Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DAY 3: Big Sur to San Luis Obispo

“There is a Horse Eating Somebody’s Helmet”

Well, the easy days are officially behind us – today we crested the 100 mile distance, and won’t let up until we reach San Diego on Friday.

That said, it was an amazing day on the bikes with a couple huge climbs (after I swore it was a pretty flat course), views of the NorCal ocean, the elephant seals, the livestock grazing at Hearst Castle, and some great battles on the road by the front of the group – and grazing on some delicious grub by the back.

Along the way, that same grazing by riders found a group of four at a San Simeon
at one of those little roadside inns filled with burgers, fish and chips, and all the kind of food you get to eat as much as you like when you’re burning 800 calories an hour.

As they were grubbing on burgers and fries, resting some tired legs about 70 miles into the ride, when a customer walked through the door.

“There is a Horse Eating Somebody’s Helmet!” he announced.

Scotty P jumped up, dashing out the door, afraid it was his helmet (and dreading the phone call when he would have to tell his wife that this was an act of nature like you wouldn’t believe.)

“Whew not this time!”  John M will have to figure out how to make the nearly 400 miles remaining with the telltale marks of a equine snack atop his head.

Tomorrow we’re off to Santa Barbara – 109 miles that include just a few more climbs...

And hopefully some Brophy Bros for some of those aforementioned fish and chips on the pier.

Big Sur to San Luis Obispo
106.4 miles
7207 feet of climbing
Total for the trip – 267.4 miles

Monday, May 18, 2015

DAY 2: Santa Cruz to Big Sur

Tale of the Wheel and Chain

Sometimes these things just write themselves – today is one of those. Train of Pain Day 2 was a doozy! But first, a little overview of today’s route:

We rolled out of Santa Cruz for a one of the most beautiful sections of the California coast:

Incredible views of the Pacific as we made our way 75 miles to Big Sur. We passed through Monterey, Carmel, and a myriad of small little towns – each with their own character – but each certain they serve the best seafood! And there’s no shortage of signs to let you know the choice is simple!

No ToP is complete without the requisite mechanical issues – and today was no different.  It started innocently enough – 5 miles into the trek and Tom pulled to the side – his chain having jumped the gears.  No problem, Tom’s an accomplished rider – decades of riding have left him with the ability to quickly correct such a small problem. He gently pulled to the side of the group, coasting smoothly to a stop.  The rest of the group rode on, confident that he would soon be back up and on his way – easily by the next stop light.

Two stop lights and a pretty good amount of minutes later – no Tom?

While the group continued on, a small group headed back to see what the problem was. Yikes, not such a small problem. Somehow Tom had managed to twist his chain in a knot.
Now keep in mind that a bicycle chain is metal links, all connected to form in a continuous circle – HOW DO YOU TIE THIS INTO A KNOT?? And more importantly, why would you want to?

Once the chain was back where it belonged it was apparent that bending the links did no one any good.  Here’s where the kindness of strangers – or in this case the kindness of the VW van repair garage and a couple of much needed pliers.  A twist here, a twist there and before you knew it we were ready for the road once again.

So, mechanical rectified – should be smooth sailing from here.  NOPE!  Next on the hit list was the broken wheel for Phil.
This on top of the shredded tire from the day before, the torn bike shorts, and who knows what else.

As to the wheel – no worries, spares are in the van – we just needed to call Richard. Turns out, he’s only a mile away – still at the last support stop.

Odd, we’d all left a while ago – shouldn’t he have already been on the road?

Seems that just as he was about to leave one final rider showed up.  Not from the road along the route – but out from behind a large crop of bushes.

Seems he had spent a late night (or an early morning, depending on your perspective) taking in the hospitality of the Santa Cruz drinking holes. Having arrived before the rest of the group, he took one look at the bushes, decided they looked perfectly fine for a short siesta, lay down and caught a much-needed nap.  While we’ve seen many things over the years of the ToP – this was a first.

There’s always tomorrow to see if we can top the sleeping giant.

Tomorrow we’re off to San Luis Obispo – 110 miles.  The short days are behind us.

Santa Cruz to Big Sur
75.7 miles
3715 feet of climbing
Total for the trip – 161 miles

Sunday, May 17, 2015

ToP 2015 DAY ONE: SF to Santa Cruz

Its happened. Day 1 of the 2015 Train of Pain is in the books. The crew got it almost easy today in comparison to the remainder of the week this stage was somewhat short, but still a great ride and filled with plenty of antics.

