Monthly Archives: September 2013

An aspiring writer

One day, a man walked into the office of a literary agent. The agent glanced at him, closed the romantic comedy that he was reading, and look up. The man was an older gentlemen, dressed in clothing that lent him an air of elegance and sophistication without being ostentatious.

“May I help you?”

The man paused, started to speak, and then pointed at the chair in front of the agent’s desk. The agent gestured, and the man sat.

“I’m looking for an agent for a book that I have written. It’s about a man and his quest.”

The agent spun 62 degrees to the right in his Herman Miller chair, placed first his left foot and then his right onto the corner of this desk, and leaned back.

“Tell me about this book of yours".

The man – and at this point, he should properly be referred to as the author – the author leaned back slightly, and began to speak.

It is the story of a man, a simple man, the owner of a bakery in a small town. He had chosen his career because of his fond recollections of the summers he spent with his uncle, and after twenty years of hard work, had achieved considerable success, but he remained unfulfilled, as he had never been able to duplicate the bread his uncle had made. He had invested considerable time and effort in this pursuit, building a separate kitchen and having an oven shipped from his uncle’s town, but to no avail. He could not help feeling that, despite all his material belongings, he was destined to remain in the shadow of his uncle’s superior skills.

Sadly, his uncle died, and he travelled back to his uncle’s city. While visiting his aunt, she handed him a small, time-aged envelope with his name on it. Opening it, his eyes fell on his uncle’s handwriting, describing the recipe for the bread, the bread that he had been seeking to duplicate for so long. He was torn, torn between the pain of losing his uncle and the fulfillment of his quest. He returned home, and went on to nationwide acclaim.

The author stopped speaking, and looked at the agent. “That is my story. What do you think?”

The agent gazed thoughtfully at the book occupying the bookshelves throughout the room, evaluating what he had heard. Thirty seconds passed in silence, and he spoke.

"The ending is weak, but the basic story is good. It has a good chance of being a successful novel.”

The author preened at the praise.

The agent continued, “but, you said it was ‘your story’. Can you tell me, is this a true story?”

The author replied, “The story is based upon my experiences – that is, to say, I have built the story inside of the world in which I grew up – but it is not a true story.”

The agent sighed, and spoke.

“Then I’m sorry to have wasted your time; I’m afraid I can’t help you”.

The man shrunk back into his chair as all of the energy drained from his body. He signed, and spoke:

“Why not?”

The agent replied, “I don’t deal with all kinds of books. Specifically, I don’t deal in naan-fiction”.

Passport2Pain 2013

(edit: in the original version, I stated that Marcel was wearing the KoM jersey. I was, in fact, mistaken. Those responsible have been sent to bed without any beer. )

In my continuing quest to do stupid things, I signed up for the 2013 Passport2Pain.

This ride is a fundraiser for the Vashon Island Rowing Club. Apparently, the club was sitting around one day and said, “let’s do a cycling ride to raise some money for the club”, and a plan was formed. They quickly agreed that the ride should be “hilly”, but were unable to agree which hills should be included. The impasse was finally broken when somebody suggested, “let’s just do all of them!”.

And the Passport2Pain was born.

I confess that I am engaging in a bit of hyperbole. It does not include all the hills on Vashon Island; a look at the course map shows that it skips at least two or three of them. To make the ride more accessible to those who are only slightly disturbed, they offer three different routes:

Route Distance Elevation Gain
Passport 30 miles 3,400’
2 50 miles 6,300’
Pain 80 miles 10,000’

Okay, those aren’t the real route names; I’ll explain the real route names as we go along.

I will note that the short ride appears to be roughly comparable to the very popular “7 hills of Kirkland” ride, though I have reason to believe that many of the hills are worse than those on 7 hills, and the longer routes are clearly much worse than the 7 hills metric and full century.

I thought I would try something different, and actually do some training for this ride, so I’ve been spending some time in the hills recently, including a trip up the ever-unpopular Montreaux-Zoo hybrid last weekend, and I also did a couple of hard 3500’ HC climbs on my recent vacation. Having said that, I’m not a natural climber, and I rode a little harder this week than I had planned, so – as usual – I’m not really in the form that I would like to be. Stava says that my fitness is near 60, which is pretty much my peak for the year, but it also says my fatigue is 60, so my form is a neutral 0.

The Ride

The ride starts at 8AM, and I want to start pretty close to that time, so I get up at 5AM. The start isn’t very far as the crow flies (why is the benchmark a crow? why not the pileated woodpecker?), but there’s a ferry ride in the middle and I want to make sure I catch the ferry I want. A quick breakfast, I get dressed, and then I grab my riding bag (a cloth shopping bag that holds my usual stuff; shoes/helmet/gloves/arm & leg warmers/thin coat/booties/etc.), my food bag (two baggies accelerade, tube of mixed Nuun flavors, cheese-its, garlic naan, shot blocks, two honey stingers, camera), and my water bottles (Camelbacks), and head out to the car. It’s 5:53, and there is a slight mist in the air.

The trip there is mostly uneventful. I chat with some friends while waiting for the ferry about what is coming. I catch the ferry I want to catch, and get to the start at about 7:30. I pull the bike out of the car, get it ready (GPS, phone, wallet, keys, water bottles all in the right places), and proceed to have a discussion with myself about what I’m going to wear. The ideal amount of clothing is such that you are just a tiny bit chilly when you start. If you wear too much, you get sweaty, and then you get colder. If you take it off, you are stuck trying to carry it around. I have a vest and coat that pack up very tiny, but I have pockets full of food, so I don’t want to take up the space. I finally settle on a pair of arm warmers, and ride over to the start area.

As I ride in, I pass a guy wearing the full Liquigas Polka dot jersey Kit, including the shorts. It looks something like this.

During the Tour de France, the different leaders wear distinctive jerseys. The overall time leader wears the yellow jersey, the points leader wears green, the best your rider wears white, and the rider who has performed best on the climbs is “King of the Mountains”, and wears the understated polka dot jersey.  The other big races of the year (the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta de Espanaa) use their own color codes.

In the tour, possessing the jersey is an honor – some cyclists may go their whole career and ride many tours without ever wearing one of the jerseys. It is to be respected and not used frivolously. When somebody shows up in a polka-dot jersey at a hilly ride, it’s essentially stating “I’m all that”, and a rider that chooses to do it should be able to back it up.

Note that there is one exception to this guideline; if, for example, you are a guy who weights 250 pounds and has a visible beer gut, you are allowed to wear the polka dot jersey because it is clear that you are wearing it ironically.

I find out later that the rider wearing the kit was local rider and fellow Microsoftie Larry Beck. He finished in 5:18, with an average speed of 15.2 MPH. I think that classes him as “doing the jersey honor”.

