decreased to about 160 watts eventually which was kind of sad as I was only going on average in the end. I am actually appreciative of this headwind though. It makes the Queen Ka’ahumanu head winds seem not so bad. That is, six straight hours of head winds makes an hour or two of headwinds like it can be here in Hawai’i, somehow manageable.
It was crazy that there were no hills that were taller than 700 ft! The net elevation was 9500 so that means there were lots of rollers. And oh you bet there were rollers. Along the coast of California, the hills to the east are emptying out their condensation via a network of hundreds of streams and rivers. Each one of these creates a tiny valley in the coast line that is about sea level. So of course the road has to go down to near this level to be at a manageable height for the bridge construction from the early 20th century. This means the road dips down to the ocean and right back up to the level one was at only less than a mile before. Long story short–there were lots of these beautiful, sweeping ups and downs, but they were rollers indeed! It kept it interesting and yet every time I went down for a swoop, I was filled with a slight annoyance thinking about the shoulder less, head-wind climb I’d have to make.
I made it to Gualala and somehow me and my sister as we are wont to do–aligned our arrivals with a very sketchy vague plan to meet within only 5 minutes of each other at the Surf Market parking lot. I was grubbing on some chips sitting down when she walked back to the car. We got some hot food from the market and laughed about how much junk food I was about to intake. I had a soda, red bull and some donuts on top of the chicken and pasta. It was delicious. I was ready to go. And somehow it was already 2.5 hours later. Uh oh gotta go! Lani took off and I followed behind her.
The rest of that day to the town of Mendocino was difficult. MY pace slowed and the winds never ceased. We never did see the psychedelic houses of Sea Ranch. We’ll have to return sometime! So I rode on. I ate all my food and stopped for a drink at some point. It is a blur of grassy rollers with a cold headwind. My lights were back on as the sun started to set. It was nearly 8:00pm and I hadn’t reached Mendocino yet. I actually hit 170 miles and had to stop and consult the Google. I accidentally overshot it. Mendocino is a tiny town, OK!
Finally. Day 1 was over. I was thrilled and destroyed. I felt like I had got in a fight with a bus. And lost. But hey–no mechanical failures or flats! Wow! We got some delicious food and watched the Warriors begin their losing streak to lose the NBA Finals (it was a fluke) on the bar television at restaurant Flora. I mistakenly got one beer and instantly regretted the wave of exhaustion and dizziness caused by this beer. It took a while to organize my things and get cleaned up and eventually got to bed by 10:30pm. I had to wake up at 4:30 the next morning, so I was a little stressed closing my eyes. I definitely had a nightmare that I was in the middle of some tiny town in a strange hotel with a daunting task behind and ahead of me.
I ended up sleeping in! I didn’t care! The sun sets later the further north one gets! And we had decided to just stop in Arcata and not try to drive to Willow Creek to finish the last portion of the trip with a 30 mile ride to Orleans. That just wouldn’t happen! If so we would have gotten to Orleans at 11:00pm! So I slept in and got on my bike by 7:00am! Wow what a late start. I had only 150 miles that day, but still I should have left earlier. One can get a lot done between the hours of 5:00 and 7:00am. Whenever I do anything that early, I feel like I’m cheating the system because no one else is up. Talk about a head start that didn’t happen!
It was a slow start on Day 2. It took a while to find coffee and a little muffin. I stopped in Fort Bragg for a real little breakfast 15 miles into day 2. My watts dropped and I was still riding into slight headwinds. I had one actual mountain to climb, but it was only 3000 ft. From Rockport (just a dot on a map, no services) to Legget is about 12 miles of climbing. But before that, there are some climbs along the coast! Head winds and climbing aren’t the worst of it. There is a section about 5 miles south of Lockport that is just straight gravel. There is hardly any warning, so going south and downhill would be so dodgy. I don’t know how I would survive that since I tend to bomb all downhills. I was glad I was going up even though I had to unclip and walk up this gravel.