This years edition is the 8th for ToP, and the fourth time we have rolled out of San Francisco. It's also the fourth time we have shared the start with the Bay to Breakers running race.  For those of you unfamiliar, the Bay to Breakers is one of the largest races in terms of participants in the country, with most years topping 100,000 participants. These brave runners are often dressed in wild costumes (and more than a few in no costume or anything else for that matter), for what is really just a grand excuse to have a huge street party. It's also a huge traffic nightmare with drunken bedazzled runners, street closings and detours in every block. So naturally, this is also the day we roll out, 32 riders strong to add our mass into the melee.

And roll out we did - but first the riders brief, which included:
·       Caution to follow the traffic laws
·       Think of the riders behind you
·       Ensure you are being a positive reminder that bikes really do belong on the road

So off we go, the grand depart. As is tradition, the first miles are led out by the two ride organizers  the same two who gave the stern warnings of etiquette. We made it almost 100 whole meters before they blew through the first red light  30 fellow riders immediately taking up the cat calls - ah the hypocrisy!  "That was just a teaching point" was the best they could come up with as an excuse.

Once out of the city it was a picturesque day along the NorCal coast. Great views of the ocean and trees, and a sizable tail wind to make the ride fast and fun.

As always, the ride broke up into groups, with Len and Ritchie seizing the initiative and heading out for some early glory. The main group stayed pretty much together, spreading on the hills and regrouping at the Van stops.  Other than a minor tangle between a couple bikes and riders, it was a perfect day.

The real test of a riders mettle was being fought out by the trailing group. Three brave and hearty souls who braved the largest of the challenges that of enjoying each and every mile to the utmost. If you've followed the ride over the years you may remember year one and the infamous blueberry pie. Beginning at about the 50-mile point you are beckoned not unlike the siren of the seas, only instead of the mythical mermaid, it is the call of the pie!

"Slow down for pie" the signs read mile after mile until you finally crest a small climb and there, like a might oasis, stands the final beckoning finger stop here, join us, the pie, the pie, the pie. . .

For our stalwart trio, this was a call not to be ignored. While the rest of us slogged the miles, they enjoyed the bounty that is fruit, sugar, flour and butter. While they did not finish first, who could deny that they clearly won the day.

Tomorrow takes us to The Lodge at Big Sur - maybe one of the most beautiful spots on the CA coast.

San Francisco to Santa Cruz
85.9 miles
4653 feet of climbing (except for El Jefe, who managed almost 8000!)
Total for the trip - 85.9 miles

Saturday, May 25, 2013

ToP – Day FIVE, that’s a Wrap!

Well kids, that’s it, Day 5 has come and gone and the 2013 ToP is in the books.  Before I get into the final stage wrap up and the awarding of the Jerseys and Team Trophy, let’s take a minute to thank a few who made all this possible. 

First and foremost, for the sixth year in a row, Harold and Jim have given up their vacation time to shuttle around the courses, always ensuring that there is support for the riders.

Matty-Matt and his wrenching skills – not only does he get in some miles on the bike, but he is open for business every morning and evening to take care of any issues with the bikes.  If a part is broken, he manages to find a way to replace it regardless of where we are. 

Bobbo for the great pictures — even when his perfectionism tends to bring out our most sarcastic sides.

And finally, Leon and Cindy of Tackitt Family Vineyards, Jason and Kevin of Barrelhouse Brewing Co, and John and Terrie who opened up the Rolling Hills Ranch Party Barn for our wrap-up festivities.  

As for our final Sparkle Skirt, the honor goes to Jeff T, who is quickly becoming an internet sensation with the soon to be famous catch phrase "WORKING IT"!

Seems Jeff and Gomez, having crested one of the many thigh busting climbs had to stop to fix Jeff's flat.  This led to an ad-hoc pirate videotaping that is not to be missed.  Since there's no way to truly do it justice, I'll leave it to you all to watch, enjoy and add to his growing fan-club.

The final day every year rolls out with the same plan – it always goes something like this:

“Hey guys,” someone will suggest, “it’s the last day, what say we all stay together and just enjoy the day?” 

This is ALWAYS met with nodding heads, all north and south.  Everyone is tired and beat-up.  The days, the miles, and the pace have more than taken their toll – and the thought of taking it easy with all your new found friends seems like just the ticket.

Well, that is until the first mile passes by.  It’s about than that someone forgets the good-time feelings of the morning banter, the solidarity before the rollout.  It’s about then that someone remembers that this is the ToP, and there’s always a chance to grab one of those sweet jerseys!!!! 