Anyway, I lean my bike against a convenient trailer with rowing shells on it, wait in line to use the facilities, and then head to check in. To register for the ride costs $100 – which is a lot of money, even for a fundraiser – but the organizers have come up with an interesting way of making it accessible for those who have less free money. As we ride around, we will get our passports stamped, and at the end, you can get a $4 rebate on your registration fee. Hit all 18 checkpoints, and you can get $72 back, making the cost only $28. Or, you can choose not to ask for the rebate.

I have opted to go “all-in” (no rebate), and the organizers have kindly given me a separate registration line. I pick up my course map, my passport (in a ziploc because it’s going to live in a sweaty jersey pocket), and a single “P2P” sticker for the front of my helmet.

About this time, the ride director calls us over for a rider meeting. He tells us that the course has a slight detour, missing one hill because of construction, but we can double one if we’d like. He tells us about the roads (not wide), the pavement (poor in places), the descents (windy (as in “lots of turns”, not as in “lots of fast-moving air”)), and the residents (nice). He tells us how the start will work so we don’t put a huge group of riders on the road all together.

Another benefit of those who went “all-in” on their donation is that we get to start first. There are a lot of us, so they will send out 5 riders every minute (I think they could probably do it every 30 seconds and it would be fine). I have cleverly put my bike right near the front of the start group, so I roll out as the 10th rider on the road.

My plan for the day is simple. I’m going to ride the first section of the course, and then, when I get to the turnoff for the short course, I’m going to do a quick evaluation of how I feel, and then decide. If I keep riding, I’ll make the same decision at the medium course.

My *prediction* for the day is that I’ll do the short+medium sections and skip the last loop. But who knows – I might surprise myself.

We head out, off the little Island where the start is, and head up our first hill (all of 75’ of climbing). I’m spinning and trying to warm my legs up a bit. I worked out a little harder than I had planned the week before, but my legs feel okay. We end up on the main North/South road, and then turn off on our first descent, and at the bottom, find the first checkpoint. I get my passport stamped, and the little chinese character looks very lonely, one box filled on a page with 17 empty boxes left. We head up, and the pitch quickly increases to 13% or so. I’m running in my lowest gear (30/28), and looking at the others around me, most people have chosen some form of mountain gear. The few that haven’t are in for a long day – or perhaps a short one if they only do part of the ride.

The weather is misty up near the highway, and mistier when we’re down by the water. I’m a little wet because of it, and my sunglasses have beads of water on them. It’s a little chilly on the descents. I believe this is known as “typical Vashon weather”.

It’s back up to the highway, and a nice long fast descent. I’m thinking that this won’t be too hard to climb back up. A bunch of riders at the turnoff make sure I don’t miss it, and I turn onto a curvy road that descends a bit more. I’m looking to the left, searching for a checkpoint as the road bottoms. There is no checkpoint, but there is a nice steep hill in front of me. The garmin says 18% as I stand to attack it. On the other side, we keep climbing away from the water, and finally top out at the top of a small climb at checkpoint #2 (bicycle stamp). We retrace our path and head north on the island. This is what I call a double; the route to the checkpoint and back to the main route involves not one, but two separate climbs.

Rest assured, dear reader, that I am not going to recount in detail the remaining 16 checkpoints for the ride. I think I could, but I’m pretty sure we would both find it pretty boring. I will therefore just give you the highlights.

At this point I hear a familiar voice, and find that it’s Jeanne, who rides with our group. We ride together for a while and chat, and then, on the next hill, her natural riding talent leaves me behind. I ride on.

There is now a decision to make. One can continue on the ride, or one can call it a day, and head back to the start on the aptly-named “The Weenie” route. I’m feeling fine, so I ride on.

In the near future (the whole day has mushed together in my memory), I do a hill that has my Garmin reading 20% on the ascent. Soon afterwards, it gets scared and stops recording altitude all together; it does not show the incline, nor is it recording altitude gained. Everything else is find – speed, cadence, power.  I turn it off, turn it on again, and it starts working fine.

More hills, more checkpoints. The checkpoints are all staffed by volunteers; the stamping is typically done by young rowers (which is what the money raised is for), with a few adults. They are uniformly pleasant, each of them (the checkpoints, not the adults) feature something slightly different to eat, and when they (once again, the checkpoint) have cookies, they (this time it’s not the checkpoint, but the cookies) are generally homemade, and quite tasty. Because there are so many of them (checkpoints), I don’t really need two full water bottles, so I switch to just filling up one. I don’t need to carry an extra pound up these hills.

We are now riding a curvy road (well, it’s more of a glorified goat track) that winds through the woods between the trees, and we come to a small sign that says, “Here is where P2P turns ugly”. Most of the hills we’ve climbed feature sections from 13-15% in gradient, and I am pleasantly surprised when I’m only climbing a 9-10% grade. And we’ve already seen some grades right about 20%. I wonder what “ugly” is going to mean; I’ve heard people talk about the “Burma Road” section, and I’m hoping this is it so we can get it over with.

We turn the corner, and find out. I’ve heard several hills referred to as “the wall”:

  • A one mile, 350’, 7% climb in Puyallup on the STP route.
  • A one mile, 200’ climb on the RSVP route that has a section that’s around 13%
  • A short 1/5th mile climb up to the Sammamish plateau that averages 15% but tops out a bit higher (this is more properly known as “the gate”).

I start the climb. I am in my lowest gear, and I end up standing and tacking back and forth to keep going forward. I watch the gradient numbers on my garmin spool up, and as they hit the mid-20s, I think “okay, 25%, I could believe that”. Then they just keep going up, ending up at 39%. The hill is steep – super steep – but I think the tree cover was messing with the Garmin, so I’m going to say 25%, and be done with it. There is more than one person walking their bike up it.

This hill is followed by another that is just as bad. If any hill qualifies the “wall” designation, these qualify.

And, so it continues. At one point, I think we’re heading down towards the ferry dock, which makes me happy, because the climb up from the ferry dock is supposedly only 9-10%, but then we turn off to the West, and descend down another way. The way up features another honest 20%. And another hill, and then we ride back into town. I run into my friend Joe outside of the bakery. We talk briefly, but I’m not very social on long rides. I lead Tue/Thu nights, and when I’m riding on the weekends I’d generally prefer not to have to deal with people much.

There are two things I need. I need a bathroom – which I find behind the very busy farmer’s market – and I need some caffeine. I buy a diet coke (the fructose in real coke gives me stomach cramps) from the Thriftway and stand outside, chugging it down. While I am there, I am approached by a bee asking me if I know how to identify GMO foods. It is possible that it was a *person* dressed in a bee, but given my mental state at the point, I can’t make a definitive determination. I head out again, and the liquid and caffeine have helped me quite a bit, and I feel pretty good. My legs – which were hurting quite a bit after the Burma road section – have calmed down a bit, and the hills here seem to be content to limiting themselves to the 13% range or so.

