Saturday, December 29, 2018

Bruce Berg ... You Will Be Missed

"Nothing perfect lasts forever.
         Except in our memories."
                  From the poster to the movie: "A River Runs Through It"

This is a place where people who loved Bruce Berg may feel free to write a memory they have of him, a story, or to say goodbye to a good friend.  Please share your thoughts by clicking on the "Comments" at the bottom of the tribute below. You need not be a cyclist to share a memory here.  Please send photos of Bruce that we can share to Chuck Bramwell at and to Roland Hoffman at

A memorial service will be held for Bruce:
Saturday, January 19, 2019
3:00 PM
Hillside Club
2286 Cedar St
Berkeley, CA   94709

Bruce was inducted into the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame in 2007 in recognition of him completing 50 Double Centuries in the California Triple Crown Series.  He loved these hard rides and he tackled the most challenging of them all as shown in his California Triple Crown History Report HERE

Bruce started riding seriously while going to college in Boulder, Colorado and he was hooked.  He rediscovered his passion for cycling years later in the late 90’s.

His first Double was Death Valley in 1999 and he’s grateful that a more experienced double rider (Bonnie Faigles) was along to provide him with batteries for his headlight when his died.

When he was 61 years old, a typical training week for this architect included 50 miles riding both ways to and from work 4 days a week followed by a Century on Saturday and a 20 mile recovery ride on Sunday.

Bruce's favorite Double was the Terrible Two or the Knoxville Fall Classic Double.  Both are fabulous events put on by fabulous people and ridden through gorgeous country.  For those from Southern California, he said you ought to see the Knoxville country in the Spring!

Bruce was a big believer in not having handlebars too far below the saddle.  For most major rides, he’s rode on a Terry Fly saddle.  The wheels he used were Mavic CD Ceramic’s with  triple cross lacing which are fabulous.  He found them to be much, much better for braking, especially in the rain.

He’d like to spend more time talking to Ken Holloway or Dan Crain.  He really enjoyed the brief times he was able to ride with Ken Holloway and Dan Crain, both of whom had  enormous amounts of knowledge held in heads with fabulous attitudes.

He wrote: “I fairly regularly volunteer on either Knoxville or Devil Mountain.  The Quackcyclists are the BEST!  Best memory was secreting a beer in a cooler in my trunk and giving it to a friend when he came by my rest stop in 100+ degree heat.  That was several years ago and he still sings my praises for that.  Another is using a Hudson Sprayer to cool riders off at the top of Knoxville Grade at the water stop.”

When asked how long distance cycling has influenced his life, he wrote: “My wife loves getting to go to France every four years while I ride in Paris-Brest Paris and she loves waking up to a quiet house on Saturdays.  So I end up with a happier mate.  I’m much, much healthier and thinner since I got into ultra riding.  It’s connected me to a whole bunch of wonderful people.”

He said that without the California Triple Crown, he probably would have only done 1 or 2 of these things and never had gotten so hooked on these longer rides.

In 2007 when Bruce was inducted into the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame, this cyclist’s resume included:
50 California Triple Crown Double Centuries
Eight Terrible Two Double Centuries
Two 750 Mile Paris-Brest-Paris’s
A 750 Mile Davis Gold Rush
A 750 Mile Last Chance Randonnee’s

He listed as his best long distance cycling experience his Paris-Brest-Paris in 2003.  Hands down.  The beautiful terrain, 4,000 other riders, many speaking English, and the unbelievable support of all of local people along the route in Normandy and Brittany.  You just have to remember to slow down enough to take advantage of the opportunities.

Rob Hawks wrote: "I am so saddened to pass along to you that one of our membership has passed. Bruce Berg, RUSA # 1349, passed away at home on Saturday, December 22, 2018, surrounded by his family.

Bruce was an early rider on San Francisco Randonneur (SFR) rides and a very long time member of SFR.  Bruce rode PBP in 2003 and 2007. If you have ridden the SFR Fort Bragg 600km and enjoyed the staffed control in Anderson Valley, it was Bruce that first began that improvement to that brevet when he and Jack Holmgren took it on themselves to ask the riders before they left SF what they like to have on the road and they went and got those items and then met riders at Dimmick campground. Bruce was my biggest supporter and best counsel when I became RBA. He frequently staffed the Lighthouse control back when our January 200 went to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, and Bruce was the person that set up the way we host the Fleche NorCal when he found Crepes on Cole would work for our needs and he organized the teams riding the event.

Post-ride dinner after the Grizzly Peak Cyclists self-supported "King Ridge Double Century", July 12, 2008.  Left to right: Bruce Berg, Mark Abrahams, Bob Pacenta, Rob Hawks, Veronica Tunucci (standing), Ernesto Montenero, Jack Joseph.  Photo by Zach Kaplan.

There are many, many other ways that Bruce supported SFR and helped our region grow to what it has become today. I know Bruce personally mentored many new randonneurs. I almost certainly would not be one today if not for his encouragement."

Mark Abrahams wrote: "Bruce was a very active, high-contributing, hearty-riding Grizzly Peak Cyclists member for many years.  He served as President for two years (2002, 2003) and as Vice President twice for a total of over three years (in 2001; again in 2009-2012) as well as in many other volunteer support roles.

He was a frequent and inspiring ride leader -- he led a great many all-day M-pace rides and helped introduce many of us to all sorts of new and beautiful back roads throughout the Bay Area.  He kept those ride groups together in ways that other leaders could not.  People just wanted to ride with him and spend time eating and chatting with him at the regroups.  He was that kind of natural leader.  Bruce was one of the forces in getting GPC to change its club jersey from low-visibility colors to high-vis bright-bright yellow, for increased ride safety.  Since then, many people have complimented our high-vis jerseys without knowing whom to credit.  Bruce's enthusiasm is what drew me into double centuries and drew many others into long distance cycling as well.

Those are just a few among Bruce's many accomplishments and contributions to bicycling.

A personal story: I am the friend mentioned above to whom Bruce handed the unexpected ice-cold beer at Knoxville Double (2003) mid-afternoon when he worked rest stop #4A.  Temps had been over 100 for several hours and my stomach was in full rebellion.  I could not keep anything down, not even the (too-hot) water and energy mix in my uninsulated bottles.

I felt pretty bad, and a bonk plus dehydration was surely near.  Bruce's gift cooled my overheated body core, gave me some much-needed liquid and quick calories, settled my stomach so that I could take in more, and transformed the rest of my ride from pain to pleasure.  The experience taught me how to better care for my body in such conditions.  This story typifies Bruce in a nutshell: he was as dedicated to supporting rides as to riding them; he tended to know exactly what riders needed to keep going and finish; he was there at magic moments when he was needed most; and he had a sly sense of humor."

Zach Kaplan wrote: "Very sad news. I knew Bruce was having a bone marrow transplant over the summer but am still shocked. This photo I took of him at the Bass Lake rest top on the 2008 Bass Lake Powerhouse double century is how I remember him, very strong and always smiling.

I have many fond memories of being on rides with Bruce. It seemed like the longer and more difficult the ride was, the more difficult it was to keep up with him. He was a strong rider with a great attitude and almost always had something humorous to say. Also I understand a very accomplished architect."