So, like the six years before it, this final day’s stage continued its tradition and opened up a can of whoop-@%$.

The day’s stage was a short 70 miles with two climbs that still had points on the table for the KoM.  The first of these, Peachy Valley, was only a short roll form the start, which resulted in a couple miles tacked on to give everyone a chance to warm up.  The plan was to have us roll past the turn for the climb for about an hour, make a right, a right, a right and a left to bring us back and onto the climb. 

So there we were, a quarter mile into the ride and a quiet suggestion began to grow through the peloton, “why add those miles”, “the turns right there”, come-on, what do you say”?  It was like the devil and angel were sitting on our shoulders, and the angel wasn’t paying attention.  Well, at least that’s how it was for everyone but Pat, who had the bad luck of sitting about 20 feet ahead of the group, rolling innocently along when everyone behind him hung a left and began the first part of the climb.  Poor Pat, one moment the head of the parade, the next the poor kid who threw a party and nobody came.

After the up and down of the Peachy Valley, where any semblance of solidarity was thrown to the wind, we began the final climb up and over the last climb and onto Hwy 1.  With the wind blowing at our backs, you’d think we were in for a cakewalk.  But no amount of tail wind can compensate for the charge that would be the final 40-miles of the ToP. 

In less than 4-hours, all 25-riders were back where we’d started – the Marriott in SLO

Day 5 in the books and the 2013 edition of the Train of Pain complete. 

Well, complete except for the wrap-up party!

Let me paint the picture, fantastic wine, outstanding craft beer, fresh made artisan pizzas, a band you couldn’t help but love, the vineyard in full bloom and maybe the coolest party barn anywhere

Add to that a great crowd and the chance to raise some money for wounded warriors and their families give you a perfect ending to the week. 

As to our winners, it was a hard fought week, but the selections were made.

For Yellow, Tim continued his week with a solo break after the first climb which sewed it up for him. 

Red went to Max, who throughout the week really was the best climber – more often than not pacing Tim to the final jump.

White belonged to Chris throughout the week – and though his final day was his toughest yet, he fought it out throughout. 

Green was still up for grabs with seven sprints for the day, but once again, Andrew prevailed.  This marks his forth Green Jersey in five years (the only year he didn’t bring it home was the year he took Yellow, so we can probably forgive that one).

Rust, however, was another matter.  It really had come down to Gomez and Bobbo.  Now just to remind everyone, this is the jersey that was awarded for the rider that fought everyday, always giving it everything they had, and ALWAYS coming up with nothing to show for it.  Both of these two were the scrappers of the ride.  In every break, attacking against all odds, and always being left empty handed for their often-heroic actions.  We were down to the last 20-miles, and it was a 50-50 tie — something had to happen. 

So off they went, head to head for all the glory. 

Once we all were back to the hotel, I asked, “so, who won?”

A short pause, followed by, “oh, it was a gentleman’s finish, we rolled in together” 

“Well”, I said, “if no one won, than I guess the Rust Jersey stays in the box this year.”

Bobbo, sensing that is moment of glory on the podium was slipping through his fingers quickly corrected. 

“I did take the two sprints,” he boastfully protested.

“Great”, I replied, “looks like we have our rust winner! 

“Wait a minute”, Gomez complained, “I towed you across the whole last stretch and you’re stealing the win!”

Remember, I said the Rust signified the poor guy that sacrificed day in and day out, coming up with nothing for all his effort. 

So sorry Bobbo, looks like the first Rust Jersey wearer for the ToP will be Gomez!

As for the Team Trophy, San Diego takes it home for the second year in a row! 

All in all, this was a great year, lots of wonderful memories for all concerned.  Next year’s ride is only 362 days away, so if you’re going to be apart, you’d best get training.

  • 432 miles completed
  • 25,100 feet of climbing

Friday, May 24, 2013

ToP Day 4 – The Yellow Jersey Doesn’t Pull!

Day Four of the ToP, and the miles were showing at the breakfast tables. Forcing down yet another rubbery pancake or lukewarm omelet became a bit more difficult, the OJ didn’t seem as fresh, and the coffee – just a tad more bitter. This is the cost of 3-hard days of punishment behind us with 103-miles in the heat and wind looming over the day’s horizon.

Today’s route would take us on a broad clockwise loop out of Paso Robles, up into the foothills crossing two lakes and eventually returning by way of the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail. It turned out to be one of the nicest, both roads and scenery – taking in some great aspects of the Paso region.