We do one section here (or perhaps it’s before town, things are a bit hazy) where, at the checkpoint at the bottom of the hill (I almost said “steep hill”, but that would be redundant here), near the beach, there is a sign that says “no guilt option”. It is pinned to the cushion of a nice chaise lounge underneath an umbrella; there are fuzzy slippers, a few books, and a cooler of cold beer. You can be done; all you have to do is surrender your passport, park your bike, and relax. This is manipulative and mean. I love it.

We come to an intersection, climb up “evil twin #1” to a checkpoint, descend back down to the same intersection, and then climb “evil twin #2”. The past 3 checkpoints, I’ve been just ahead of a few guys from my group, and I keep expecting them to pass me, but we end up keeping the same gap.

A bit of flat(ish) road along the water, and we come to decision point #2. The choice is whether to head straight towards the remaining checkpoints on Maury Island (I think there are 5 left), or to turn right, ride the mostly-flat section back to the starting point, and get to the finish line food and beverages early, weaseling out on the rest of the ride. I’m as surprised as anybody that I don’t give “The Weasel” route any real consideration, and ride straight onto Maury island. Which means I’m on the long ride, the full-mean deal, the big chihuahua, known as “The Idiot”.

Checkpoints 14 and 15 (“Air Mail” and “? um. Rythmic gymnast?”) are dispatched reasonably quickly, and then the ride once again gets meaner. We are down near the water in the part of the island known as Docton. We do a long climb up the island, and then we have a very steep descent back down to the water. I refuel and rewater at the checkpoint, and start the climb out. It is stiff – an extended section in the 15-16% range. I have been tacking (riding back and forth across the road to make the climb less steep) on the steeper sections when practical and safe, and I continue it here. That pulls the effective gradient down to about 13%, and I slowly climb out at around 200 watts. I catch and pass a few people on the climbs (huh? I’m surprised to be catching people), and we descend down to Dockton – only to turn off and start climbing, up again, and then down to the water again. For the second double in a row. This one is a bit worse on the way out.

Near the top of this one, I ask a rider with me, “How do you feel about profanity?”. She replies, “I don’t have a problem with it on a ride”. I pause, and then say, “I have *had it* with these motherfucking hills on this motherfucking ride” (reference). She laughs.

There is only one checkpoint left. We start climbing, and it’s rolling, with a 10% base grade and short little uphills in the 14-15%. I see a sign to turn left, and as I get closer, I see a joyous sight; a car, and a group of riders standing around, which means this one is not going to be another double.

A minute or so after this, Kevin pulls in, and we get our pictures taken in front of a vintage TdF climb picture holding a crystal cup. I eat a brownie. Then it’s a nice fast descent, a bit of spinning, and we’re back at the finish, where I pick up my finisher’s packet, eat a burrito that I would rather forget, and drink a mexican coke (sugar, not HFCS).

And here’s the proof:


Here are the vital statistics:

Distance: 82.4 miles
Elevation: 9,996’ (I’ll just say “10,000”)
Time: 7:13:27
Average Speed: 11.4 MPH
Energy: 3,605 kJ
Strava: Link

And here is the elevation map.

It was nuts. Truly nuts. As you can see, it’s there is perhaps 5 miles of flat(ish) the whole ride. I count 22 major climbs, and virtually all of them have sections in the 13% range. If you have done 7 hills, think of the worst hills on that ride – Seminary and Winery – and now think of doing each of them 11 times, except that some of them are steeper than either of those climbs.

I felt pretty strong most of the way through – stronger than I’ve felt on a long ride the whole summer. Part of it was the weather; the cool definitely agrees with me. I also think that I ate more than I have in the past, and that helped out as well.

Organization and logistics

Overall, the logistics around the ride were excellent. The yellow signs were clear in most cases, and it was nice not having to look for Dan Henry’s on the road. The food was good at the checkpoints, and there was nice variety. The volunteers were all helpful. 9/10, would ride again.

A few suggestions for next time:

  1. The parking situation was a bit confusing.
  2. It would be nice to have something salty at the checkpoints and/or salt to put on the potatoes.
  3. The yellow P2P signs were very visible, but the arrows on them were hard to read until you got pretty close to them. I would prefer the arrows at the top of the sign, and either on the left, center, or right part of the sign, meaning left, straight, or right.
  4. 4PM is too early for the barbecue to end; I spent very little time in the checkpoints but still finished barely before 4PM.
  5. The burritos at the finish line were pretty underwhelming.
  6. It seems that the checkpoint locations weren’t well thought out – riders were often forced to ride a lot of extra distance and climb hills just to reach them.

The Devil’s Mountain

After a 6-day guided tour along the coast in California, I found myself at my sisters house in Walnut Creek (east of Oakland) with my bicycle and riding gear, and remembered that she lives near a pretty major climb – Mount Diablo. I borrowed my wife’s laptop (I was deliberately laptop-free on the trip), did some research on some bike forums, mapped out a route in, downloaded it to my Garmin, and got ready. The next day, I got up early to avoid the usual heat, and found that it there were scattered clouds and it was in the low 60s. Perfect.

I rode into Walnut Creek, hooked back south, and rode towards the entrance.

The riding was nice, and I soon hit the North entrance:

There are two entrances to the park; a north one, and a south one. I chose the north one because it’s regarded as the harder way up (I’m not likely to have the opportunity to do it again in the near future), and because the road that I rode to get to it is a better choice early in the morning. The climb from this side is 11.1 miles and 3448’ of climbing, a nice HC segment and the second one I’ve done in four days. The weather is still cloudy, which makes the climb cool. There’s an easy 2-3% section at the start, and then the climb settles down in the 6-7% range. I climbed pretty fast a few days ago and I quickly settle at about 220 watts and a heartrate in the low 150s. I pass a guy that is much slower than me, get passed by a guy much slower than me, and wind back and forth up the switchbacks. There is no other traffic; I don’t see a single car for this whole section. It’s peaceful but the pace is fairly hard; mindful of the length of the climb I’m trying to keep up with my Nuun and eating some cheese-its now and then (they are my new cycling wonder food). Eventually, I hit the ranger station where the north and south road meet the summit road; I hop off for a quick break and, clued in by the internets, walk around the back of the building to refill my water bottles. I’m about halfway.

