It's the reintroduction back into the longer-standing "routine" that's the hardest for us. Insulated from our daily consumption of processed news and sugar, we spent 8-10 hours a day in the saddle. Our diet and consumption of all things purified. Our hearts aligned in support of this cause. Our lungs pulling each other down the coast for nearly 1000 miles. For 8 days, all we had to do was eat, ride, laugh, and sleep. Now we're expected to return to the office and give a shit about analytics reports, timelines, and resource allocations. What the fuck is that about and how can we get back on the road? Let's just keep going to Mexico, man...
We have graduated from this experience of Leave It On The Road, the foundation started by Michael Tabtibi and Andrew Hudon to raise awareness and funds for cancer research, one mile at a time. And we're all marked for life.
In a simplified version, 7 strangers were asked to meet at a coffee shop in Portland and ride to San Francisco together. There would be support. There would be some logistics, but ultimately all we have to do is pedal 840 miles from here to there... and that's all it takes, right?
This is just a blog post about one of my greatest experiences, dissected into each day.
Stage 1 Portland > Lincoln, City. 115 mi / 6200 ft
I've had a personal battle with my own health going for the last 18 months. I showed up to Barista in NW with some confidence in my baseline strength but ready to accept the reality that my body may not even last the whole trip. It was less than a year ago that my own disease (Ulcerative Colitis) had rendered me unable to make it up a flight of stairs without being fully winded. I couldn't even clean my own home without taking 5 minute breaks.
Joined by a few special guests from Rapha, we fueled up on coffee and pastries knowing that the upcoming day was a long one and would provide plenty of opportunity to foster these new relationships. Then it was time to saddle up and we promptly set off in the wrong direction directly from our start.
The route to the coast was probably the most varied route of the whole trip, passing through alpine style hills and forests, flat farm land, and coastal, temperate climate. Sun, fog, wind, and mist. Conversations sprung up between strangers and we slowly started becoming friends. With only 13 miles to go, our first mechanical threw us off our ETA by a bit but we made it in before sunset with enough time to murder some fajitas at the restaurant across the street from the hotel. That night's stretching and prep were the most thorough of the entire trip. We would soon begin to realize just getting out of our bibs was going to be a challenge the rest of the time.
Stage 2 Lincoln City > Reedsport. 99 mi / 5200 ft
Day break. The first sensation of firm hunger; the body asking, without ambiguity, to be fed. And fed without delay. This is breakfast. And breakfast is no fucking joke. Breakfast sets the tone for the day and trumps any physical ailment. Everything can be made better with enough gravy. Also because Carbo-Loading and Mochas. Andre (pictured above) was on his own for the latter but we would soon realize what his master plan was (and it's pure genius) the next time he pulled out a fresh insulated bottle of Mocha at mile 80-whatever. I secretly watched him enjoy it while I looked at my banana in disappointment.
We headed down the coast past Devil's Punch Bowl, Thors Well, and the Sea Lion Caves pushing through that always expected soreness and fatigue; hoping to very quickly punch through any wall into the Valhalla of strength and efficiency as we settled into our trip and into our rhythm. By mile 200, it was clear we were becoming a team of riders instead of a group of cyclists.
The mile markers and coastal towns were only the younger siblings to the grander views that were yet to come. For those that hadn't ridden along the coast yet, it was impressive enough but they were assured "it only gets better from here on out..."
Some didn't believe it.
Stage 3 Reedsport > Gold Beach. 111 mi / 5600 ft
"I've been riding with only my front brake," Mike mentioned the morning of Day 3. A few bike shops and mochas later, the group split in 2. Patrick and Jake would stay with Michael while his brake was bled and fixed while Andre, Tracy, Jen, and I would ride on at a regular pace to Gold Beach... stopping way more often than originally planned for pictures.
This was the day we had planned on rain (and were quite prepared for such circumstances) but after 60 miles of perfect sunshine and a quick check on the weather in our destination city, fenders were removed and rain jackets were packed. And if that's not an actual "rain dance" then I don't know what it is. The second half of day 3 turned into a drag race to overcome huge headwinds and ridiculous amounts of rain in order to beat the sun. The contrast between PDX and LA became more apparent when the conditions shifted to what we're used to in the PNW. I gladly rode to the font to pull the group through what is basically my home turf: Rain in the face, wind relentless.
And as the sun began to set 20 miles outside of Gold Beach, Patrick, Jake, and Michael caught our group, allowing us to all ride in together under darkness. Soaked and chilled to the bone. They had been running a furious pace-line with updates from our support cars on how far ahead we were. While we were only separated for 3-4 hours, I was already missing those guys like it had been a week.
Stage 4 Gold Beach > Orick, CA. 95 mi / 5500 ft
And just like that, we're in California. Sharing meals and miles had really brought this group from team to family and the exchanges really started to prove that. And I love it. Creaks and pains were setting in for some while I was only getting stronger (very much to my surprise, especially after the big efforts I made the previous evening putting in some big pulls into town).
This is also the day my sleeve was clipped by the rearview mirror of a passenger van at 45mph because the occupants thought it would be hilarious. I've never felt that threatened by a vehicle in my life and I've never tried chasing one down that hard either. We called CPD as a matter of course but knew it wouldn't do much good.