Along the climb up into the forest and away from the coast it’s really not bad. You get a little shade and coolness from the Redwoods and Douglas Firs that shoot up all of a sudden to let you know that the coastal time is over! I remember this being a challenging road, but then when I passed a fully-loaded touring bike, I realized how easy it is with no gear! I almost felt bad for the guy. Almost.
I zipped up to the top of this mountain and prepared for the descent. There is a half way flat spot that makes you think you’re done, but no no, just another 600 ft to climb. Then the descent begins and it is one of the best descents I’ve ever ridden. The best part of the riding is yet to come, but it must be earned. Going through what is now properly “NorCal” through redwood and douglas fir forests, it’s easy to turn into a tourist and want to stop at all of the log-cabin mini-marts and souvenir stands selling big redwood burl carvings or homemade cookies. I had to stop at one in Standish Hickey and got a great sandwich, Red Bull, cookie, and coffee. A kind pair of elderly white women asked me so gingerly how far I was riding. I told them my trip and they seemed to have known it was going to be a crazy answer. They nodded and one asked me, “With all due respect, what on earth would ever possess you to ride so far on your bicycle?” I smiled and had to think. It was a very great question, and I should have given them the link to this blog to give them some sort of explanation. To be honest, I do not know why I decided to ride this trip. That is the beauty of it all in my opinion.
I made it through the windy roads of the Highway 101 over bridges with very little shoulder often and charging up and down hills with log trucks by my side. All of the cycle-tourists I saw were still just riding south, like everyone already knew but me that the winds never run north. I carried on and watched my average speed and power slowly increase, but still only at about 14 mph and 150 w. Going into Benbow where the Reggae on the River festival starts was a good moment as I realized I was nearing the Avenue of the Giants. There were plenty of big hills to climb, but the end of the highway riding was near! I could smell the redwood needles. In not too long, the sign approached and I was making my exit onto highway 254 to the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt State Park.
I felt a wave of relief and peace. This is the why I realize now. This is the why I realized then. I wanted to be in touch with my roots. Cycling and redwoods are a big part of my upbringing in terms of what has always made me happy and what has always been involved in some of my greatest adventures. These trees, as my sister reminded me are “generations upon generations of Kings.” They towered above me and my heart rate raced. It was like falling in love all over again. It was like that feeling you may have felt when you were in middle school and found out that the girl or boy has a crush on you too. It was like the feeling of not knowing whether to laugh or cry. I just rode a little harder and smiled ear to ear. My morale was boosted to the fullest and I couldn’t hold the tears back. I felt a wave of the feeling of my own mortality and the humility of being just a mere human on this ancient spinning globe with natural beauty surrounding us. The shade was a relief and the lack of a head wind also eased my struggle. I had to stop to take a few photos. I had to hug a tree of which I could barely wrap my arms around 1/3 of its circumference. I had to stop and say a prayer to the trees thanking them for the life they have provided us and all other life forms around them. I had to apologize to them for what we people have done to them over the years. But they forgave me. Always forgiving, those redwoods. Endless giving, those trees…
But before I got too mopey and wax poetic, I had to ride on! My sis was waiting for me at Myers Flat at some coffee shop we had yet to find out was closed. We met up there anyway and got a sandwich, soda, chips, and whatever at the market. My sis brought me a much-appreciated Egg McMuffin from the Maccas (breakfast all day!? Finally!). I laid out and lifted my feet for recovery and probably stayed there for too long. Apparently I only had 50 or so miles until Arcata! It was already 3pm so I had to go. On our way out of the Avenue of the Giants we both passed each other a couple of times and had some good laughs and photos taken. It was really relieving to see my sister and to know that I had someone to rely upon if things got bad. Really it was just fun to hang out in such an interesting location and circumstance!