I head out, read and ignore the sign that says, “HEADPHONES IN BOTH EARS ILLEGAL”, and start up. It’s sunny now, but really not very hot. This section is about the same as the earlier section, and I settle back into a groove. It’s more crowded because of the people who come up the south side (which, in addition to being easier, is considered to be easier to get to from BART), and I pass one rider, and then a group of four. A guy slides up next to me, says “cool paint job” (my bike has is a Trek ProjectOne), I speed up a tiny bit to talk to him about it, but after about two minutes tell him that I need to slow down because I can’t hold his pace. He apologizes for making me ride too hard, and rides off.

I continue to climb at a nice pace. Eventually, the road tips up a bit, and the climb is in the 8% range, maybe a bit more. I pass a couple of more cyclists and get passed by one more, and finally start getting near the telecommunications towers on the summit. I round one, and then am at the finishing summit pitch. This is an host 17%, and while it isn’t that long, it’s long enough. I stand up and gut it out for the last little section, ride to the top of the parking lot, and then get off my bike and pause to catch my breath. There are seven or eight other cyclists here, and just one car. The observation tower is closed, so I have to settle for the views from the summit parking lot.

There are some more summit pictures here.

After taking pictures, I look around and see that a couple in a tandem is at the summit. I did not pass them along the way, and they showed up close behind me, which means they were either climbing as fast as me, or perhaps a bit faster. I walk over and tell that I admire their insanity for doing the climb on a tandem. I get back on the bike, and start rolling down.

The road is either 15 or 20 MPH on the way down. I hadn’t noticed it on the way up, but it’s a pretty curvy road; some sections are easy to do at 25, but you are going to be slowing down to the speed limit pretty frequently and you will be on your brakes for quite a while. One car waves me by on the way down (it’s easier to be fast here on a bike than in a car), and I descend down to the ranger station. I turn to the south this time, and descend down that section. I’m following the route on my GPS, when the path suddenly veers off, but the road keeps going straight. I stay on the road, and can tell it’s the right road by the trickle of cyclists heading towards me. I’m soon back in the neighborhoods, and I stop to figure out where I am. The route seems to be clipped off, heading straight back rather than following the route I designed. I think it’s probably a designed-in limitation in RideWithGps. I spent some time looking at the route this morning, and am sure quite that I can’t make all the turns I need to makme, but I also know that if I just head west, I’ll eventually run into bike trail, and I know how to get back from there. I turn in the direction I want to go and head off.

Eventually, I ride into Danville, and under the 680, and I pick up the trail and ride back. There’s a final 15% climb up into the neighborhood, and then a nice 20% driveway, and I’m done.

A very nice ride. I lucked out on the weather, the climb itself was the right level of challenge; the only thing I didn’t really enjoy was having to use my brakes a lot on the descents; I’m spoiled by the long fast descents around Mount Rainier.

My second HC ascent in four days, and my second Strava Extreme rating.  217 watts for 90 minutes. A great way to spend the morning.

Strava link.

Monterey to Santa Barbara Wine Country Biking

A few years ago – when the offspring was younger – the three of us did a couple of family multi-sport bicycling tours through Bicycle Adventures. We enjoyed them thoroughly, and early this summer, the wife and I were talking about the a summer vacation, and decided to do an adult-only bike tour (the offspring works the whole summer and then heads back to school). After checking into a few options, we decided to do the Monterey to Santa Barbara Wine Country Biking tour offered by Backroads.

This was close enough – California – that we could drive down, which would allow us to drive down, bring our own bicycles (we both like our bikes, and I have a PowerTap on mine), and visit my sister in Walnut Creek on both ends of the trip.

The trip is billed as one of their “Premium Inn” trips, and priced accordingly (though none of them are cheap). My well-known cheap (I might choose “frugal”) nature means that I’m not big into the premium hotel experience, but it was one of the best fits for our schedule.

We drove down over a couple of days, stopping in Klamath Falls for a night. I our younger and stupider days, we probably would have driven all the way through (13-ish hours).

In the following, all names except for the wife’s will be initials, to protect the innocent.

Day 1 – Monterey to Carmel

We left Walnut Creek early (as both of us hate being late) to the Hotel Monaco in San Francisco, the starting point of the trip. My sister dropped us off there (thanks Sis), and we put the wheels back on the bikes (two bikes fit in the back of an outback if you take the wheels off) and headed into the hotel. We quickly ran into other people going on the tour, so we talked, and we waited, and then we waited some more. Ten minutes after the scheduled departure time, and the backroads vans finally showed up. Our bikes were quickly loaded on top of the vans; I’m a bit paranoid about our bikes because it’s easy to damage carbon frames, but there were no issues throughout the trip. Backroads uses this neat system where they strap a tray to the bike, and then the tray slides into rails on the vans and trailers. This means they can do all the loading from the ground. Slick.

We head out towards Monterey, and there’s not much to say except that it took a 3+ hours to get there. We get to know our companions (which included two other couples from the Seattle area), and then finally pull into Monterey and pick the remainder of our tour members. After a few wrong turns, we end up at our lunch spot in veteran’s park near the top of a hill. The other van is already there, and we join the rest of the group standing in clumps on the grass. I’m hungry and thirsty ==> cranky, and it isn’t helped by the smell of the roast pig cooking in a pit about 40’ upwind of us. Eventually, our leaders call us over to where they have lunch set up.

While I looked at the food, the group did introductions all around. I think the demographics were pretty typical; people who could think about at least a couple of hours on a bicycle each day and could afford a guided tour. We weren’t the youngest people there, but we were pretty close. Since I’m just before the half-century mark, it’s not that common that I’m at the younger end of groups.

The food, when we finally got to it, was good – there was a nice variety of stuff, and it all tasted great. I’ll save some time here and note that the lunches were fine all the way through, though I would like to see more drink options. I didn’t eat too much at this lunch because I don’t ride that well on a full stomach.

Kim and I have had some discussions about what our philosophy is about riding together on the trip. Kim is in good shape and is quite athletic, but doesn’t do the kind of bike riding that I do, so I’m quite a bit faster than she is. We decided to take it on a day-by-day basis; some days we will ride together, some days we will ride part of the day together, some days we will ride separately. There is in particular one mountain climb that I’m sure she won’t be interested in.

After lunch, we get a safety briefing, and then a briefing about the route. I have the GPX files on my Garmin Edge 705 plus the paper directions, so I think we’ll be fine. I get a few things from the snack table (lots of fruit/sweet stuff, very little carb/salty stuff) – some pretzels, a bit of jerky, put some Nuun tablets in my bottles (Grape in one, Tangerine/Lime in another), roll my bike out to the road.

We mount up, and head out, up the 10%+ grade. This is a bit of a surprise on my legs, and I think it’s more of a surprise for the other cyclists, but we slowly climb out of the park. I wait for Kim at the top (well actually, I ride up and down a couple of times), but after a bit she joins me, we walk our bikes down a connecting path, and end up on the road we’re looking for. I do enjoy the descent part the follows, and after a few miles, we find ourselves out near the water, which gives us a very nice view, so we take a bit of a break and a snack. The pretzels end up being peanut butter-filled, which is not to my taste, so I have a bit of jerky. We’re not riding far enough for nutrition to be an issue.