Day 4 gave us our first peek into the Redwoods through Humboldt State Park and just like the views of Day 2, these were the smaller versions of what was in store for us later in the trip.
Stage 5 Orick > Miranda, CA. 105 mi / 43 ft
This 12 hour period in Orick is going down in my book as an absolute PR for most calories consumed.
Dinner: Half a friend chicken, Potatoes, Greens... 1 order of Onion Rings, 1/2 order of Fries, 1/2 of Larissa's meal, a trip to the salad bar, Tracy's leftover hashbrowns, 1/2 order of biscuits & gravy, 1/2 a pie.
Breakfast: 2 eggs, hashbrowns, half stack of pancakes, 4 more eggs, 2 more orders of hashbrowns, 2 tortillas, biscuits and gravy, 1/2 an omelet.
I ate again 20 miles into the day. I also finally committed to Andre's Mocha culture.
And then suddenly... The Avenue of the Giants. 30 miles of road along highway 101 that is as perfect as any road can be. Despite rain coming the minute we turned into the start of this stretch of road, the flow and scenery were nothing short of magical.
Stage 6 Miranda > Little River, CA. 92 mi / 8000 ft
Coming off the previous day with so many flat, highway miles and plenty of work at the front (coupled with the chest cold I just couldn't ignore anymore), I knew Stage 6 was going to be one of the more difficult days in the saddle. Our first stop was near the Chandelier Tree just before the "ultimate climb" of the trip: a quick 3.5 mile 1000 foot climb with a perfect 6% grade for my style of riding. Knowing we would all be settling in to our own pace, I put some Bob Marley in my ears and started up the hill. First with a bit of labor but a few 100 meters in, I felt more comfortable at pace than I did spinning up in agony. This climb turned out to be a reminder of what it felt like to climb with strength and fitness back in Colorado, letting the "upness" just go on forever as long as I could ride within myself... just touching that line between pace and deficit.
We all collected at the top for one of the best descents I've ever experienced before we pointed our wheels back to the coast, completely bathed in golden light the rest of the day.
And then, 4 miles from the hotel, I felt a tinge in my right knee. 3 pedal strokes later and it was a dagger. Shit. Shit, shit, shit....FUCK. Ice bath, water, stretch, hope....sleep.
Stage 7 Little River > Bodega Bay, CA. 94 mi / 7700 ft
Yep... hours of rehydration, stretching, feet up, and massaging didn't really do much for the knee situation. In fact, I almost got in the van at mile 15. I spent this day isolated, riding gingerly 10-15 minutes behind the group; more Bob Marley in my ears and still smiling because I was on the road and in the sun. A higher cadence and low power was the only solution and this day just happened to be the second biggest vertical gain for the trip.
However, after catching back up to the group for the last 21 miles, it was clear finishing would happen when it happened because we were front row for an amazing sunset. A few of us meandered off the road and onto some paths for some amazing shots.
Stage 8 Bodega Bay > SF, CA. 72 mi / 4700 ft
I could sense the void on the horizon. I just spent 7 days in a row on the bike. What the hell am I going to do when this is all over? Sit in the van and drive, that's what. There's an incredible shift in perspective (and scale) after a trip like this. Many riders in the group had ridden In Gamba tours or done something similar before but for others, this was a first. A new routine formed. One that orbited our highest passion and dictated all decisions be based around the bike. Another day, another 100 miles, another 1000 smiles. That scale completely redefines a Sunday century and the effort it takes to complete it. Big rides just look like another day on the bike now.
These days spent on the bike offered such frequent reminders that this effort is expressly designed to use our strengths to bring awareness to those that have lost theirs. Every rider has a story of tragedy or triumph with cancer and through this journey, we all learned that everyone has a their own private battles. The privilege of someone sharing their battle with you along with a "thank you for doing this" is one that is still sinking in.
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was the closest thing to a fully registered reality that would come during this trip. There was no greater icon of completing the journey than that silhouette. A personal achievement for us, but only an opening statement for the greater idea that everyone has a fight and those that want to help are legion. There's a sliding scale of importance in this fight and we're just happy to be contributing in any way possible.
For me, this was perfectly illustrated in the bike I rode and the story that goes with it:
This 2007 Serotta Fierte belonged to Gene Burden, my girlfriend Larissa's father. You can see his name on the top tube. Gene passed this last summer from Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcenoma) that quickly spread through his body. Gene and I had become pretty close in the short time we knew each other. We shared stories about rides in Colorado and Oregon and we both suffered from Ulcerative Colitis. His family asked me to keep this bike for him and that honor has been tremendous. To ride this machine in his spirit has been the most important aspect of this trip from my perspective. Through all of the scenery and good times that were had, keeping focus on the meaning of the ride was paramount and completely illustrated here.
Mettle Cycling was honored to be able to contribute some prizes and material support to the riders. Our new friend #WendelTheWesty got some decals while carrying food, bikes, and our little furry mascots. We also put together a top-shelf prize package of everything we currently make to one lucky winner (still TBD!)