Getting through to Fortuna, Eureka and Arcata was a bit hellish to be honest. The weather was fine, but the headwinds returned with a vengeance. The highway was a real freeway now and the shoulder was littered with detritus you’re probably familiar with if you’ve ever spent some time on the side of a freeway. It’s crumby. But the sun setting and the cloud formations made me still love it all. Seeing the world go by while on a bicycle is a unique experience unlike any other mode of transportation. There is solitude and peace amongst the explosions taking place in every car next to me. I had flashbacks to my cross-country trip in November of 2010. I never got to write my whole story about that 28-day ultra-ultra tour, but it lives on within me everyday and on every ride. The peace that comes with pushing the pedals of the most efficient transportation machine humans have ever created is unlike any other meditation I know of. Seeing one’s own shadow grow and shrink on the landscape as the sun sets goldenly, brings me such happiness and satisfaction with the world. I took solace in all of this as I rode those last 50 miles through to Arcata.
The lights were on full blast and I watched the sun set late as I crossed over the Samoa bridge into the western entrance to the welcoming, nomad-friendly town of Arcata. My sister was waiting for me at the Hotel Arcata and it was a sight for sore eyes to see the building I would get to call home for a night with my sister cheering for me as I rolled up after 150 miles that day. It still took me over 10 and a half hours of riding to get there despite that shorter distance. I was fatigued. I was fit as heck, but still unprepared for such a long endurance journey. I suffered no injures or any mechanical failures. I had zero flats, and I had no close calls with any vehicles. I was beyond grateful to be alive and in one piece, happy in Arcata. The ride was done.
My sister and I celebrated with a beer and a burger at some place in downtown Arcata. One local girl came up to us and joyfully asked if I was someone famous. We had her take our picture and she let us know that she could help us out if we needed anything. I’m pretty sure that was code for something, but it was still great to talk to strangers who were welcoming and as excited about our arrival as we were. We went to a liquor store and got some protein drinks and then to a donut shop that is open 24 hours and 7 days a week! It is the most amazing donut shop I’ve ever seen. Go there, it’s called Don’s Donuts & Deli. I’m sure that a shop like that in Arcata gets business all the time from those hungry townspeople.
It was amazing to shower and sleep that night. I slept like a rock. As for my lack of injuries. Apparently I ended up pinching my left ulnar nerve. That’s the nerve that runs down the arm from the neck to the pinky through the elbow and what gets hit often that only the professionals in the medical community call the Funny Bone (that was a joke). In seriousness though, from the position of my brake hoods on my handlebars, and my seat angle, I believe with the consult of Jessica Greaux at Innersport Chiropractic, that my left hand was cocked too hard with my back humped up too much causing a severe stretch of the ulnar nerve causing damage with all of the impact of my body weight pressing onto my hands onto the handle bars for two 11-hour days in a row. The symptoms of this injury resulted in a numb and slightly useless left hand. I could not flick my fingers or snap for two weeks. I couldn’t grip things tightly for about three. When I swim, I still can feel a little limpness in my left pinky. With the Active Release Techniques (ART) and the fit-modifications provided by Jessica Greaux, I’ve relieved some of this pain and numbness. I need to get more ART and get a better bike fit still. It is a strange injury as it doesn’t really hurt, but really is just a bother. It’s really amazing that that was the only injury though when my longest ride before this was 80 miles the week before and before that I hadn’t ridden a century in over a year.
It was the bike trip I needed. It was the experience me and my sister needed as well in a way. We had a mission (make sure I survive) and had time to hang out and bond also. It was the best way to celebrate my investment in quality road bike and return to my roots as a cyclist (amongst many roots). The roads of California always deliver beauty and surprise. The drivers are good enough and for the most part I felt good vibes from the public even though I was there and gone in a blink of an eye to most of them. Like that trip may be for me as I look back on it and recall that tremendous effort it took to prepare for it and do it—just a blink of an eye. However, writing this out and trying to detail it to you, the reader, will help cement it somewhere in the record books of our minds for it to always exist and inspire us to dream big and do what we love. If you aren’t doing what you love right now, I urge you to be making plans for doing something that you love in the near future. This whole non-linear journey we call life, may just be a blink of an eye to the redwoods who live for hundreds of years, but not if you hug them on the way. They’ll remember that and forgive you.
Until next adventure..ride on!