Three chances at the Terrible Two

Descending The Geysers: gravel just to keep it interesting
Descending The Geysers: gravel just to keep it interesting (Photo courtesy of Brett Lider
"Hey, are you a slob?" It was with these words, spoken to me from out of the fading darkness as we stood in the parking lot near a friend fixing a flat *before* the Terrible Two (omen enough as it was) that my Terrible Two 'ride' began. Getting a puzzled stare in return the speaker muttered something about my 'jersey' as their voice trailed off. This of course made me check to see if I had spilled breakfast on myself. While I didn't figure it out right then, at least eventually (read hours later) it hit me that it wasn't 'slob', but 'SLOB'. Apparently, my jersey resembles that of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle club, at least in the dark anyway.

The Terrible Two has a reputation, quite deserved, of being a most difficult double century. I recall when I first began to hear about this ride, that I was amazed that people did it. I was only amazed, and not yet intimidated, because I didn't consider it to be something I could ever do, so I never pictured myself even trying. In September of 2001, Bruce Berg led a late summer ride that left from Healdsburg, and did the 2nd half of the TT course. That was one of the hardest 100 mile rides I had ever done at the time. Bruce quietly suggested to me after we finished that he thought I was ready to try the TT the next year. I had been doing more of the longer club rides that summer and by fall I was having an easier time hanging on to the faster 'M' pace. Even though it was someone I respected who told me I should try the TT, I changed my impression of that ride from being amazed to being intimidated. How the hell could I ever do the TT? That year, 2001, I was in perhaps the best riding shape I had been in for 15 years and I felt my butt had been kicked by doing only half of the Terrible Two (TT) course.

Time passed, and I had gotten many more riding miles under my belt. After doing a multi-day ride in April of 2002 for the first time in many years, followed by my best time on the Davis Double Century, I thought I was ready and began talking about doing the TT. As (bad) luck would have it, I developed a knee problem and the only TT I saw was as a spectator, watching Bruce Berg, Mark Abrahams, and David Lipsky, the latter with whom I had hoped to ride, finish the ride. The next year, 2003, was pretty much a cursed year, one with too many colds and other illnesses which caused me to miss some big rides. I had signed up for the TT, but less than two weeks before the ride, I got yet again another cold. However, it appeared to have cleared up about 5 days before the ride, and at 5:30 am on the day of the TT I was at the start line. From that point on I had one of the hardest days on a bike that I had ever had, and as a result, the mental image of the TT grew more intimidating. This year, in the weeks leading up to the TT, which I still wanted to do, I began to have some trouble with my Achilles tendons, and the week of the ride after taking more than a week off the bike completely, I got saddle sores just from riding to work. How cruel fate can be.

In spite of all that, I still went ahead with plans to do the ride. Jack Holmgren picked me up at 3:15 am for the drive from the East Bay to Santa Rosa, and we talked about how to approach the ride. The weather forecast was incredible, but I've seen perfect forecasts fail to turn into perfect weather before. Jack told me he would ride with me until the Geysers, about 70 miles into the ride. On Trinity Grade, the first significant climb of the ride, he and I stayed together and the four man pace line we started in Napa Valley grew into a 25 rider pace line by the time we reached Calistoga. Our time was 3 hours exactly, which was a minute or two slower than last year for me, a year when I DNF'd. Hmmm. Still, Jack pointed out that he felt we were ahead of pace if we wanted to finish before 10pm. Actually, quite far ahead. Privately, I was thinking about two things. The first was whether my Achilles Tendon would act up or hold out, and second, my goal was finishing before 11pm when the course closed. I really wasn't even entertaining the idea of finishing before 10pm. I just didn't think it was in the cards.

Riding out of Calistoga about five miles, we lucked onto a tandem which pulled us to near the foot of the Geysers climb. We had had fog and overcast up to that point, but here the clouds began to break up, and across the Alexander Valley we could see mountain peaks with sunshine in the north, and looking east northeast we could see sunshine on the flanks of the hills that made up the Geysers climb. That was the last we would see of the fog and overcast except from the tops of the climbs on Skaggs Springs when we looked west to the ocean. The Geysers, from this direction, is a two part climb, and I managed to stay with Jack until the descent before the last long, second portion of the climb where the second rest stop would be. On the way up, I saw all the spots where I had to stop last year, and further all the spots where big clumps of riders passed me even when I was moving uphill. I was cheered by the difference in how I felt between a year ago and now.

