Posted by: pointlenana | June 19, 2012


Well, I suppose it was bound to happen sometime.  I tried, and failed, to ride Terrible Two in Sonoma/Napa this weekend.  200 miles and 16000 feet of climbing.  I made it 143 miles and then gave up.  Two days later I’m wondering if I could have finished after all.

The day started out fine.  Last year I rode it in about 16 hours, 30 minutes faster than the time needed to get one of their cool “I did it” t-shirts.  It’s easier doing these rides a second time.  I kind of know where the hills are, how long they are, how steep they get, and where the scary parts of the downhill are.  Anyway, we left Sebastopol in a big peloton, with a pace car tripping signals for us the first 13 miles.  I think our average pace through that section was about 22mph.  Finally we got to the first hill – there are 4 big ones on the ride, plus some that the organizers describe as “pesky” and which I describe as killer.  Going up was not much of a problem.  Last year someone crashed behind me on the downhill that follows, in a hairpin turn that was a little wet.  No wet spot this year, no crashes, and the downhill was way less scary.  After that hill, I got picked up by a paceline and we rode into Calistoga averaging maybe 23mph.  55 miles behind us, and only 3 1/2 hours gone.

After a brief stop to fill up water bottles and eat pretzels, we set off again.  I managed to catch most of the original paceline and we rode up through the Napa and Alexander valleys at about 27mph.  Really really fast for me, but I only had to pull (front of the paceline) for about a minute every 10 minutes.  Then, just as the day started to heat up, we hit the next big climb – Geysers – which is this nasty double-summit climb where you climb until you are exhausted, then dive into a valley and climb really steep roads back out to the second summit.

Did I mention the heat?  The forecast for the the day in Calistoga was 104 degrees.  Up until Geysers I only had a “glimpse” of the heat, riding through some inversion layer at the top of the first climb where it got hot for a few minutes.  By the time we got to Geysers it was probably triple digits hot.  Thankfully, they had extra drivers out with water bottles to help us stay hydrated.  I did stop at one car but gave up when the person took a while trying to locate the water bottles in his car – not the trunk, not the right side of the rear, etc..  So I rode on, wishing I had more water.  I made it to the first summit, filled up, descended, climbed hills that seemed a little less steep than when I did them last year, and pulled into the second rest stop at the second Geysers summit.  I’m thinking maybe I ended my ride there when I didn’t fill my Camelbak with ice, but who knows.  Anyway, I rode on, down the backside of Geysers and through this fun valley next to Big Sulphur Creek.  No cars at all, riding next to a creek, typical beautiful CA countryside.

I rode through Cloverdale around 12:30 and made it to the lunch stop around 1pm.  Last year I got to the lunch stop at 1:20, so I felt pretty good about how I was doing.  Did I mention the heat?  Supposedly it hit 109 in Cloverdale, probably around the time I rode through.  Last year it was maybe 85.  I ate a quick lunch, mostly liquids and fruit, and then bolted out trying to give myself a little extra time margin.  I think I left at 1:20pm, vs. 1:47 last year.

20 minutes after lunch my ride went downhill fairly abruptly in the 3rd “hill”.  The 3rd hill is a 30 mile stretch along Skaggs Springs Road.  It goes from Lake Sonoma out to the coast at Stewarts Point.  The first 15 miles of Skaggs are a neverending series of steep climbs followed by short downhills and then more climbing.  The first half of the ride seemed easier than last year.  Skaggs seemed way steeper than I remembered it.  I did ok for a few minutes, then started flagging, then played a game of “I’ll ride to that next shade spot and see, ok, I made it so I’ll keep going to THAT next shade spot”.  As I rode, I passed riders sitting in the shade next to their bikes.  I also passed a few people actually riding.  Then, finally, at one shade spot I really did stop.  I sat there for a while, hoping I’d recover and noticing that my stomach wasn’t happy.  I sat, my stomach got worse, I sat some more, and finally I gave up.  After emptying my lunch over the guardrail I sat some more, hoping for a miracle cure.  A SAG wagon came by – “I’m fine”.  Finally, feeling better, I got back on my bike and pedalled about 1 foot further up the hill.  Suddenly the adductors in both legs cramped really hard and it was all I could do to unclip and straighten my legs before tipping over.  Thankfully, when standing there were no cramps.  Thus, the hiking portion of my ride began.  I think I threw up around mile 118 of the ride.  The first rest stop on Skaggs is somewhere around mile 122.  The second rest stop is around mile 128.  I don’t think I rode a single uphill from mile 118 to that second rest stop.  There were some flats and downhills in there, and by being careful I was able to ride some of those.  But I think I hiked at least 4 miles, uphill uphill uphill.  At some point my legs started cramping while I was walking.