Bruce and other Bay Area riders just before the start of PBP in 2007
Kevin Foley, in the left foreground
Jim Bradbury, to the right of Bruce
Donn King, who's got his back to the camera at right
Photo from Dan Brekke

Bruce on a PBP warmup ride to the village of Gambais, 
west of Paris, in August 2007
Photo from Dan Brekke

2006 Fleche group
From left: Rob Hawks, Veronica Tunucci, Bruce, Michael Tigges, and Susan Jacobsen
Photo from Dan Brekke

When Bruce was inducted into the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame in 2007, we asked him what his personal philosophy was.  He said, "It’s to enjoy what I’m doing.  The best way to do that is to keep a positive attitude.  Don’t let myself get into a negative headset.  Actually, I find it hard to stay in a negative headset when I’m on my bike."

His tips to a new Long Distance cyclist was to:
1 - Stay within yourself.  Don’t pace yourself off of anyone else.
2 - Eat, drink, and eat and drink some more. 
3 - Enjoy what you’re doing. 

"When someone dies, you don't 'get over it' by forgetting.
You 'get over it' by remembering."
Leslie Marmon

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Grateful for Many Things BUT NOT for Rumble Strips on Highway 76

On Saturday October 22, 2016, I was riding the Oceanside Double Century.  I was having a pretty good ride.  My photos from the day are HERE.

The climb up Montezuma from Borrego Springs was brutal with temps on my Garmin up to 108 so that took a lot out of all of us … it was a scorcher. 

I was trying to get past the descent on Highway 76 in the daylight … but with the heat on the climb, the sun went down about a half hour before I got to the descent.

I was descending down Highway 76 in the dark.  I knew that I should keep my speed down because it was dark and the road is steep.  I made it down the first 2 big sweeping switchbacks and remember looking back not to find any cars behind so I was able to take the lane, no problem.

A car came up behind me so I thought I better go the right to let them pass.  I had two headlights on HIGH … each putting out 650 Lumens so I thought I had plenty of lights.

I moved to the right from the center of the car lane over to the bike lane.  Much to my surprise, my bike was suddenly shaking uncontrollably and I quickly lost control of my bike.  I thought my bike was falling apart as it shook violently underneath me.   I applied my brakes to try to get my speed down.  The next thing I know I was heading into the dirt to the right of the asphalt with the bike totally out of control.  I crashed hard and landed on my right side.  I didn’t lose consciousness thanks to my helmet taking the blow.  I sat there thinking that I just need to sit there and see what my injuries are.  As I looked around, my bike lights were lighting up the cause of my crash: the Rumble Strips on the right side of the white line in the bike lane.


You can see my Strava Report HERE.

At mile 153.2 on my Strava, I was traveling at 32.9 MPH.  I crashed at the first 90 degree left turn after switchbacks, 1.6 Miles up from Jilberto’s Taco Shop, and 1.674 Miles up from the intersection of Highway 76 and Valley Center Road.  You can see the Google Earth of the area HERE ... I believe this is where I hit the dirt.  The Google Map is HERE  

If you zoom in on the map on my Strava Report, you can see when I veered to the right and lost control of the bike.  What I didn't know as I veered to the right in the dark was what was in the bike lane ...

Rumble Strips on the downhill section of Highway 76
Photo by Karl Rudnick

The crash was horrific.  The nice people in the car behind me pulled over and the wife walked back up to see if I was OK.  She said I crashed “stupendously”.  The entire family with husband, wife, and 3 kids all saw it happen right in front of their eyes.  As I sat there in the dirt, she asked me a series of basic questions and I was able to convince her that I was mentally OK.  So she helped me up and much to my surprise, I was able to stand up.  I came down hard on my right shoulder and right hip.  I tested my shoulder and could reach in all directions so I was convinced that my shoulder seemed OK.  She and I then walked my bike to the other side of Highway 76 to load it into their mini-van.  Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to do this.  They drove me down to the next Rest Stop on Cole Grade Road.  I was able to walk and take the bike to the Rest Stop area.

I then had to make a difficult decision: do I get back on the bike and continue?  I had already tackled most of the difficult portions of the ride.  It was a nice night.  Lynn Billie Irwin was there making incredible smoothies for everyone. 

Lynn took this photo shortly after the crash  
Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to stand up!!
This shows the power of adrenaline

I made a decision that even though I had tackled most of the difficult portions of the ride, that it would be best for me not to get back on the bike.  I had learned from others that once you crash, the adrenaline kicks in and you think you are doing much better than you actually are.  So often, cyclists who get back on their bike after a crash end up crashing again.  I knew the crash was high speed and bad so I called it a day.  Looking back, this was absolutely the right decision even though it was very depressing at the time.  Fortunately for me, Richard Ciolek-Torello was there and loaded my bike into his SAG Wagon then drove me back to the finish in Oceanside.  I was able to load the bike into my van and drive home.  Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to do that.  At home, I was able to walk up the stairs to take a shower and had dinner with my wife, Carol.  Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to do that.  I slept real good Saturday night but when I woke up Sunday, I felt like a truck had driven over me.  I nearly passed out as Carol was helping me to the Bathroom.  When trying to walk, my right upper thigh and hip hurt a lot with every step. My right leg would buckle whenever I put weight on it.

On Monday 10/24/16, I went to the Doctor to get checked out.  It was painful to move around even with a walker.  My Doctor concluded that it was a miracle but that it didn’t look like I broke any bones … just had a LOT of soft tissue damage.  X-Rays of my Right Leg and Hip didn't show any fractures.  She thought there might be a bone bruise.  So she recommended that I Ice the area, Stretch, and Rest.

On Tuesday 10/25/16, in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, I started to relive the crash.  I wondered if anyone else had crashed on those rumble strips.  I did a google on "palomar mountain highway 76 rumble strips cycling accidents".  The very first link was labelled "Rumble Strips Hwy 76 - Caltrans - California" which you can see HERE.  This well written document by Karl Rudnick on June 4, 2015 to Seth Cutter, Caltrans District 11 Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator does an excellent job of describing the Rumble Strips on Highway 76.  I reached out to Karl and found him to be so helpful.  He knew so much about those Rumble Strips and had done so much good work documenting them then bringing the problem to the attention of CalTrans.  He put me in contact with many other cyclists who are working with CalTrans to change the policy of installing rumble strips on country roads like Highway 76 in San Diego.  Karl is a serious cyclist as well as shown HERE.

On Wednesday 10/26/16, a giant bruise of all colors showed up on my hip … about a foot long and 6 inches wide.  I’m icing a couple of times a day and taking plenty of Advil.  I was able to ride the Ergometer (indoor trainer) Tuesday night with no pain once so I spun for 15 minutes so I could get some blood flow. 

For the first week, I could only walk with the aid of a walker.  


On 10/31/16, the giant bruise had grown to be a monster about 18 inches long and 12 inches wide as shown here.

So why do I show this?  Because it gives you a glimpse at how much this crash hurt and how bad the injury was.  I was BLESSED BEYOND MEASURE not to have broken more bones!!

Bicycle Advocate Darell Dickey wrote to me and other Bicycle Advocates in California: 

"My sincere condolences and happy thoughts for a speedy recovery from your injuries.

For the rest of us, can we please respect Chuck’s situation and stop calling everything bad that happens on the road an “accident.”

This was entirely avoidable. This was not an act of god that was not foreseen. This crash happened because of poor infrastructure. That is not an accident. This was an “on purpose.”

Vanishingly few crashes are accidents. Let’s not continue to use the euphemism that works against our goal of road safety."

On 10/27/16, I wrote to Karl: "I am now 65 years old so I believe it’s time for me to shy away from the really hard Doubles … I am really hurting today.  The bruise on my right thigh and hip are huge.  I can only get to the bathroom with a walker … my right leg is all messed up.  I imagine I will need some serious Physical Therapy to get my right leg working again … I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with a walker or a cane.  I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck today."