Jack made the rest stop before me and left ahead of me too, and I thought that would be the last I would see of him. The drop down to Cloverdale is on pretty crappy road surfaces. While the shade in parts was welcome, it would dapple the road surface with light and dark shapes blending in with the pock-marked patches over potholes, which made picking a line harder to do. This stretch is also punctuated with stretches of gravel, just for good measure. Last year I was just crawling along that long stretch on quickly fading reserves of energy, but this year I felt I was flying, passing other riders along the way. Once back in populated areas, I felt strong enough to pass more riders, who would draft me for a bit on the run into the lunch stop.

Pulling into the lunch stop at Lake Sonoma at 12:30 I saw Bruce Berg, which surprised me. I was expecting him to be far ahead of me at this point. I must have been focused too much on last year, remembering that it was at lunch that I had to abandon. It was with a simple compliment from Bruce, who said I was looking like I was enjoying my ride, that I just forgot last year. Jack had been at the lunch stop too, but had left before I finished eating, so a short while later I left on my own to climb Skaggs Springs, arguably the hardest part of the ride, and for me the true test for success or failure on the ride.

Skaggs Springs road has a unique quality to it. It seems to just keep climbing, and the infrequent downhill sections are technical and so short they are over quickly and forgotten and one is climbing right away again. It also seems that the topography is one that allows it to retain heat, as it mostly faces east, giving it a barrier to the fog and coolness you'll find at the coastline. Up to that point, the temperatures had felt incredibly mild and certainly tolerable. While it never became oppressive heat, it was the warmest part of the ride on that stretch. I found Jack once more, suffering from the great equalizer, a flat tire. We leap-frogged each other for a short while due to his flat tire, a water stop at the top of the first climb and the next hill in the series of climbs. A second water stop, which we passed, is set up near the top of the second climb and after that the road decends and nears a creek.

I remember the very first time I rode that section, and upon spotting the creek I thought the climbing was over. With the road near the creek which had to flow to the ocean, how could there be more climbing? No doubt there are some smirking as they read this, as they know about the Rancheria grade. On this day, I was a little wiser and I knew what was ahead. However, before the climb there was a mandatory stop where riders had to at least check in. (The Terrible Two organizers keep strict track of all the riders, and reports are sent back to the finish listing the progress of every rider.) Jack and I spent maybe our longest time in a rest stop up to that point at the Gualala stop, then off we rode. Before the climb on Rancheria, Annapolis road cuts off to the right. Years ago, this was the route of the TT, which was then not 200 miles but 211 miles long. Our route that day took us instead to Stewart's Point more directly, and we crossed over a 100 year old iron bridge. A sign informs those that pass by that the bridge was first assembled in 1904, but only in 1937 was it moved to it's current location, and I always wonder just how robust the market for used bridges might be.

The Skaggs Springs segment of the Terrible Two as I said could be viewed as the hardest of the ride, and while not the longest, the Rancheria Grade is clearly the steepest of the three separate climbs on that segment between the lunch stop at Lake Sonoma and Stewart's Point at the coast. On a ride this long, anyone will have emotional and energetic high points and low points. In addition, one can focus on the thought of 'when will this climb be over' or simply be surprised when the crest seems to appear so soon. I don't know just what the cause was for me that day, but it was the latter emotion of happy surprise that I experienced. Before the pace was increased too much by the down hill tilt, I pulled off the road to decide if I should put on warmer clothes or wait to reach the coast. Jack joined me just as I decided on waiting and we rolled along to tackle the last little mini-climb before the dive to Highway One and the Stewart's Point store, where we did put on some of the extra arm and/or leg warmers we had with us.

On much shorter rides I've had a hard time on Highway One from Stewart's Point to Fort Ross. On this day though I was feeling great at this point, no doubt due to the reality of sunshine at the coast, intermittent tailwinds, and the knowledge that Rancheria Grade was behind me. Jack and I traded leads along the way as the highway went from open stretches with ocean views to wooded areas with rolling climbs, to fast twisting turns where the road followed the contours of the land where streams and rivers found their terminus at the sea. The last time I had ridden that portion of Highway One, it was early April on the 2004 Fleche and the coast was socked in with fog. The 'scenery' then amounted to nothing better than the curious markings on the pavement, which was the only thing we could see clearly. It was far better scenery this day.

At the foot of Fort Ross Road, just off Highway One was the next to last rest stop. The fact that bikes and sag vehicles covered both lanes of the road here was an indication that traffic was going to be very low in volume. It was still short of 6pm when we reached this stop. Jack urged me to have a cup of soup, to which I added some V8 juice, some fruit, chips and anything else handy. It was to this rest stop that I had sent my lights, and after finding my drop bag and mounting my lights Jack and I headed off up the hill. The road diminishes to the point where it is not any wider than a driveway, and it zig zags several times before choosing a long southward leg that runs up the side of the ridge. Jack managed to move ahead of me an inch or so with each pedal stroke. I tried twice to close the gap with a burst but each time I made contact, I would slip back again. My lower back began to ache on this climb, and I kept trying to come up with reasons to stop that would be impervious to counter arguments. Standing up would relieve the lower back pain, and while I was dropping back from Jack, I could still keep him in sight as I rounded a curve or met a segment where the climb eased off. The climb ended before the debate about stopping did and the roadway left the trees behind. Picking up the pace also helped to wash the strain of the climb away, at least mentally anyway, and only climbs of much smaller stature remained on the route back to Santa Rosa and Willowside School.