I made it to the first Skaggs rest stop after an eternity, and ate at least three Otter Pops trying to hydrate and cool off.  I took the thermometer picture below at the rest stop.  I was feeling better at that point, but the moment I got on my bike, the cramps came back.  So I continued hiking.  Click click click go the cleats on the pavement.  On the downhills I’d hit stagnate patches of air that felt even more like an oven – “wait, did the hair on my arms just get singed off?”  After another eternity, I made it to the 2nd rest stop.  I sat there for a while, trying to summon the energy to ride the next 10 downhill/flat miles along the Gualala river.  As I sat with some other haggard cyclists, we determined we were the last riders on the course – everyone else was ahead of us.  Finally, two of us took off.

The Gualala river portion is my favorite part of the ride – beautiful, not hard, no traffic.  In theory, cooler too, although I didn’t experience that Saturday.  It ends ugly though, with a 900 foot climb in 1.7 miles – the Rancheria Wall.  Last year that was the only place on the course where I had to stop on a hill and rest.  This year, I climbed the very bottom of it, saw a SAG wagon and declared “I’m done”.  At that point we had 4 1/2 hours to travel 57 miles and finish before the t-shirt deadline, or 5 1/2 hours to finish period.  I’m wondering if I could have made it.  On the other hand, as we started up the Wall, I could feel the leg cramps threatening and it’s possible I only would have made it 10 feet farther before being incapacitated yet again.  Also, my cramped muscles are still pretty sore 2 days later so maybe if I had gone on my legs would be gangrenous by now.

After a long ride back to the start in a van with Dave the SAG driver and 2 other riders (one of whom was basically passing out on the ride and who ultimately crashed), we arrived at the finish line at 8:30.  About 25 riders had finished, and occasionally some really strong, fit looking person would ride in and get applause.

In the end, of 189 registered riders, about 35% finished in the 16 1/2 hour time limit for a t-shirt.  They keep the course open for another hour beyond that, and 45% of the starters finished before they swept the course of riders.  Even counting the extra hour finishers, this was a record low in terms of success rate.  So I guess if I wasn’t going to finish, I had good company this year.

I love this description of Skaggs, and yes it really did feel that hot: “Those who continued onto the steep, kiln-dried killing fields of Skaggs faced the daunting prospect of 30 miles of sun-baked, desiccated hell. Bike thermometers were registering between 120° and 130° over this stretch.” In two weeks, I have a chance at redemption in Alta Alpina, which only bills itself as the world’s toughest double century.  Given my luck with weather this year, it will probably be snowing at the start, hit 130 midday, and then finish with hailstorms.

5:45am, heading east from Sebastopol.

Still heading east, somewhere in Santa Rosa. The fast riders have already ditched us.

Trinity, the first climb. Pretty, not hot yet.

Riding up through Napa or the Alexander valley, at a fast clip.

Getting ready to climb Geysers – that ridgeline in the far distance.

But first we ride past the Robert Young Vineyard, of Marcus Welby MD fame.

And here it is, riding up to the first Geysers summer. Someone is already standing in the shade.

At the first rest stop on Skaggs. A couple miles after losing my lunch. This picture still scares me. I sent it to Janet and she replied OMG.


  1. […] Coast Double and Alta Alpina in May and June, and blew up in the heat during my attempt to repeat Terrible Two in June.  Knoxville is a little different in that they don’t keep times so in theory it […]

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