- 432 miles completed
- 25,100 feet of climbing
Day 4, the queen stage. This is the term that denotes the hardest stage of a race - and it was supposed to be today's. However, Mother Nature had something all together different to say - but more about that in a bit.
Today's route took us from our hotel in Grass Valley, out into the hills, eventually bringing us back to town and a well-deserved feast with Andy De Meyer's family. A table full of grilled meats, homemade beans, salads, cookies, fruit and more than enough beer and wine to keep everyone fat, dumb and happy. Added to that was true hospitality and Great Pyrenees dogs – two of them, and they weighed more than most of the riders.
As it turned out, Andy's family lives right along the course, just 4 miles from the hotel. They pulled out all the stops and opened up their home to 34 starving men – all I can really say is what the heck were they thinking!!!!!!!
As to the ride, while the weather did not cooperate, the course was spectacular. Saw tooth terrain, tall trees, rivers, covered bridges, and absolutely beautiful country. Of course, there was also the rain - the cold, wet, really cold rain. This is the kind of rain the soaks straight through. It dribbles down your neck, it stings your eyes, it soaks your feet and turns your hands to clumps. But all that pales when compared to the pad in your bike shorts. The pad that was so carefully prepared with chamois cream before the start of the ride; the pad that soaks up the rain, mixes with the cream and seems to stick and slosh with every pedal stroke. Ah, the pad!
That evil rain held off for the hour anda half, but then came on with a gusto - dry, than downpour, with almost nothing in between. To add insult to injury, Carter had designed today's route so that it passed directly in front of the hotel at the 70-mile point, 24 miles of hills and that cold, wet rain to go.
Now folks, I think of myself as a hard man, a guy that embraces the suffering of both work and sport. An individual that can put up with almost any discomfort. In fact, this is how I think of all the riders on the ToP; remember, this is the Train of Pain after all. So knowing this of myself, you can imagine how I must have felt when I got to the hotel, still with miles to go, and instead road straight into the lobby, set my bike aside for Matty-Matt to deal with, and staggered up to my room and strait into my shower.
Well, you'd be wrong, because I didn't feel the least bit of guilt – in fact, almost everyone else was making the same decision. Remember, I said almost - yesterday's black jersey winner, Jerry Cook, was our lone, stalwart hero; the only one to continue on. He reached the hotel, changed into dry clothes (again, the soaked chamois picture); once dry and relatively warm, he jumped back on his bike and finished off the loop. An hour or so before this monumental decision, as he and I were still finishing off the first loop, he said, "this is the best vacation, all I have to do is ride my bike", apparently he wanted to get his miles worth. Rumor hasit that his gloves iced up as he crossed the 4000-foot elevation - sure, he's hard, but the way I see it, that shower sure felt nice.
As has been the case each day, there were the occasional missed turns – those moments of inattentiveness that result in extra miles, climbs, and curses. Today was no exception, the big difference is that it involved the route planner, Carter, our map savant, who was among a large group made up of Tyler Borgwordt, Dave Crowe, Mike Armbruster, and Scott Duncun. It seems that Carter had made a mistake on the route card – listed a left turn when we needed to go right. An innocent mistake that is completely understandable when you stop to consider that he has listed hundreds of turns over the course of the trip. And while by and large, everyone was able to figure out where to correct, it was Carter, of all people that led his group astray. This little snafu added miles to their trek - again, miles in that rain.
Eventually, the group fell apart, mutiny ensued and they went their separate ways. This left Tyler and Dave to find their own way. As they rode, the temperature continued to drop, the rain to fall, and the joy of the open road to disappear all together. Spying an awning in the distance, they saw their temporary salvation, Any Port in the Storm as they say.
While huddling together, a few moments of respite, the owner of the shop they had chose as their salvation opened the door a few inches; handing Tyler a large cup of hot water, and with the sweetest of grandmotherly voices said, “This is to warm up your hands young man.” This pretty much sums up our experience in Grass Valley.
So, what of this morning’s Black Jersey presentations? Today we had two winners; as you might recall from last nights write-up, the NorCal express took off at mile one, ripping the legs off the rest of the group. This plan was hatched the night before in a closed-door meeting – a meeting called by the team leader, Tom “Dr. Evil” Armbruster. For hatching such a devious, and painful plan, he truly personified the spirit of ToP.