Along the way, I’ve been sampling the contents of my main water bottle, which contains the tangerine-lime flavor. At the stop, I share it with Kim, who describes it as “a tangerine that has been sitting out long enough to get fuzzy”. My description is “Possum, with subtle Meerkat undertones – the terroir suggests one raised on an east-facing slope slightly North of Yakima”. It’s quite nasty – I switch over to the bottle with Grape in it.

We continue to wind around through the World-Renowned Pebble Beach Golf Course on 17 mile road.

The scenery is great, and we are catching some interesting odors coming off the vegetation – there’s this sharp astringent one which I can’t quite place but is very refreshing, and there’s another one that I decide is best described as “used sweatsock with a haddock in it”. Coincidentally, we did this exact drive on a visit a few years ago, and it’s a lot nicer on a bike.

Eventually, we hit the Carmel exit gate (I toy with calling “Care-a-mel” for a while), and climb up a significantly steep hill, turn, and climb up another steep hill to the hotel, the Tradewinds Carmel. It’s a nice place with a great inside courtyard between the buildings, but apparently they do not attract a particularly intelligent clientele, and therefore need to lead said guests to their room and explain recent innovations such as light switches, closets, natural-gas fireplaces, and the existence of indoor plumbing. I turn off the fireplace, turn off the water feature on the dresser near the door, and we settle in. Dinner is at a nice restaurant nearby and I enjoyed the food and company, and my notes tell me that I was most impressed by the ice cream and sorbet I had for desert. It’s really a bit more food that I would like to eat, but it’s harder to eat well when it’s already paid for (most meals are covered in the price of the trip).

Distance 23.2 miles
Elevation Gained 1703’
Energy 813 kJ
Strava Score 42
Strava Link Ride

Day 2 – Carmel to Big Sur

After a quick breakfast (raison bran/toast/HB egg, which is just about perfect), we head out for the morning briefing. This is a pretty straightforward route down the coast, but I have decided to add in a pointless nasty climb along the way, one with advertised 18% and 20% climbs. There are three of us who decide to do this. I ride with wife through a bunch of turns back onto the highway and then head out, along with E (L1, who had also decided to do the climb, is not in this group). We roll along, and ride past the Point Lobos side trip. After a bit of discussion, we decide to keep riding on. Because it’s a longer day and navigation mode really sucks the battery on my Garmin, I’m not using it (this is a bit of foreshadowing).

After 13 miles, we stop by one of the ride leaders parked with the van, E drops off her coat, and we have a small snack. The ride leader asks us how far we have done, we say “13 miles” (well, I say it, because the cyclometer on E’s bike is only counting about 1/3 of the distance, so she says “4 miles”), and our ride leader says that she thought she went 15 miles. We pull out, and keep riding.

The route sheet says that we will be turning off on “Palo Colorado” at 19 miles. We do some climbing, and at about 17 miles we come to some bridge construction and a one lane road. We wait for traffic to go by, and then follow it up the hill through the construction zone. This is at the crest of a climb, so we descend down, looking for our turn-off, but we don’t see anything. Then we climb a bit, and descend some more. We investigate a possible road at 21 miles, but that’s not it. At 23 miles, it’s pretty clear that we’ve missed the turn. A brief confab ensues; if we continue on, we will be at lunch (which is on our own today) super-early. I’ve told Kim that I will eat lunch with her and E is up for some extra mileage, so we decide to go back, which leads to a 4-mile climb into a very stiff headwind. This is not a lot of fun; I’ve pushed my heart-rate way up, and have just decided to hold it there to the top. We finally get back to the construction, where they are pouring concrete and are totally shut down. We roll to the head of the line, sweet-talk the flagger into letting us go first when they do open it up (“it’s downhill, we won’t hold up traffic”), and 15 minutes later, head back. Descending, I see Kim on the other side, turn briefly ride with her to tell her we’re going back but I’ll still meet her for lunch (yeah, that doesn’t make much sense at this point), and we head back. Finally, after 7 miles of backtracking and about an hour late, we turn off on the Palo Colorado.

It’s a small one-lane road through dense woods, up and down over little hills (hillets?) and back and forth through the trees. All along the side, there are lots of tiny cabins. It’s mostly been relatively easy – about a 5% grade with lots of short steeper parts. After about twenty minutes of this, we get to the first steep pitch, which starts at 11%, kicks up to 15%, and then gets nasty. I’m in my lowest gearing (30/28 IIRC), and I’m tacking all the way across the road. It’s an honest 20% grade, perhaps a tick higher. And it’s in full sunlight, there’s no breeze here, and whenever I get to the right side of the road, a guy hands me another rock to carry to the top. A few minutes later, I finish and rest in the shade; E finishes 30 seconds later, heads over to the fire station to ask for some water, meets a nice fireman, and comes back with water. As we are sitting there, one of our vans heads by; I put out a fist in the “please stop” sign, and the van just goes right by. We don’t need the water and I think we’re mostly okay on food, but since we’re off the original plan it would be nice if our leaders knew what we were doing, but whatever…

At this point, the road descends a little, but unfortunately the daily instructions do not include the profile of the route, so we don’t know how much descent there is in store here. The descent tips up to about 15%, I stop and ask E if she wants to climb back up it on the way back. The consensus is “no”, so we turn around. The 20% slope is a pain to descend, and the road through the woods is dark and torn up, so we have to come down pretty slowly. Eventually, we hit the highway again, and head south.

(Later on, we talk to L1, who found the turn, but ended up turning back before the end because of huge swarms of bugs, so apparently we didn’t miss much).

At this point, I want to fly a bit so that I can meet with Kim for lunch (or, more realistically, not be super late). We get back to the construction zone, where the workers are on their lunch break, so traffic is on automatic with traffic lights. We wait until the traffic goes through, then as the light turns red, a worker waves us through. I climb hard uphill, but I’m only about two-thirds of the way through before there is traffic coming towards me. I move to the side for one car to pass, and then find a bit of shoulder to wait for the rest to pass me by. E has to get off her bike and walk to get up to me, and we journey on. Just a little bit of extra fun. We then get to do the descent with the tailwind again, and we make good time, pass our previous forward point, and continue on.