Most of the traffic along this stretch was made up of sag vehicles, and I had a running joke with the couple driving one sag with the theme being scenes from the Triplets of Belleville. I was not the one on the tricycle. Black Mountain proved to be a tougher climb than I was expecting and again I drifted back behind Jack, finally losing sight of him completely. For the first time I stopped on the side of the road just because I was tired, and I had to slug down some Hammer Gel and drink while not moving. I popped a cough drop in my mouth and resumed my climb, and soon enough I was heading downhill into Cazadero. Jack was waiting for me at the bottom, but I told him I had enough energy to hold his wheel, but I could not take a turn at the front. Without hesitation, Jack let me know it was no problem and we worked our way down Cazadero Highway. This was one of those segments of the ride where we had a headwind, and even though it was a mild one, I was still happy to be on Jack's wheel, and not out in front. I wouldn't have had the oomph for it. Even still, by the time we reached Highway 116 for the last few miles before the Monte Rio rest stop, I was spent. Jack patiently led me to the rest stop, which was a welcome sight.

Monte Rio is 17 miles from the finish of the TT. It was at this rest stop that I fell off the nutritional bandwagon with a thud. Instead of fruit and V8, I was scarfing chips, M&M's, and Mountain Dew. Out of guilt I did have another V8, but I chased that with one more tiny paper cup of M&M's. There was a certain method to this madness though. The caffeine in the MD, sugar in the M&M's and salt in the chips gave me the temporary boost I needed to last just 17 more miles. After sitting a short bit and just watching the interactions between riders and rest stop volunteers, it was time to go as daylight was burning away. Bohemian Highway, from Monte Rio at the Russian River up to Occidental is just that: Up. It's not steep, but the road can be busy relative to all the roads so far that day, and the progress is not rapid for the back of the pack riders like me. Jack kept prepping me for the point where the route broke out of the trees and we made our turn east. It was more than just the trees that cleared away here though. Along the Bohemian Highway I felt my energy level coming back to life, and as we hit the village limits of Occidental I knew I had the stamina to finish, and finish at way more than a crawl.

From Occidental, up Graton Road there is the last of any climbing of more than 100 yards. Even though we might hit rollers along the way, to me it was all downhill to the finish. Under the trees it was dark enough that we had to turn on our lights. For me this was only my head lights, as a volunteer must have turned on my tail lights at the Monte Rio rest stop. Bruce Berg had routed our April Fleche ride to follow the last 17 miles of the Terrible Two so I had recent experience with this course in the dark. In the past, I had been of the opinion that doing a big ride where the route was unknown was a great experience. Everything would be new, but the problem is that a rider needs the energy to enjoy the experience. You can't count on that energy being available on the Terrible Two's final miles, so I was happy to be familiar with the route here, as well as every prior mile.

In 2002, I had decided late in the afternoon to drive up to Santa Rosa to watch fellow GPC riders finish the course. I got to see the elation of riders finishing the last few feet of the course, with the applause of the volunteers and riders that finished earlier. In 2003, because I DNF'd at lunch and was sagged to the finish, I got to see every single rider finish that day. It was a bittersweet experience for me. I wanted to be one of those riders rolling in to the applause of strangers and friends, but still I was happy for the riders that did finish and I had no trouble imagining what it was like to be them as they crossed the line. Little surprise then, that in 2004, after 15 hours and 47 minutes, I was content as I crossed the finish line.

I had completed a tough ride, and done so far more easily than I thought beforehand. Yes, I had done many miles of preparation this year, largely with the goal of finishing the Terrible Two in mind. Still, the ease with which I felt I finished is due far more to the company provided by Jack all through the day, and the encouragement both he and Bruce Berg lent me that day and in the days leading up to the ride as well. The organizers and volunteers from the Santa Rosa Cycling Club can be proud of the event that the put on. It is a top notch event from start to finish. I learned after doing my first double century, when upon finishing I said I would never do another one (this now was my 9th), not to think about any long rides in the future, and more to the point not to 'decide' about them. All that said, I know I'll be back to do this one again, whether I'm a slob or even just a SLOB.

rob hawks