For the second week, I progressed up to walking with a cane but needed it since my right leg buckled when I put weight on it.

I increased my Vitamin D and Calcium supplements to 10,000 IU of Vitamin D3 a day and 4,000 IU of Calcium for the next 3 weeks.

Coach Robert Kahler recommended that I ride the Ergometer every day to help with the healing.  Looking back, I think this made a world of difference in my recovery.  I know it helped my mental outlook.

On 11/03/16, I hobbled into my Doctor's office.  She couldn't figure out why I was walking with a cane and limping since the x-rays didn't show any fractures.  So she ordered a MRI to see what was really going on.

On 11/08/16, I had the MRI which showed a large hematoma and 3 fractures of my pelvis and hip bones.  The Orthopedic Doc said it was OK to continue to ride the Ergometer and recommended a lot of Swimming and Jacuzzi time which I did.  He recommended that I continue to walk with a cane until I no longer needed it.  I was quickly seeing how easy it is to become reliant on a cane to walk to I set a goal to not walk with the cane as soon as I could walk pain free.  He said it would take 6 to 8 weeks for this injury to heal. 

I work out at Mr. Jill's Body Firm.  I'm positive that those workouts helped my crash so I wasn't injured more as I hit the dirt.  My trainer, Roxy Kahler, was so helpful in my recovery.  She explained that I was limping because my hip flexor muscle on the inside of my upper leg was sore because it had been overcompensating for the muscles on the outside of my leg by the giant bruise.  She taught me how to stretch my hip flexor by standing and rotating my leg in circles.  This was really painful at first but became less so as my leg recovered.  This stretch helped my recovery immensely.

On 11/21/16, I spoke to John Swann on the phone from Davis.  Karl had put me into contact with John who had been doing some heavy lifting on the Rumble Strip Subcommittee.  He asked me to testify in a meeting with the California Bicycling Advocacy Committee under the auspices of CalTrans on 12/01/16.  It turns out that my crash showcases well the problems with cyclists and Rumble Strips.  John described it as "driving a car and then your steering wheel falls off."  John is retired now and bike advocacy is his part time job.  He had a horrible experience with Rumble Strips himself in 2010 in Vancouver.  He didn't crash but it was a close call and very scary.  We both agreed that decision makers at CalTrans need to understand how bad these Rumble Strips can be for cyclists.

On 12/01/16, I was on a phone call to Sacramento with John Swann who was in attendance at the meeting of the California Bicycling Advocacy Committee along with Karl Rudnick who also phoned in.  John did a great job of describing my horrific crash and I was able to testify that these Rumble Strips on steep descents like Highway 76 where cyclists are descending fast can be EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.  Once I ran into those Rumble Strips at 32 MPH, there was no way I could have kept the bike under control.  I challenge any cyclist who hit those Rumble Strips at that speed to keep their bike under control and not crash.  I testified that I was lucky to be alive but the next guy may not be.  Karl also testified as to the danger especially since he rides his bike often in that area on Highway 76.  Thank you to John and Karl for helping to get the word out so fast.

It is now January 7, 2017.  I was able to ride 92 miles today on the Carbon Canyon Century.

I am blessed beyond measure!!  I had plenty of time to think about how I'm no longer a youngster who just can just bounce back from crashes like this.  I'm 65 years old and it's hard to recover from these things for sure.  

One of my favorite Church hymns is "Count Your Blessings" ...

"So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged; God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.

Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your blessings;
See what God hath done.
Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your many blessings;

See what God hath done."

I'm a firm believer that it makes a HUGE difference to have an attitude of gratitude ... and by Counting Your Blessings you can focus on all of the things in your life to be thankful for.

Certainly I am thankful that my crash took me into the hard packed dirt on the shoulder.

Certainly I am thankful for the many incredibly beautiful country roads in California that are so fun to ride a bike on and thankful to CalTrans for all they do to allow cyclists to ride on these roads. 

Certainly I am thankful for a Guardian Angel who was watching over me and brought me in for a relatively soft landing.  It could have been so much worse.

Certainly I am thankful for so many friends and family members who gave me a hand.

Certainly I am thankful for cyclists like Karl Rudnick and John Swann who work hard on trying to solve problems like this.

But more than anything, I am thankful for my much better half, Carol, who picked me up and helped me every step in this recovery.  There is no way I could have recovered so well from this without her help.  It's really easy to lose your sense of humor when things hurt so bad .... but she never lost her sense of humor and that made a HUGE difference!!  As many people know, I married WAY above myself the day she decided to marry me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Frank Neal's Fan Club Page

Frank working the Lunch Stop in Ventucopa on the Heartbreak Double Century in May, 2015

The California Triple Crown family lost a really good friend with the recent passing of Frank Neal.

Affectionately known as the California Triple Crown Data Guy, Frank started to help the California Triple Crown as the Comeback Guy to showcase cyclists who were battling back from crashes and health problems. He continued to do this for many years ... and he was so amazed at how so many cyclists were able to reinvent their lives after a catastrophe. Frank then became instrumental by posting thousands of ride completions to the California Triple Crown Database. He worked tirelessly with Chuck Bramwell to make sure every cyclist was given the credit that they worked so hard in earning.

This is a place where people who loved Frank Neal may feel free to write a memory they have of him, a story, or to say goodbye to a good friend.  Please share your thoughts by clicking on the "Comments" at the bottom of the tribute below. You need not be a cyclist to share a memory here.  Please e-mail any photos of Frank that you'd like to share to Chuck Bramwell at and he'll post them here.

It was Frank's desire to not have a service of any kind.  But that doesn't mean we can't remember him here and pay tribute to a great man who gave back so much to cycling in California.  Please share your memories here.

Frank and Mike Curren at the California Triple Crown Awards Breakfast in 2012.

"The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience,
We're spiritual beings having a human experience"
Susan Saint James who lost her 14 year old son in a plane crash

In 1999, Frank completed the 750 Mile Paris-Brest-Paris
Frank, Chuck Bramwell, and Doug Patterson are getting registered for the event here.

As shown HERE, Frank was an amazing cyclist and completed 60 Double Centuries from 1995 to 2006!!  In 2007, he started to really give back to our long distance cycling sport by helping support the Double Centuries in California.  From 2003 to 2016, he supported an incredible 87 Double Centuries!!

Frank was inducted into the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame for completing 50 Double Centuries or 10,000 Miles of Double Centuries in 2004.  The following is from his induction into the Hall of Fame:

Prior to 1992, this next person was a serious tennis player.  Then, he tore a rotator cuff which ended that … he was gaining weight and needed another outlet.  He then discovered cycling.  

He started seriously riding seriously in 1992 when his friends talked him into a 3-day bike tour.  He immediately got hooked on cycle touring.  His first Century was in November 1992 with a Century in Death Valley while he was on a tour.  He had never ridden on such terrible roads causing him to swear that he would never ride in Death Valley again.  Of course, 12 years later, he has now completed 8 Death Valley Double Centuries!!

This man’s first Double Century was the 1995 Tour of the Canyons.  It was a long, hot day.  He learned a lesson that would carry him through the Death Valley "Hurricane" Double the following year and has been his Motto ever since:  "Every ride is a new adventure.  Just keep the pedals turning!"

His best long distance ride was the 1999 Paris-Brest-Paris that he rode with his friend, Doug Patterson.  He received such great support from spectators during the entire ride and met so many great people.  The feeling of accomplishment crossing the Finish Line after 773 miles was indescribable!  