Things get a bit hazy here – the hard ride back into the wind and the tough climb have taken a bit out of me – but after quite a while, we roll into Big Sur (literally, “Big south”), and stop by the van and some of the other riders at a restaurant. In the morning, Kim and I decided we would meet for lunch at the Bakery, which is a bit farther on (this is a “on your own for lunch” day). Though it wasn’t really made clear in the morning briefing, on the way to the bakery there is a significant hill; 500’ at a steady 7% gradient, and I’m hungry and cranky. We finally pull into the bakery:

I’m ready to apologize to Kim for being so late, but she was visited twice by the flat fairy, and has only been waiting there for about 20 minutes. We order sandwiches, and while sandwich is on fresh bread, it isn’t particularly memorable.

After lunch, Kim, E, and I head back down the hill a bit to a road that takes us to Pfeiffer beach. At the parking lot, we run into guide J with a van, waiting to shuttle a couple of riders up to the hotel. We leave our bike under his watch, on the agreement that he’ll be heading back as soon as the other riders are ready to leave. Since Kim is going to van up as well, I’m not sure why we have to hurry back, but apparently that’s what we have to do, so we head out to the beach – which is very nice, and well worth the trip – but we only stay about 10 minutes so that we can get back.

E and I grab our bikes, and start the climb back out.

With the exception of one 17% section right at the end, the climb to the highway is pretty easy, and we head back up the hill towards the bakery. That part is easier than the first time (the sandwich has helped quite a bit), and we keep climbing until we hit the entrance to the hotel. We’ve been told about the steep climb there, and we climb up that to the restaurant, only to have to descend a bit to cross a small gulley for the final climb up to the Ventana Inn. We pull in, drop our bikes off, and check in. I head off to meet Kim, who is already here.

Given that Big Sur has been a counter-culture mecca (interesting combination of terms there…) since the 60s, I expected it to be a bit different and it did not disappoint. The rooms are in separate cabins and the one we were in (Ridge House) was built out into the canyon, so it’s a bit like being in a rustic but luxurious treehouse. After I cleaned up, the wife and I headed to the Japanese hot baths (the eastern ones, not the clothing-optional ones on the west end (not that there’s anything wrong with that)), and spent a bit of time soaking. Nice. I feel better.

For dinner, we walked over to the restaurant. We aren’t eating as a group tonight, but the dinner is included, so we just show up. We got the four-course menu which normally runs $70/person. The meal was underwhelming; our appetizers were meh, the risotto that I waited nearly an hour to get wasn’t fully cooked and was therefore gritty (this is not rocket science to get right), and the chicken entrée that Kim got paired very bland white meat with a still-raw thigh section. The cobbler for desert was okay.

I had originally planned on recommending the Inn but not the restaurant, but then I happened to see the room price on the website, and I think that even with Big Sur prices, you can do probably do better than $800/night.

Distance 60.6 miles
Elevation Gained 6,546’
Energy 2373 kJ
Strava Score 130 (Tough)
Strava Link Ride

Day 3 – Big Sur to Cambria

This day is a simple straight shot down the coast in three sections. It is billed as:

  1. 31 miles with 3700’
  2. 16 miles with 2300’
  3. 11 miles with 1000’

Kim is going to play this by ear; she’ll ride the first section, and then decide what to do with the later sections when we get to lunch.

The logistics required us to check out of the hotel, walk over to the restaurant with all of our riding stuff, van back to the hotel (to save time), and start riding. This was more convoluted than it needed to be, but we ate our okay breakfast buffet, and headed down to start riding at 8:30.

I rode with E and L2 on this section, and working together, we rode the first section to lunch in just over two hours, getting there at 10:40.

When we arrived, we got told “Lunch isn’t ready yet, you’ll need to wait, it isn’t scheduled to start until noon, but it will take at least 20 minutes until its ready”. I take a quick look at my Garmin, and see that the morning only had about 2200’ of climbing in in, which is about what it felt like.

Since lunch isn’t ready, we walk out to the beach to look at the water, we sit in the sun to warm up, we talk, and by about 11:20 lunch is ready. We eat, I talk to Kim a bit when she rolls in, and she says that she is going to van the next section but hopes to ride the last section. I tell her that I will wait for her there, and we (E, L2, and I) head out to the really tough section. These are real climbs (6% on the first one, 7-8% on the second), but the weather is decent and they only total around 1200’ in total, so it’s really not that bad. I crest the top of the second climb in the lead; E rolls in about 30 seconds later, and L2 about a minute after that. I have cleverly deduced that this is the top of the second climb by the spray-painted mark on the side of the road that says (“all downhill from here”), and, after another quick snack, we roll down to the second stop at Ragged Point.

I trade $2.50 for a small Coke Zero and settle in to snack on dry-roasted peanuts and wait for Kim while E and L2 head off on the last part of the ride.

Kim shows up about 20 minutes later, waits for her bike to come off the van, and then we head out on the last section. I’m expecting that I’ll be doing the ride leader thing and spending my time breaking the wind for this last section. There’s a nice descent and then the road is flat to rolling, and we are making good time. We take a short break to rest on the beach:

And discover that we are making good time because there’s a consistent 15 MPH tailwind. The road is new chipseal and is pretty rough, we stop to let some air out of our tires and it’s much better. Our tires had gotten pumped up by our leaders at some point. Though I’m not sure in retrospect because it’s very hard to judge pressure by how the tires feel, I thought at the time that they were about 120psi.

We barely miss the turn to the hotel, turn around, ride a bit next to the water, and pull into the hotel.

We chill out on their decklet while we wait for the bags to make it to our rooms, then Kim and I take a walk on the boardwalk before dinner. Dinner is in town and very good; I have an excellent heirloom tomato salad with arugula and peaches, a very nice duck breast, and chocolate for desert. I plan to eat only half the chocolate and fail at this completely.

Distance 68.8 miles
Elevation Gained 4,603’
Energy 2008 kJ
Strava Score 102 (Tough)
Strava Link Ride

Day 4 – Los Alamos -> Los Olivios

Today will be a transition day; after breakfast we will get in the vans to skip some boring country, and head into the interior wine country, starting out in Los Alamos. No, not that one, this one. We get there, get everybody unloaded, and head out.

Today it’s about 20 miles to lunch, and then another 15 to the hotel – or, if you want more distance, you can ride more in the afternoon. We are about 5 miles into the ride when we come across a guy standing outside his truck, and he tells us that there is a rocket launching in a few minutes out of Vandenberg AFB, a Delta 4 Heavy carrying a classified payload (this means “spy satellite”). They launch out of Vandenberg because they need a polar orbit, and that puts the launch track over the ocean. This is currently the biggest operational US booster, though the upcoming SpaceX Falcon Heavy will launch about double the payload.

He’s a bit off on the launch time, and most of the group heads out to ride, but we figure out the right time through the wonder of smart phones, and a few minutes later we get to see the launch, and, a few minutes after that, we can hear the low rumble of the engines. At 15 miles away, it’s not as intense as the shuttle launch I took the offspring to a few years back, but it’s still great to see, and it’s Kim’s first launch experience.