But enough of this, lets get into the important aspects of the day – it’s time for the dis.

As always, we began with the presenting of the Sparkle Skirt. Though only the first year for this auspicious award, it has now taken on a whole new status.

After tremendous discussion, it became apparent that we needed to recognize not one, but two riders. Both representing our military warriors, both highly decorated for their exploits in foreign lands, and both now sporting a sparkly red skirt that, I’m sure surpasses all that has come before.

Our dynamic twosome, no longer Army of Ones, distinguished themselves through their gallant attempt to change a split tire. The problem is that this complicated process began only moments before the day’s grand depart. It began with our White Jersey holder, Chris recognizing the damaged rubber as he was preparing to jump on his bike. He than began a confused, and often hysterical dance from van door to bike, to door and back – all in an attempt to try and find a replacement. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, a replacement was found and the difficult job of replacement began. 

After bruised fingers and ego, along with even more precious time had elapsed, the tire was in place, the wheel back on the fork. It was at this point that Chris broke a cardinal rule in his profession – NEVER LET THE SURGEON ASSIST THE PA. Really, NEVER DO THIS! Trust me, it will result in failure! And sure enough, allowing Curt to touch a bike tool, place it into action, and attempt a repair almost immediately caused a major blowout – sending all the military members of the ride ducking for cover – sure that it was incoming fire! At this point, the two Medical Officers, the pride of the Army, were told to stand-down and let a real professional take over. To this end, El Jefe shouldered them aside, grabbed the wheel, a tube and new tire and had the bike ready to roll in about 2 mins (all while instructing on the proper ways of bike maintenance).

It deserves special note that Chris, still smarting from the controversy of the previous day, elected to not take the easy buy-out and wear his award with true Army Pride! Curt, on the other hand, couldn’t pull out his “Jackson” fast enough!

Throughout the day, that Sparkly shimmer of Chris’ skirt winking in the sunlight as he lifted the pace and dropped the lesser soles stood as a tenfold beacon in the night, the true reminder of Duty, Honor, Country.

Maybe it was the Sparkle Skirt, maybe the appearance of fresh legs in the peloton – either way, the pace today was relentless! From the first rise in elevation the lead riders, 15-strong, began a hellish pace that would blow the field apart. The early instigator, Gomez was driven to frenzy with dreams of Rust dancing in his head. This lasted for about seven miles – of course, with nearly 90 left to go it might not have been the right strategy for the day. 

Meanwhile, the real heavy lifting from El Jefe, Bobbo, Chris and today’s guest rider Len was well underway. Throughout this, the Yellow Jersey staunchly refused his turns at the front. When forced into it through physical shoves and jabs, he would soft-pedal, shedding the pace and causing almost immediate overtaking by the group. Finally, after more than 20-miles of pain and suffering, El Jefe turned to our Yellow Jersey – the conversation going something like this,

“Tim, we’re dying here, can’t you lend us a hand into these winds?”

Staring him coldly in the eye, he calmly replied, “The Yellow Jersey Doesn’t Pull

Shamed into the realization that they were mere minions, El Jefe was left speechless for maybe the first time in his life. To my thinking, being able to stun Andrew like this was even more impressive then Tim’s ability to accelerate away on the steepest of climbs.

As for our earlier instigator, Gomez, the ride turned truly ugly, his efforts having burnt out any matches still within his quiver. Scott and Wendi rolled up on him outside some wayward country store - shattered and forlorn. His faithful lieutenant Rich at his side; the two of them stuffing Klondike bars in a last-ditch effort to recover. 

We’re down to our final day; this one will take us back to SLO. We’ll finish out the week with the wrap-up party, so stay tuned on Friday for the final wrap-up and awarding of the jerseys and team trophy.

352 miles completed
21,900 feet of climbing

No change in the Yellow and White, with Tim and Chris looking extremely strong. 

The Red and Green have also shown selection, with the Red now cleanly down to only two.

Tim – 16
Max – 15
Chris – 9
Jeff - 6

For the Green, it looks tough to unseat El Jefe for his 4th ToP win – but the final stage includes the highest number of sprint points for the week and some concentration and snappy legs can still rule the day.

Andrew – 26
Gomez - 12
Bobbo - 10
Rich and Haggis tied with – 6

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ToP Day 3 – Duty, Honor, Country is No Match for the Free-Wheeling Course Ethics of El Jefe

Stage Three, the Queen Stage.  The mid-point of every Grand Tour is known affectionately as the Queen Stage, it marks the half-way point, it takes the riders over the hump, and it is more-often than not the hardest stage of the ride.  Today met all the criteria with two massive climbs, more of the wind, some great sprints, and just a touch of controversy.