This extremely persistent rider has finished every Double Century that he’s started!!  He has finished 52 Doubles without a DNF.  Even after being crunched by a careless motorist in Nov. 2000 and spending 10 days in the hospital, this cyclist just keeps going!

He’s never really had a worst experience but recalls the 1996 Death Valley “Hurricane” Double as being truly terrible.  He didn't much like riding in the blowing sand.  But, it taught him to not fear the wind.  In the 60 miles of 40+ mph headwinds, he yelled to the wind: “Is that ALL you've GOT!  You've got nothing!  You've got NOTHING!"  There was a high DNF rate that day, but he finished.

This person keeps meticulous records and found that since he started riding in 1992, his average ride length for ALL rides which includes short training rides with nubees and Mountain Bike rides is an astonishing 69.3 miles.

His 3 Strongest riding attributes are:
1  He always keep the pedals turning.
2  He’s patient and can carry anyone through a ride.
3  He loves to ride!
His ideas on nutrition are that everybody is different.  Eat what works for you.  He has to take a ton of calcium and some extra potassium to prevent cramping.  He starts by drinking a Boost or Ensure before each ride.  Most Important is that at the last Checkpoint, he seeks out a Coke or a Mountain Dew to power him to the finish!

He does have a requirement on the Monday after a Double: an In-N-Out Burger!!!

While riding during Double Season, he has only have one "training" rule: If I start to sweat, I'm working too hard and I need to gear down and slow down.  Riding is to enjoy.  It just never seems like work for me.

This cyclist loves the Eastern Sierra Double which he has completed 5 times and the Ride Around the Bear Century which he has completed 8 times because of their long, easy, and steady climbs.  You get in a  good groove, with a steady cadence, and after that it's pretty much all pleasure!

While riding, this person is usually either talking to someone, or looking around enjoying the scenery.  Riding clears his mind and clarifies his thinking.  He comes up with solutions to personal issues while on the bike so finds his bike his "low paid" therapist!

This 53 year old Buyer Manager in the Retail Grocery Industry holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Zoology from Cal Poly Pomona.  His personal philosophy is:  Every Ride is a new adventure.  Embrace the diversity.  Prepare for the worst and enjoy the Best!  Just keep the pedals turning.

Always remember, you can lose all of this in less than the blink of an eye!  Each day; love your Family and enjoy the sport!

At the end of the ABC Coverage of the 1989 Tour de France, Greg Le Mond lifts his 5 year old son up to the Winner's Block as the announcer says:

Comebacks are always a part of the fascination with sports
From so far down, to so high up
How does it happen?

Like so many things, it begins with the most simple belief
The one you must have in yourself
That must be translated into results by dedication
The knowledge that dedication which feeds on belief can make it so

This person has had to overcome a whole lot more than most any of us can imagine.   Disaster struck while he was on a ride on Thanksgiving morning in 2000 when a careless motorist nearly ended his life.  He ended up with broken vertebra, broken ribs, collapsed lung requiring three chest tubes, bruised heart, bruised spleen, paralyzed intestines, concussion, sprained neck, lost front teeth, bruises on most of his body, and a broken finger.  He made an amazing comeback from that tragedy.

About a year later in December 2001, he crashed and dislocated his hip making 2002 a most difficult year. 

His real Comeback was in 2003 with 10 Doubles, including Devil Mountain Double, the Grand Tour Highland Triple and he was recognized as the Orange County Wheelmen  Member of the Year.  This was amazing … this person basically came back to life in a very, very big way.

He writes with new meaning: “Finishing Doubles is a gift; I'm just glad to be riding, again! :-)”

He’s had some great and wild experiences in cycling.  On the Eastern Sierra in 1999, He forgot his bike shoes, but instead of giving up, he rode and finished the 200 Miles in floppy tennis shoes on platform pedals thanks to Lee Mitchell’s endless inventory of spare parts in the back of his van!!

Frank wrote: "Eastern Sierra, 1999.  In Bishop, I got up on the morning of the Ride to find that I had not packed my bike shoes.  I didn't know what to do, so I started the ride with SPD pedals and tennis shoes.  I would figure something out once I got on the road.  My tennis shoes kept slipping off the pedals.  I considered taping my shoes to the pedals.  ESD doesn't require too many stops.  But, I rejected that idea.  At ESD, the Start is a 25-mile loop out of Bishop and back, then it heads toward the first climb up Sherwin Grade.  Passing by Bishop, I had to make a decision.  My toes were already cramping.  I was, by far, the last rider .  I decided to stop and wait for a SAG.  Lee Mitchell showed up.  I said, "Lee, you need to give me a ride."  He looked at me in astonishment and said, "You!  You never quit!".  I replied, "Lee look at my feet."  He said, "Oh, you do have a problem."  He got out of his van and began to pace while stroking his beard.  Finally, he looked at me and said, "You know, I think I have an old pair of platform pedals in the back of the van.  Do you want to give them a try?"  I lit up, "Oh, yeah!"  Lee installed the platform pedals and I finished ESD in my tennis shoes and platform pedals.  And, I didn't finish last.  PS.  My feet hurt for two weeks afterward!"

On Paris-Brest-Paris in 1999, he rode three days with little sleep.  On the third morning, he spent 40 minutes riding and recording in his microcassette recorder without any recollection to this day.  The tape includes his remark: “It must have rained before we got here, because the peasants have their wet work gloves on."  But Doug later said this was in the dark and there were no peasants around anywhere.  He believes he spent 40 minutes "sleep riding and sleep recording"!   He surely knows how keep the pedals turning even when he’s asleep!!

It was an incredible honor for Chuck Bramwell to induct Frank Neil, the California Triple Crown Comeback Guy, into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

Frank was on the support team for Team Skipper, a 8 Tandem Team in the 2011 Race Across America as shown HERE.

Frank helped with the finish line at the Grand Tour for many years.  Here he is shown checking riders in at the finish of the 2008 Grand Tour.  This job is a long and difficult one because riders arrive from 4pm to 4am the following day!!

Frank was so helpful on the Breathless Agony Bike Ride ... helping to fix bikes and to lead a critical Water Stop every year!!

Frank completed the brutally hard Breathless Agony course in 2004!!
Frank rides a 1991 Bridgestone RBT touring bike.  He bought it at a markdown sale in 1992 from Mike Perone's bike shop.  Mike is now a California Triple Crown Winner himself and had no idea what he was starting when he sold Frank that heavy Bridgestone bike with a kickstand!!

  Frank would often help with the Mulholland Challenge and Double Century.  Here he is working the Decker Rest Stop with Ira Kucheck on the 2009 Mulholland Challenge and Double Century.

Frank was often seen helping cyclists with mechanical problems while on long bike rides.  Here he is seen on the Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century in September, 2013 and 2014

Frank helped a lot of cyclists on the 2013 Bass Lake Powerhouse Double

Frank and his buddy, Mark Kaufman, had a blast touring the 
Battleship Iowa in August, 2016

Karen Thompson captured this great video of Frank 
at the Mines Road Water Stop
 on the 2016 Devil Mountain Double at

Monday, December 01, 2014

2014 California Triple Crown Stage Race by Cal Erdman

Cal Erdman on the 2014 Heartbreak Double Century

August 2, 2014 – San Rafael California, 5:00 AM

More shameless self-indulgence from Cal, but please allow me to share with you the excitement, and frankly the good bike drama, of the final stage of the 2014 California Triple Crown Stage Race.