With the unplanned festivities out of the way, we head off to climb the first hill, which is a bit of a bear. Both Kim and I are having trouble with the heat, but eventually, we reach the top, get some more water from our van, and continue. We’re only able to ride for short stretches of time before I get too hot, so we ride for a few minutes, rest in the shade, and continue this pattern as we slowly climb to our lunch stop. I am really not having fun in the heat, and at lunch it’s pretty clear that I’m not going to do more than the 15 remaining miles to get to the hotel.

After a nice lunch, a bit of liquid, and modicum of procrastinating, we head out, start climbing again, and soon hit a steep 200’ hill, followed by a descent, and another 200’ hill. I’ve been riding on ahead on the hills and while waiting for Kim and the top of the second one, I feel something hit my hand, brush it away, and end up with a bee sting on my left index finger. I gingerly remove the stinger, making sure not to squeeze the venom sack, and the pain fades after a few minutes; apparently there’s enough of a callous on that finger that it didn’t get very deep.

We finish the ride in, drop our bikes off, check in to the hotel, and then luxuriate in the coolness of our room. Dinner is on our own, which is great as we have more control in our restaurant choice – we share salad, pizza, and a nice burger. Oh, and a nice local IPA for Kim, and a very good Hefe from Germany for me.

Distance 36 miles
Elevation Gained 2,321’
Energy 1027 kJ
Strava Score 102 (Tough)
Strava Link Ride

Day 5 – Mount Figueroa loop

Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a while.

The plan for today is simple; we – and by “we”, I mean the nutcases in the group – E, L1, and I – are going to climb Figureroa mountain, a 4534’ summit, while others in the group take a more leisurely trip through the countryside, stopping to sit in the shade and taste a nice Syrah.

We head out a few ticks after 8AM so that we can get as much riding as possible before the heat gets bad, and after 8 miles of warmup, we turn onto Happy Canyon Road. After a 7 mile intro which is pretty in a “horse ranch” sort of way (and not pretty in the “lots of cattle guards” way), we hit the meat of the first climb, which will take us 1200’ up over the next 3 miles. The grade kicks up to 6%, then kicks up to 8-9%. I ride with L1 and chat, and while it’s not what I would describe as cool, it’s not hot yet and it’s mostly in the shade, so it’s okay, and the pavement is just a few years old and in great shape. We hit the crest (or, perhaps I should say, the first crest…) and begin working ourselves up the sunny side of the ridge.

Then, not unexpectedly, something happens to the pavement.

We refill our water bottles from our handy support van (I’ve gone through about a bottle and a half so far), and tackle the unpaved section. It’s pretty rocky in places, so we work back and forth, picking our way for the line that is the least rocky and we make steady progress, finally coming to a steep section without a great line. I stand up very gingerly, try my best not to pedal smoothly, but still spin the rear up a couple of times. No harm and no flats, however, which makes us all happy, and we hit the top. We descend about 300’ into the next canyon.

We start to climb gently through some woods, pass over a couple of very minor steam crossings, pick up some really annoying bugs, and then the climb begins in earnest. The grades are in the 12-13% range, we’re in the full sun, and there is no breeze here. I try to hang with L1 for a few minutes, but my heart is making a thumpity-thump sound that tells me I should back off a bit. I tack back and forth gently to reduce the grade a bit, and continue to progress at about 6MPH in my lowest gear. In two miles, we climb about 900’, which doesn’t sound that bad – only about 9% average – but it includes my tacking back and forth, so it’s more like 11%+. I finally hit the saddle (Cachuma Saddle, as the next picture tells me) where L1 is waiting, and E rolls in a minute or so afterwards.

We take a few minutes to rest and hydrate, and then it’s time to tackle the final pitch.

I’m in reasonably good spirits; I know there’s a lot of climbing left, but we’re out of the “Happy Canyon” now and there’s a hint of a breeze. We head out; L1 in the lead, me in the middle, and E in the back. L2 soon pulls away; I’m having trouble with the heat and just can’t climb any faster. After a few minutes, I come to this sign:

Later I learn that California is strange in that there is very little public land; when it came from Mexico, virtually all the land was divided into private land grants, so this area that we’re riding through is, in fact, private land. Though I’m not sure who is going to be trespassing down into this steep canyon.

As I put my camera away, E rides around the corner, and I decide that it makes more sense to slow down a hair and ride with her than try to keep my pace. We are not climbing back and forth under a peak, we are working our way along a very broad ridge, which means we keep finishing one section only to turn the corner and discover there is yet another section. This happens at least 10 times along the climb, so we just climb and climb and climb some more. The surface isn’t great, but it’s fine for the speed we are travelling, and there is no other traffic out here. The gradient ranges from 8 to perhaps 13%, though at this point, I’m not paying much attention to my gps, and I can’t read it very well anyway because some of my sweat dripped on it and there’s a crystalline river of salt running diagonally across it.

We have been told there’s a steep section near the top, and as I near a gate that I hope is the start of that section, I stop so that we can “take a picture”, but it’s really to rest up before that last push.

And it turns out the last section is only about 12% and not very far at all, not really much of a final challenge. The section is punctuated by our support van driver catching up and passing us, with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring from the speakers. We turn the corner and stop at the top. It’s was a hard climb, but I feel pretty good at it; the heat did slow me down a bit but I was pushing 200+ watts pretty much the whole way, which is about 20% more than I pushed up Cayuse on RAMROD, and it is hotter here.


Left to right: E, Professor Snuggles, L1

We reload our water bottles; I get my hair wet and pour some water on my jersey, and we start the descent. The road ducks into the trees, and we’re treated to a road that looks like this:

We ride this very gingerly, but it doesn’t last for very long, and we are soon back to pavement that is mostly clean. Unfortunately, it’s pretty badly patched up in places, as steep as the side we came up, and just as curvy, so we aren’t able to go down it very fast; I hit 30 MPH at one spot, but most of it is at 20MPH, and there are a bunch of curves that require < 15MPH. Oh, and the random cattle guard, which is way more fun at 15MPH that 6 MPH. We spend a lot of time on our brakes, and have to stop twice to let our hand muscles uncramp. Not really the kind of descent you’d choose to have, but eventually we cruise down to the flat part of Figueroa Mountain Road, and we pull up to the van for one last water break. On the other side of the road, we see this:

This is the entrance to Neverland Ranch. People drive (or ride, I suspect) out here to have their pictures taken, but it’s just a gate.

We head out, and ride the rest of the route back into Los Olivios, and then out to our lunch spot at a vineyard. While I’m there, I take a quick picture of my helmet. Yes, I am a salty sweater.