Our second winner, Paul “the Tard” Gruebel was a rider who is back after a couple years away – years that included a significant increase in waistline and only slightly less of a loss of power on the bike. His last ToP was the infamous Portland trip, a trip that included 4 of 5 days in the pouring rain (maybe this weather has something to do with him, but I digress). That Portland edition, he was continually in the mix for the yellow Jersey, battling day in and day out – a never say die approach.
Now back on the ride, his weight once again where it belongs, he began the week with dreams of yellow. As the NorCal train left the station, he sat up, smiled, and threw in the towel. Deciding instead to pull the main group for the majority of the route, content that there was nothing more to prove. He left here an angry rider, arrogant and proud. He returned the rider of the people – we’ll call it Tard 2.0.
Our Jersey hunt continues, with the Yellow and Red mostly decided; the Green is the hot competition for tomorrow, with several opportunities to capture some much needed points.
Grass Valley to Grass Valley
Today’s route took us from Jackson to Grass Valley, covering some of the most picturesque and challenging roads yet. The ride rolled out the first 5-miles of Day-2 before heading Northwest towards the high foothills. Along the way we were treated to a crossing of the Foresthill Bridge, which spans the North fork of the American River. This the highest bridge in California, third highest in the country and the seventh in the world. At 730 feet, this thing is TALL!
When we first looked at the route map, it seemed that the bridge was built to avoid the descent and climb out of the gorge. After yesterday, everyone was glad for that. Of course this was not going to be the case; while it does span a large section of the gorge, it still required a screaming descent of 1300 feet, followed immediately by a long slog up the other side – then we got to cross the bridge. This was obviously some engineer’s idea of a great joke, let’s send the poor sods into the Pit of Despair and see how they do!
As always, the day began with the Black Jersey presentation – this was a tough one – throughout the group, everyone had an epic day, everyone rode at his limit, but not everyone could get the jersey. So we had to look for something special, and in this we found Jerry Cook. Jerry had a less than desirable first two days of his maiden ToP: on Day-1 he broke his rear wheel – now this happens, after all, it’s a machine, and machines break. No problem, he was able to borrow a spare wheel.
Off he went on the monster Day-2 ride. Six times, he made wrong turns, sending him over hill and dale; six times he added miles and elevation gain; six times he could have thrown in the towel. To add insult to injury, at some point he managed to break the borrowed wheel as well. Finally making it back to the hotel, he got a third wheel from Matty-Matt and set back out on the route to do the final lap – alone, in the wind, and with no support vehicle. So for his never-say-die ride, Jerry is our Day-2 winner.
Today marked the middle stage of the ride; with only two more days to go, the boys from NorCal/Pacific Northwest, Nate; the brother’s Armbruster, Mike and Tom; and the ever-young Scott Duncan hatched a plan. Only a mile into the day, they leaped off the back of the group and made a dash for freedom.
It was like a freight train heading up the side of the group and off the front. Zach, who has been edging closer to the coveted Yellow Jersey hesitated thinking they were just messing around, after all, there were still 88 miles and thousand’s of feet of climbing to go. But after the fifth or sixth shout to him to chase, he finally headed out. Young and strong, as fast as the NorCal guys were going they weren’t going as fast as he was. Within what seemed like a blink he had closed the considerable gap and joined the breakaway. For the rest of the riders, it was sweet scene to see the small group rocket away – now they could sit back and enjoy the day.
Five to Six hours after setting out from Jackson, we arrived in Grass Valley – WHAT A COOL TOWN! The town is filled with extremely nice people; some fantastic restaurants; and nice historic downtown to wander through. Of course, no one seemed to have much gumption for sightseeing. So instead it was check-in and stagger off to rooms for much-deserved showers.
One of the great treats of the ToP is that we get to eat as much as we can consume. A day like today will burn 6,000 to 8,000 calories, which is nearly impossible to get back down. This means that as soon as we reach the hotel, get a little cleaned up, it’s off for the first seating. Three or four hours later, it’s off on the hunt again. Tonight, that included a stop to see Bob and his awesome crew of Alex and Vickie, of Gold Rush - Burgers, BBQ and Ice Cream Parlor, who opened up after hours for a large group of us on the search for milkshakes and Hobbit Dinner. Smoked burgers, never had them before, and BOY have I been missing out.
Finally, I need to call out another birthday, Jeff Theders. With the pace and pain of this year’s trip, there were no gifts for Jeff this year – but wish him happy one all the same.
Jackson to Grass Valley