At only 78-miles, the route took us from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, for our first hotel change.  While Paso is only 30-miles by direct route, Carter managed to find the most challenge available to make up for the lesser distance of our previous days.

As always, we began with the rider meeting and the presentation of the now infamous Sparkle Skirt.  Often, these decisions are quite difficult, but today’s was simple – after the initial draft route was sent out to the riders in early March, we received a quick reply.  This from a first-year rider, so one can excuse the naiveté that would compel this action.  The e-mail pleaded, implored and cut right to the essence of our very manhood with a near demand that without yesterday’s See Canyon inclusion the 2013 ToP would be doomed to failure.  Carter, being the push-over to idle threats that he is capitulated, adding the Bastard Climb and crushing the peloton – some may never truly recover.  So Day-Two’s Sparkle Skirt belongs to none other than our current Yellow Jersey, Tim Page (who we will NEVER ask for route advice again).

Today marked another ToP tradition, the recognition and celebration of Birthday Boy Matty-Matt, who seems to milk this auspicious occasion in greater and grander fashion every year. For this year, along with a rousing 
sing-along and his honored lead-out of the grand depart, Matty-Matt decided that to usher in his 45th year, he should leave a bit of himself in Templeton, just a few short miles from the day’s finish. 

Seems he was innocently riding along when he was joined both by the Yellow and Red Jersey, Tim and Max.  At this point, our dynamic duo were so far ahead that they decided to call it a day and roll in with Matt, a true showing of solidarity among teammates.  Of course this is where it all went south.  First there was a question of just how far to the finish, this was followed by an off-hand reach into a jersey pocket for the route card – just as the front wheel hit a large rock and the site of Matty-Matt doing his best impression of “stop-drop and roll” across the asphalt.  This resulted in large areas of body now covered in road rash, the demise of one Galaxy II by Samsung, and some now noticeable blemishes to his brand new bike – I’ll let you take a guess which of these carry the greatest degree of pain and suffering!

All this occurred long after the roll-out controversy, where one side heard Matt leads out and the other heard everyone hold up while our White Jersey leader changes a torn tire.  This difference in viewpoint is akin to that great American feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.  Never in the history of the ToP have we seen such violence of words!

This all came to a head on the second climb of the day.  With the early departures scoring their climbing points of the ride on the first climb, they were feeling confident that they were now in the driver’s seat

To get in the driver’s seat, it required a hard drive of 20-23 MPH average to the climb, dropping the very birthday boy they rolled out before the main group to support.

Regardless, the die was cast, the chickens had flown the coop, and the tempest in the teapot was underway. For it was the second climb up Santa Rosa Canyon, the significantly difficult of the two that saw this come to a head.
It began with El Jefe, who was leading out Chris into Cambria, the last town before the climb.  The route intended a short roll into town with a turn at the third street and onto the climb.  This was the route that our early leaders of Gomez and Jeff T had taken.  El Jefe, who believes that a direct line is often the better choice turned instead at the first turn –thus shortening the lead in run by as much as a mile (or so), with 13-miles of hard climbing, most would feel this was statistically insignificant – and in El Jefe’s view, well within the spirit of the ToP. 

Also in keeping with the El Jefe rule of riding, since there were no more sprint points left to contest, he only had to make it up and over the climb to complete the day – which meant this was a perfect time to stop, have a coffee and a couple pastries while trying to coax others into his ways.
Chris, fresh off the Plain at West Point and already on the climb, had slowed to a near walking pace because he was concerned that he’d made an error – Gomez and Jeff, spotting their prey attempted to surge by – indignant that their early, and some say sneaky departure was threatened.  Allegedly, heated words were spoken – Chris obviously having cheated, otherwise how else could he have gotten ahead.  Chris, the weight of the Long Gray Line heavy upon his shoulders, answered their accusations with judicious use of the LA “LOOK” – glancing back, a steely-eyed stare, followed by a blistering acceleration that left them shaken and dejected. 

Another one in the books – only two days left for the final selection of our jersey winners.  Stay tuned, this is heating up! 

251 miles completed
16,200 feet of climbing

Yellow still firmly on the shoulders of Tim, while Chris has held onto the White for another day.

The Red and Green saw some shaking with some new names on the board.

Tim – 12
Max – 7
Jeff - 6
Chris - 4

Andrew - 14
Gomez - 12
Rich and Haggis tied with - 6