The table was set, the players assembled, the moment had finally arrived, the 3rd and final stage of the 2014 California Triple Crown Stage Race – the Mt Tamalpais (Tam) Double Century.  There are 25 organized double century events held in California each year sanctioned by the California Triple Crown organization (CTC,  Each year, on a rotating basis, 3 of the events are selected as timed rides, with a rider’s combined time for all three double centuries compiled as a 600 mile stage race, not exactly for the feint of heart.  There were several members of this club who rode this year’s Mt. Tam DC, not all of them stage race participants, including Paul Mckenzie and Paul Chuck (Tandem riders),  Geogre Vargus,  Terresa Beck (Tandem rider), Igor Bulatov, Joel Sothern (overall winner, 2014 CTC Stage Race), Lori Hoechlin (overall winner, 2014 CTC Stage Race), Luan Doan, Dean Wilcox, Craig Robertson, Ed Middlesworth, and of course myself.  Please forgive me if I missed anyone!  Congratulations to all of us for goodness sake, particularly at our greatly advanced ages, for even completing such a beast of a ride at 194 miles (312 km) with 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) of vertical, and special congratulations and huge KUDOS to Joel and Lori; we have the two overall winners of this year’s stage race right here in the 50+ Club!!

Now it’s one thing to complete such a ride, which might be on any well-adjusted, rational rider’s bucket list, it’s quite another to race a double century, to hang for the whole distance and duration with the top riders out in front, to aspire to WIN.   For reasons that may forever remain unclear to me, that is the rider that has emerged in me.  I started the year with a goal of maybe cracking the top 15 in the stage race, which I assumed would be quite tough, but I entered this final stage of the 2014 Stage Race standing in 5th place overall, with 15 minutes separating me from 3rd place.   1st and 2nd places appeared all but locked up.

Joel Sothern and Rod Palomino on the 2014 Central Coast Double Century

Standing in first was the incomparable Joel Sothern.  I gushed about him earlier in a post here after the first stage, the Central Coast Double, held on May 10th.   At 57 Joel is lean and sculpted and even somewhat demure in stature at around 5 foot 6 or 7 inches and 140-ish pounds, but on a bike he is smooth, subtle, and extremely powerful – man that’s a lot of adjectives!.   Although very polite, modest, and even unassuming (pretty much the antithesis of me), the competitive furnace that is roaring inside will scorch you if you get too close and as I wrote earlier he is, with a few exceptions, basically untouchable at these distances.  Joel won the CTC stage race in 2012 and has more victories and achievements on a bike than this newbie (me) could possibly know or recount.  Joel is a multiple RAAM competitor and record holder and earlier in the summer set a new RAAM two man record in the 50 to 59 year old age group.  I think you get the point, which is basically forget it, you’re not going to beat Joel Sothern in a 600 mile stage race. 

Carl Sanders on the 2014 Central Coast Double Century

In second place, 41 minutes back stood Carl Sanders from Lagunitas California (this ride was in Carl’s back yard!).   Carl is 46 years old, a kid really who couldn’t even join our club here for another 4 years (HI CARL!!).   Although I don’t know him well he seems a very personable fellow, quick with a smile and very attentive.  What I can tell you is that he is an extremely determined and tenacious rider, out of his saddle and hammering whenever the situation calls for it (which is like – always), and able to draw deep and consistently into seemingly endless reserves of power and energy.  When darting my eyes over at him side by side climbing a hill, I might be equally met with either a smile or the piercing stare of a wolf zeroing in on a kill.   Extremely tough, supremely competitive, second place was also more or less of a lock for Carl. 

Robert Choi and Max Mehech on the 
2014 Central Coast Double Century

In third place, 1 hour and 15 minutes back was Max Mehech.  Max is somewhat of an enigma to me really.  At 53 years old Max is jovial, very good natured, humorous, chatty, a total sweetheart of a man really (perhaps I should check in with his wife!).  But HOLY BOTTOM BRACKET BATMAN  -  just try and stay with him on a bike for 200 miles!  Somewhere in there he simply refuses to loose and can draw on all sorts of Rule #5 (= Harden the F__k up!) tools he somewhere developed to simply STOMP you, all the while laughing or telling a story.   Reasonably infuriating actually.  Max placed second in the 2013 stage race to Robert Choi, who, if I have the story correct, overtook Max on the crest of the final pass of the Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge ride last year in the final stage, and Max was trying so hard he literally passed out ON his bike, to be followed-up later by the requisite puking etc.  I mean, the guy is slightly determined yeah?. 

In fourth place stood Rod Palomino, at 1 hour and 27 minutes back.  At 46 years old (who let these kids in?!) Rod was a wild card in my mind as I knew him or about him the least of any of the other riders.  I did know him to be an extremely strong rider from my experience with him for the first 70 or so miles during Stage 1, the Central Coast Double, and in truth I was quite worried about him.  Not only was he 10 years younger than me, but he, along with Joel and Carl, had rather easily dropped me in Stage 1 along the coast on Stage 1 at mile 70 as the rollers along the coast up to that point began to lengthen into some real climbs.  I had been following both Max and Rod on Strava since Stage 2, the Heartbreak Double.  A few weeks earlier I had sat in stunned amazement looking at a ride posted by Rod – 284 miles with 12K vertical in 15:23 - an average speed of 18.5 mph!  I mean WHAT THE ……??!! – how was I supposed to stay with THAT??!!

Steve Sharp, Cal Erdman, and Max Mehech
 at the finish of the 2014 Central Coast Double Century

And then there was me, 56 years old and in 5th place, 1 hour 30 minutes behind Joel but only 3 minutes behind Rod and 15 minutes behind Max.  I was a relative newbie to this whole scene, having only discovered a road bike in the fall of 2011.  However, and as I described in a previous post after Stage 1, I had been utterly transformed by this whole biking experience and had made some pretty huge and rapid gains in fitness and endurance, due primarily to my willingness to train like a crazed banshee (does a banshee train?) and SUFFER.  My list of big gnarly rides for the year was growing faster than the wildfires in California.  This was my fifth CTC double century ride of the year, and that did not include an  unsupported double century ride.  Earlier in July, Igor Bulatov and I had ridden all the way up to the top of Ebbetts Pass along Route 4 from Angels Camp near the floor of the Central Valley.   We then joined (crashed) the 2014 Death Ride event that was being held that day riding down and through Markleeville then up to the top of Carson Pass on Route 88, and continued on down the west slope of the Sierras all the way back to the Central Valley on our way to 202 miles and about 22,000 feet of vertical on the day.  Three weeks before that I had completed the Alta Alpina 8-pass challenge, another monster ride at the top of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 199 miles and 23,000 feet of climbing - absurd.  I had reached a point in my conditioning where I didn’t even blink at a ride of 150+ miles with 12 to 17K+ vertical.  These were rides that would likely be the biggest ride of most people’s lives, and I was doing them pretty much every weekend – cause I’m nuts.  And it wasn’t just the total elevation or distance I was focusing on; it was steep climbing that I sought.  I am blessed with two mountain ranges on either side of me in the Sierra Nevada and California Coast Ranges, and both are cut to pieces with deeply incised river canyons and fault-block scarps, all crisscrossed with innumerable roads that inevitably have to crest these impossibly steep canyon walls and scarps.  I knew many of the wickedly steep climbs in the region; Iowa Hill, Prospectors, Bayne, Corkscrew, Cold Springs, Mosquito, Cobb Mt., Howell Mt. East, Oakville Grade, Spring Mountain, Kings Ridge, Coleman, Monticello, Diablo, Hamilton, Sierra Road, Bolinas-Fairfax, Mt Tam – the list was growing and I had ridden most of them multiple times.  I was very happy that at 56, there appeared to be virtually nothing that was off limits to me.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I seriously doubted that anyone here in the top 5 had trained as hard as I in the intervening weeks since Stage 2, the Heartbreak Double held on May 17th.   And, as a sort of icing on the cake, while lounging around one evening scanning the Strava notifications pinging up on my phone, I pulled up a comment on one of my rides from…. WHO IS THAT?! -   Levi Leipheimer!, who lives and rides a couple of ridges over in Santa Rosa.  It’s true I was just another one of his 4,050 odd followers on Strava, but I’d not hesitated to pepper him with repeated annoying and obnoxious little comments on his ride pages regarding his segment times verses mine on these hills over the previous weeks (guess which are faster?), or asking about roads and climbs in his beloved Sonoma County as I expanded my range west to the ocean.  And slowly he had begun engaging me in the banter then finally clicked on my name and saw what I was doing in his own back yard, and gave me a thumbs up.   I guess he had not heard of the Alta Alpina 8-pass ride and he gave me a “WTF??!!” comment on my ride page as well as a couple other comments on other rides.  As Daniel Cipriani put it in an email to me (thank you btw Danimal):  “You know you’ve arrived when Levi Leipheimer gives you a WTF?!”  I did feel like I’d arrived, and I was standing on the starting line of Stage 3.