Distance 45 miles
Elevation Gained 5000’
Energy 1910 kJ
Strava Score 158 (Extreme)
Strava Link Ride

My first extreme rating on Strava, and on an HC climb. Yea!

Day 6 – Short loop through Solvang

Today we just have time for a quick morning ride before we check out and head to Santa Barbara and other places. This features a short climb at the start, and then a nice 1-2% downhill for quite a while through farms and vineyards. That part was very nice, then we climbed a short hill into Solvang which adopted Dutch architecture after WWII, and now has a decidedly quasi-Dutch feeling. Interestingly, in the late 1950s, a couple visited Solvang and decided that adopting an approach would work well for their town, which Washingtonians know as Leavenworth. My impression is that Leavenworth does it a bit better.

On the way back, I stop to take a picture of an important sign:

If you’ve ever ridden on an organized ride and followed markers painted on the road, you can thank Dan Henry for that.

A quick spin back to the hotel, shower, and we’re back in the vans heading to Santa Barbara airport, where Kim and I will get a rental car and head back to my sister’s house in Walnut Creek.

Distance 16.2 miles
Elevation Gained 815’
Energy 453 kJ
Strava Score 18
Strava Link Ride

Summary and comments

It was a pretty good trip; the time we spent along the coast was really nice, in climate, in challenge, and in sights. I was less excited about the wine country section; I’m not a big wine drinker/taster at any time, and really not into stopping at wineries while on a ride, but I did get to spend a really good day on a serious mountain climb, which was nice, plus a rocket launch. A bit too hot for me, however.

Distance 249.8 miles
Elevation Gained 20988’

Back in Walnut Creek, I managed to throw in another HC climb of Mt. Diablo (39.2 miles, 4164’) on Sunday to cap off the trip.

If you want to read my review about the trip, you can find it here.


Review: Backroads Monterey to Santa Barbara Wine Country Biking

Recently, my wife and I went on this guided tour. You can find my tour writeup here.

The tour was 6 days long; a half-day at the start, four full days in the middle, and a half-day at the end. It’s really two separate rides; the first half is along the coast, and the second half is inland in wine country.

High points

I loved all the riding along the coast, with the possible exception of a small sidetrip that wasn’t great but which we were amply warned about. The views were breathtaking, and travelling it on a bicycle is much more immersive than doing it in a car. And we had a tailwind for most of the section. The riding options were a reasonable compromise for the more and less experienced cyclists; I was able to find most of the challenge I wanted, and my wife was able to have a good time as well. We could ride some sections together and some sections apart.

The riding in the wine country was a little less exciting overall (well, I just like the coast scenery better) and was much hotter, but it did feature a hard mountain climb option, and that was a good choice.

All of the places that we stayed were fine. They were a little higher-end than my typical preference (due to my well-known frugality), but it is billed as a “Premium Inn” tour, and it does live up to that. The food was good to excellent, with some great usages of local ingredients, with the exception of one dinner at the Ventana Restaurant, which managed to disappoint in both food and service.

Low points

We had heard in the past that there was a bit of attitude associated with the Backroads folks, and I’m sorry to say that it was true. After being introduced into the ride food table and being told to ask if there was anything we wanted that wasn’t there, I asked for some cheese-its, only to be told that “we don’t usually get that because most people don’t think they’re healthy”. On one morning, we left as scheduled at 8:30PM, and when we rode the 31 miles to lunch in just over 2 hours, we were told that “lunch is scheduled to be ready until noon”. Most of the interactions were fine, but these are a bit annoying, because there were much better ways to handle the situations. There was also this weird thing where we had two ride leaders and one part-time ride leader; the implication was that the part-time one wasn’t there to help us but was there to help out the main ride leaders. I don’t really understand the arrangement, nor do I understand telling the guests about it in the way they did.

The first day was a bit uneven. The Backroads folks showed up late to the hotel that we were departing from, and when we got to our lunch destination, they sent us out to stand in the sun on a grassy spot while they set up lunch, pulled all the bikes down, and set up the ride snack table. Then we had to do introductions before we could eat. It would have been nice to have something to drink while we were waiting, and they could have put the introductions after lunch. Then, the ride starts with a steep climb up out of the park where we had lunch. Not really a very kind introduction for people who don’t really ride that much.

Things got better after that, but there were still a few hiccups along the way. I missed a turn with another rider on the second day, which was mostly our fault, but I think they could have anticipated the mistake that we made and given us a bit more help not making it. There was a big climb at the end of that day that really didn’t get talked about during the ride briefing.

As a serious cyclist, there were a few additional things that bothered me. My tires got pumped up (great), but I think the inflation wasn’t where I wanted it. It would have been simple to ask me what I preferred. The elevation gains on the third day were way off, the three options were listed as 3700’ / 6000’ / 7000’, but the actual elevations were 2256’ / 4008’ / 4603’. That’s a pretty significant difference; I ride a 4500’ day very differently than a 7000’ day, and there are lots of easy ways to do that right, so it was a bit annoying. All the other days seemed pretty close.  I was disappointed that the daily route directions didn’t have elevation profiles on them; it seems like a really obvious thing to do and something that would be useful to all of their guests.

One final low point – Backroads has started offering electric-assist bicycles on their tours. We had one person on our trip riding one of these bikes, and found a few issues:

  1. It makes it too easy for somebody with little or no cycling experience to hop into a tour. The route along the coast was pretty busy at times, and somebody can easily get in over their head.
  2. Cyclists on the electric-assist bicycle are faster up hills, but tend to be slower on descents. That means the electric-assist bike passes me on the hill, then I have to look for a place to safely pass them, which is hard to do because they are not predictable descenders. I finally pass, and we repeat it on the next hill.
  3. They have the speed to ride with a faster group but don’t have the skills or the experience to do it well. I’m leading a paceline with two other riders, and an e-assist rider as the fourth person. I pull off the front, and drift back. I’d like to grab the 3-spot, but I can’t, because the e-assist rider is there, and they don’t know the etiquette. I therefore have to drift back to the back, but I can’t draft because I don’t trust the skills of the e-assist rider (they move around and slow down randomly). I have to hang back from the e-assist rider and just wait. Cyclists tend to self-organize on speed, with faster riders tending to be those with group-riding experience, so those at the front are generally fine on their own. Throw in e-assist bikes, and this breaks down, and makes my experience decidedly worse.
  4. They cheapen the experience. Everybody came here with a bit of challenge in mind; maybe it was riding fast for a whole day over a hilly route, maybe it was just riding 30 miles over a hilly course.

It was annoying with one e-assist bike. If there were multiple ones, it could be much worse. I can understand the marketing potential, but I don’t want to be on a tour that has them.


Despite all the things I found to complain about, we both really enjoyed the trip, but we enjoyed the ones that we did with Bicycle Adventures in the past more.