Having ridden this event the previous year recreationally, I knew better than to think that the start and the first couple of miles would be anything other than a testosterone-ego-fueled sprint for position and attention; everyone doing 20+ mph and anxious to show how easily they could accelerate to the front if they, you know, choose to.  But now, having become more familiar with what it takes to hang long term with the real lead group on these things, I also knew that the first time the pitch steepened to more than about 4% that about 95% of these speed demons would be quickly dropping off.  We bolted up Lucas Valley Road in the dark following a police escort to the first real hill of the day at about mile 5, a one mile affair at about 5 or 6%.  Sure enough, very quickly the truly strong riders sorted themselves out up at the front and we rose out of our saddles to lock in this separation and to coax our legs into climbing mode.  My strategy was reasonably simple, based on what I’d experienced in the first two stages.  I was ready to ignore Joel and Carl if need be and let them go if they attacked immediately.  My real focus was on finding and staying with Max and Rod, particularly during these first 40 miles that would include essentially racing to the top of Mt Tam.  I found and jumped onto Max’s wheel right out of the gate, and as we positioned ourselves up at the front and fairly flew up this first hill with the 20 or 30 (?) strongest riders, I saw no sign of Rod although I knew he must be in the group.  The first hint of a potentially good day to come soon revealed itself.  I glanced left and right and there on either side of me were both Carl and Max, out of their saddles, breathing reasonably hard, and pounding up the hill.  I was fairly hopeful here, because although I was working hard for sure, it felt well within my limits, not even close to my maximum heart rate for instance, and I knew I could turn it up a notch or even two if called upon.  Perhaps I actually had gotten stronger and now could stay with Carl?  It was still too early to tell however.  We settled into a paceline after the climb, and the lead group motored on up to the base of Mt Tam in the first dim light of dawn.  Igor Bulatov appeared beside me to say hello, cool.  I picked out Lori Hoechlin up ahead on the wheel of the front rider of the paceline and accelerated up beside her to say a quick hello and wish her good luck, not that she needed much luck she was so far ahead after two stages.  There may have been two or three riders even further up ahead, like Mark Moon, the eventual overall winner on the day but who, thankfully, was not participating in the stage race.  I didn’t care, I was content to say with Max and Carl. 

By the time we’d passed through Fairfax and were half way up the lower slopes of Mt. Tam I had my answer.  We three (and 5 or 6 others who I did not know) were fairly ripping up these 4 to 7% slopes at 11.5 to 12 mph average speeds.  But the pace was established, and I now could see that neither Max nor Carl were interested in, or possibly able to go any faster.   I was right there beside them, riding well within my limits, and feeling better and better both physically and mentally.  I even was riding with a camera and could manage some short bursts of speed to swing wide and snap a few shots of them and the group (see link below).  Suddenly Rod Palomino appeared next to me, as I knew he would at some point.  I glanced over and nervously contemplated the tree trunks that passed for his thighs, but it was readily apparent that he too was riding to stay with the group and not to attack it.   We all seemed to be at equilibrium and going about as hard as we cared to given the distance and elevation that loomed before us over the course of the day.  Shortly before the lower slopes leveled off approaching Alpine Lake, Joel Sothern, who I had not seen since the start but who had been quietly lurking on our tail, attacked and came flying by us; the smooth, rhythmical motion of his pedal strokes making it seem more like floating than working.  We all watched him in admiration but no one responded to the attack, why would we want to?  See ya Joel, have a great day!  A couple miles later Carl jumped out front and started pushing the pace through the sweeping turns and rollers as the road twisted around Alpine Lake.  I responded and although there were burst sprints at close to 100% between the curves necessary to keep him in reach, it was nothing that was going to break me.  A waste of energy really, as by the time we crossed the dam at the west end of the lake and hit the base of the first real climb of the day, the 2 mile, Cat 3 Alpine Dam to Ridgecrest climb, the 7 or 8 riders in our group were all back together.  Although Mark Moon, Joel, and perhaps one other rider were out in front of us, we were essentially the lead group, and here again my aspirations (basically don’t get dropped) seemed to be confirmed.  Although we all pushed it up through the 6 to 8% steady grade at about 8.5 mph, with short, but steeper pitches on the hairpin turns, I found that I could continue to ride within myself and stay with Max and Carl.  I began to convince myself that I had definitely gotten stronger, this felt different than the frantic effort not to get dropped on Stage 1.  The scenery up the side of this ridge was breathtaking, this was one of the nicer sections of the entire ride.  We were in the midst of giant redwoods, no traffic, cool, overcast, quiet and moist.  To top it off Max, Carl, and I were each on a beautiful Trek Madone.  It was like a Trek Fest, with my fully tricked out 7.9 with Di2 being by far the best, naturally!  We three were often abreast up front and I wanted to turn around and tell those other guys on lesser bikes to back off; this was the Madone ride!

Cal's photos from the 2014 Mount Tam Double Century are HERE

This all continued as we wound up and up Ridgecrest Road, climbed above the cloud deck into a relatively hot inversion layer, and all the way to the summit of Mt. Tam.  There was good chatter, I took lots of pictures, while we all probably set a bunch of personal records (I know I did) pushing each other up that mountain.  The one bummer was that I managed to loose a water bottle, I’ve no idea how, somewhere on that hill.  As we crested the final, utterly obnoxious 20% little kicker up onto the summit parking lot to the first check in location, I knew I would have to scramble quickly to call out my number, make sure that my one remaining bottle was full, and grab a handful of whatever they had to eat.  Surprisingly to me, Joel Sothern was just coming over the lip of the parking lot about to dive into his descent as we arrived, which meant he was inside a minute or two of a lead on us – not much.   The water was slightly out of reach, the spout that I went for was still sealed and I had to struggle for an extra second or two to break the seal and pop it open, and the seal on the plastic tub containing the fig bars felt like it was cemented shut with Superglue.  That was all it took.  As I shot a glance backward over my right shoulder while filling my bottle, there was Carl in full sprint about to disappear over the edge to begin his decent, with Max just behind him – Araggghhhh!  I slammed my water bottle into it’s cage, wheeled around and took off in pursuit; a gap of 40 seconds on Carl and Max could be potentially catastrophic if it meant I would end up riding solo.  As I dove over the lip in full sprint, I noted Rod laboring up the final few feet of the pitch.  I had not noticed that he had dropped back slightly near the summit, and I allowed myself a glimmer of hope for a moment that I might gain those three minutes I needed from him.  I did not know it at the time, but that was the last time I would see Rod on the day.

I had to chase very hard, and burn some precious energy, but I managed to reel Max back in on the up and down slopes at the summit of Mt. Tam.  I was relieved, as staying with Carl was not really an objective anyway.  Another rider or two soon joined us, and we all began the long and fast descent off the summit to the ocean, through more Marin County bliss – the Muir Woods.  Descending was wonderful as I felt my body recover from the long, steady, and fairly punishing climb up Mt Tam.  We entered the marine layer cloud deck about half way down, and the entire complexion of the ride was turned on its head.  While in the cloud deck it was cold, wet, and blustery, with visibility sometimes reduced to just a few feet.  Max was flying through the curves about 200 feet in front of me.  I was just hanging on to the gap and praying, still very cognizant of my front tire blowout on a ripping descent back in February, and the resulting loss of what felt like the entire right side of my body getting intimate with the pavement.  We soon passed under the base of the cloud deck, the roads dried up and visibility was restored, and we formed up in a group of about 5 or 6 other riders who had caught us on the descent, none of which I knew other than Max.  We checked in with ride organizers at the base of the descent at a rest stop.  I was hoping for a half a minute for a potential bio-break and to grab some more food, but Max called out his number and then to me to immediately resume.  I took a quick and longing look at the incredible smorgasbord of food and drink on the tables to my right, but then complied, particularly as I saw that we had rejoined Carl, the three of us back together again, along with 4 or 5 other strong riders.  Just after turning north on Route 1, the Shoreline Highway that would take us up the coast, we climbed for another mile before the ocean came into view.  At the base of the climb, Max rose up out of his saddle and began pedaling moderately but steadily.  I had to rise out of mine after a bit to match him, then sat back down to take in the view and chat a sec with Carl or something.  Looked back over and there was Max, still out of his saddle.  Ok, rose up again to keep up, reasonably hard pace, sit, say something else to Carl, stare at my wheel for a while and concentrate on the pedaling.  Look over again, there was Max STILL out of his saddle!!  ALRIGHT CHRIS HORNER, will you please sit the %$#&*! down already??!!.  It was like this all day, the guy will grind you down!

Thereafter followed some hard and steady paceline riding, along the coastal rollers through Stinson Beach, along the margin of Bolinas Bay, up the hill and along the gash that is the San Andreas Fault to the rest stop at mile 72 at Point Reyes Station.  As a group of course we enjoyed the benefit of the draft, and at about mile 65 we caught Joel Sothern, who of course joined our group.  The peloton had reeled in the break.  I had consumed my one remaining water bottle at this point, and became more and more aware that I could not go much longer without a bio break but was hopeful that there would be a minute or so group stop at the Point Reyes Station rest stop as others were undoubtedly in the same boat and needed water and food as well.  Within about 500 feet of the rest stop I swung out to the side and called out to the group for this very request:  60 to 90 seconds everyone please, so we can use the bathrooms and refill water etc., but still remain as a group and continue to work together?  I was met with cold stares and stone cold silence.  Oh crap thought I, a bunch of ultra-competitive, non-courteous wolves.  I flew into the Porta-potty, then ran up to the food table stuffing my face as best I could while loading up my jersey with food, called out to the organizers for any spare water bottles (yea, they had one!) and turned my focus for a few seconds to the big orange jugs of Gatorade and water as I filled my bottles.  I swung around to remount my bike and take off and was met with……emptiness.  Gone, they were all gone.  I sat for a second in stunned amazement.  Game over I thought, good God.  I will never bridge back to them riding solo, it’s just me from here on out but what choice do I have?  I got on my bike and began up the road, feeling hurt and angry but mostly embarrassed like the inexperienced newbie that I am – how in the hell do you do this basically without stopping??!!  I hate you.

The moment was over and I needed to get back to business, I still had 130 miles of hard riding in front of me.  I settled into hard solo riding, which I am very accustomed to, but obviously I had lost the advantage of the draft as well as the energy savings available in group riding.  I tried not to think about how the group gap would just get bigger and bigger throughout the remainder of the day.  But then, Godsend!.  I glanced back and saw two riders ripping up the road toward me and in a flash of joy recognized them as two tall and thin guys about my age who I did not know but had been part of our group since the ascent of Mt Tam.  They must have both been using the bathrooms when I swung around to rejoin at the rest stop.  I picked up my speed to match them as they came flying by. They came by me at a speed and demeanor that suggested they were TOTALLY uninterested in letting me grab their wheels and responded to my “OK, let’s catch those dudes!” with total silence.  Apparently I was not too popular with these two, oh well, just try and drop me.  They both spoke with strong Australian (?) or New Zealand (?) accents.  Their clear intent was to get back to the group, which I was thrilled about but it was evident, at least at first, that they were just plain pissed off that I was able to join them.  They kept glancing back with hard faces to check if I was still there.  I pulled a few times and they seemed to warm a little to the fact that I was there and not going away.  Soon the group appeared ahead of us.  In 10 or so minutes of very hard work we had bridged the gap and rejoined.  I swung out to the side and tried to make a joke by admonishing Carl and Joel for ditching me, but again was met with silence – SO serious, oh well.  Max seemed to chuckle a little about it however.

We joined the other organized rides being simultaneously held that day a mile or so later, a metric, a century, double metric, etc.  These were social rides for the most part and the road became littered with hundreds of people going quite slowly so the group rip riding that we were engaged in became quite a bit more hairy as we had to concentrate that much more to both ride hard on each other’s wheels and pass riders constantly.  Our group finally broke up for good, at least as far as I was concerned, at the lunch rest stop in Petaluma at mile 93.  In 2013, the organizers had seen fit to place a check-in table for double century riders out on the road and away from the lunch masses to allow for number call out and pass through if desired – good thinking.  This year, we pulled up looking for that table and were informed that the check in was down among the food tables.  I looked down (a high-school courtyard) into a mass of what looked like thousands of riders and bikes, all stuffed into an elevator – unbelievable that they didn’t think through this situation.  We had no choice so waded in, jostling and calling out for the DC table.  I finally found it and checked in.  I needed to use a restroom again but forget it, it would take a half hour.  I grabbed some food, looked around for some water and was informed that they would have to fill my bottle from somewhere behind the food tables (I don’t think so).  By the time I had worked my way out of the crowds and back up to the road, Max, Carl, Mark Moon, and most of the others had already ridden off.  Joel, myself, and one other 41 year old DC rider named Mike from Berkeley were left.  We could see the other group about 2 minutes ahead of us and we settled in to work together. 

I rode with Joel and Mike for the next 25 miles to the Valley Ford rest stop and check in at mile 117.  It was mostly flat working northwest back toward the ocean.  We did not catch the others out front, but it was a great experience to finally ride with Joel for an extended period, hard and steady riding, with equal pulls by all three of us, cool overcast skys, and hundreds and hundreds of other riders out on the roads.  As I approached Valley Ford, I once again was feeling increasing need to relieve a faily full bladder, and I wondered what the other’s intentions were.  I knew from last year that the DC check in would definitely be out on the road as the rest stop was set back fairly far.  As we pulled in I had made a decision to definitely stop for the bio-break, food, water, and some Hammer supplements.  The first thing I saw was Carl and Max and a couple others who I didn’t know just completing their check in and heading out.  Joel immediately swung around to join them, clearly not needing supplies or a bathroom.   I hesitated for a second, looking back at them and longing to rejoin them, but I had to stop.  Reluctantly, I waded into the masses, but in a hurry.  The organizers clearly were not thinking about stage race participants.  There were Hammer products available for DC riders only, but the table was located at the far end of the rest area, about as far away from the road as they could possibly position it.  I ran up, filled my bottles, and then topped them off with two heaping dispenser cupfuls of Hammer Perpetuem Powder supplement.  I was about to leave when I noticed a bottle of Hammer electrolyte capsules and asked if I could have some.  “Sure” said the woman manning the station.  I threw two or three in the back of my mouth, brought the nozzle of my water bottle up to my lips, and gave it a hard squeeze, instantly filling my entire mouth with powder, I had forgotten to shake the bottles!.  The women at the table looked at me with a puzzled and somewhat horrified expression as dust and smoke were spilling out of my mouth and probably my nose.  It was like a large mouthful of chalk that had instantly absorbed every molecule of water available in my mouth and I was like a suffocating fish trying to work my jaw to produce a word with no success.  I viciously shook my bottles while gagging and frantically pushed some fluid into what was left of my mouth and finally managed to swallow and wash the powder down.  Oh well, it was probably a good slug of much needed fuel.  I raced out to see about a bathroom and was met with a line at least 10 deep in front of ever Porta-Potty in sight.  Screw it I said to myself and raced on up around my bike up front and half way along the wall of a large barn next to the rest area, dozens of cars parked against it.  I had to go and go now and so I did, against the side of the barn shielded from view as much as possible by the parked cars.  I’m sure people were shaking their heads at me but so be it. 

I jumped back on my bike and on the road, alone now and this time I knew for good, at least 5 or 6 minutes behind the leaders with no chance of catching them without the benefit of the draft.  I had about 75 miles in front of me that included a couple of big climbs in Coleman Grade and Marshall Road but I was determined to ride it as hard as I possibly could.  In my favor was a second wind that I felt coming on.  My energy level felt solid even though at this point in the ride my Garmin indicated an average speed of just under 19.0 mph.  In addition, I had a growing database of experience now to draw on from both doubles and my training rides that for whatever reason, the second half of these big rides were often better for me than the first, my legs would often miraculously seem to actually recover, and late climbs often felt stronger than earlier climbs.   I settled in to a hard and steady cadence and used the various riders from the other events on the road ahead of me as targets, zeroing in on each one I saw in front of me, hunting them down and crushing them, and no I’m not competitive.  Near the top of the Bay Hill Road climb I reeled in another doubles rider;  it was one of the men in the duo who had helped me bridge back to the lead group after the debacle at the Point Reyes Station rest stop.  He had clearly broken and had hit the wall.  His shoulders were stooped forward, his head down seemingly on his handle bars, his cadence agonizingly slow and his bike barely moving.  I remembered the dour expression he had given me when I joined he and his friend at mile 74 and I showed no mercy, making sure to stand tall out of my saddle and blow by him almost at full sprint at the top of the hill.  A few miles later near the top of the Coleman Road climb at about mile 130 I picked off another doubles rider, it was Mike, the guy Joel and I had ridden with for a couple of hours after Petaluma.  He was weaving back and forth across the top of the climb trying to create switch backs and I cut straight on through his his S-turns at a steady pace, and he was gracious to acknowledge my effort.  I had seen this many times before, there were a lot of riders plenty strong enough to ride hard with the leaders for 100 to 120 miles, but then the lack of training or the body’s lack of familiarity with the total duration of hard exertion over the entire length of a tough double century caught up with them and they begin to loose power.  I didn’t learn until after the ride, but Max and Carl and the other leaders had been strung out on the Coleman climb perhaps 8 or 10 minutes before this.  This climb was relatively short at 1.3 miles or so, but with grades up to 13 to 14% in sections it was the steepest climb featured on this ride.  Max later relayed to me that while he was laboring up this hill, he was passed, somewhat casually I gather, by a very pleasant fellow who was saying “Hi” to everyone.  Max then did something of a double take when he suddenly recognized the black Pinarello Dogma and Team Sky bike kit and realized with a shock that it was none other than Chris Froome, who was in Sonoma County doing some training.  I missed being passed by Chris Froome on a climb by mere minutes!!  My bike luck sucks.

Mike actually did join back up with me a couple of miles later while I was getting water at the Coleman check-in and water station and we rode and worked together for the next several miles until we passed the Valley Ford rest stop again and I lost him – I’m not positive but I think (?) he pulled in there.  During that interval two bees slammed into my torso along the flats somewhere.  I didn’t realize that they both fell into my jersey that was open at the top until suddenly I was stung twice in rapid succession on my chest and belly – ouch.   I was slamming my hand against my torso while pedaling madly to stay with Mike until I found each one and crushed them between my fingers.  Great, was there anything else this ride cared to throw at me?

I rode with consistent power and push for the remainder of the ride, almost the entire distance alone.   I had no idea how far ahead the leaders were, or even how many in total there were, but I did know that Joel, Carl and Max were the only stage race participants that were out in front.  Rod had faded, and I knew that I had picked up a place and secured fourth place overall for 2014 so I was resigned and content with this.   The course was beautiful, taking us back down to the ocean along Rt 1 in the early afternoon where the temperatures were cool and the air fresh and moist, perfect riding conditions really.  There were hundreds of riders from the other rides still on the roads and they provided an endless source of pick-off targets, which helped me maintain my speed.  It’s completely immodest really, but I was having a completely different experience than pretty much everyone else out there, I was going so much faster and just ripping by virtually everyone, out of my saddle still on almost every incline – I’m sure many thought I was a total show-off jerk and there’s a chance they were right.  As I turned onto Lucas Valley Road about 10 miles out from the finish I got lucky and passed another kid in a Berkeley racing jersey, who turned and said farewell to his buddy, then gunned it up to the back of my wheel.  Perfect I thought. I told him that I was riding the double and my situation and asked him if he could lead me in on the back of his wheel, which he was only too happy to do.  This helped tremendously and on the descent down off the hill on Lucas Valley Road and then out onto the flats we were cruising along at speeds of near 30 mph.    The turn into town and leading up to the finish came sooner than I expected, and in short order I pulled across the finish line and ran through the mob scene of riders and security (check my bike later dude, I’m still racing!) and vendors and tent poles to the final DC finish table and shouted out to stop the damn clock as I hit the save button on my Garmin.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that I was 6th to check in and lot closer to the leaders than I realized.  All the top 6 were bunched up within 12 minutes of the new record breaking leading time set by Mark Moon of 10:44.  I had a 10:56, only 6 minutes off the previous record on that course, with a total ride time of 10:36 – average speed over the 194 miles and 17K vertical of 18.3 mph, easily the strongest ride of my life so far.  Max had a 10:48 total official time with a ride time of 10:42, I can’t recall Joel or Carl’s time but they were all stuffed in there.  Interestingly, I realized that all of us in the top 6 or 7 had about the same ride time, mine was actually a few minutes faster than Max’s.  The difference of course in finish order was the greater time I had spent off the bike dealing with my bladder and water.  Max revealed later to me that he did not take a single bio-break the entire ride, and he only spent 5 minutes total off the bike for the entire duration of the ride.  Wow, impressive, and something to work on for next year!