Short version – don’t be put off by the climbing, it’s worth it.
Long version –
A huge milestone today both in terms of miles traveled on this journey and somehow making it to 50 years old, despite my best attempts. Definitely a day of reflection of how I got to where I am, both in terms of this particular journey and the life journey that got me from a tiny Welsh mining village to this beautiful state. First, the easy part.
So far I’ve managed 270 miles in 4 days, climbed 14,644ft and spent somewhere close to 23 hours in the saddle. My arse thinks it’s more, but I checked, and it’s wrong. It’s still glowing like it’s more, but it’s not. 270 miles on a bicycle? I never thought it possible but it appears to be so/sore.
My life journey took me to England (yes, it’s another country, different from Wales, look it up), France, Dallas (yes, it’s another country, just ask them), California, Indonesia, Mexico, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic and finally back to what I now call home, California. Lots of wonderful memories to enjoy today, all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way and all my friends from school that I haven’t seen since the early 80s but we still chat like we saw each other only recently. Today was truly a day of reflection on how fortunate I’ve been to end up where I am today. It was either think of this or those f****** hills.
I vaguely remember my 21st birthday and waking up on Cardiff Central train station with some brief recollection of how I got there. We left work, went to a pub or ten and then I was being prodded by a guy from British Rail – no, not in that way .Thank you team Automobile Association, I think. At my 30th I had been a father for about a month and was figuring that one out. At 40 I was a father of four and yes, still figuring that one out – and no, I still haven’t figured it out, just in case you’re wondering. I remember wondering where my 30s had gone but it was a mostly a blur with some wonderful interludes such as the birth of my second son, my first daughter (and most Dads can relate to that one, I’m sure) and then my last daughter before the bank advised me to get the snip. They should have provided counseling about the desire to “keep things smooth” down below, the bastards. The shaving regimen, who would have known!
I think I’ve said all I can remember about my 21st but for my 30th Lorraine got me a flying lesson and I remember flying over the Golden Gate Bridge on a lovely May evening, before the 9/11 rules. I vaguely remember at age 40 looking forward to racing Formula 40 and then realizing that all the old fast guys lived here. For my 50th I wanted something epic, and so far I think I’ve managed that, and then some.
Woke up this morning about 6:30am and checked the map. It seemed way too complicated.
I had originally avoided the official ACA route because of the 4000+ft of climbing but decided, what the heck, let’s give it a try.
After a nice breakfast at the Quality Inn in King City, winner of the 2017 surliest staff award, it was time to hit the road and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the route was right outside the hotel. A quick right and left across a bridge and I was on the famous Jolon Road. The first few miles were smoother than a well buttered taint and then it got a little rougher, but not as jarring as yesterday. Up ahead I spotted this and thought no, it must be a fire road….
Sadly not. A few miles later (mile 10, if you must know) I was greeted with today’s first climbing challenge. I have a rule, no, not a rule a policy, or perhaps more of a guideline, that I don’t stop until I reach the top of the hill rather than stopping on a hill and having to start again on the aforesaid hill. That policy/guideline did not work too well today, starting with this beast.
These photos in no way do this hill justice. It was painfully steep, and by painful I mean like listening to Trump trying to put a full sentence together with a words beyond a 4th grade vocabulary. If I lose some folks at this point, goodbye and good luck. It was truly an awful hill but the backside was nice. There were more killer hills to come at miles 30, 42 and 52.
After several miles of downhill and flat cruising you come to the junction for the Nacimiento-Ferguson road to Big Sur but not being a fan of too many hills (ah, the irony) I gave that one a miss and turned in to Fort Hunter Liggett for a quick look.
It gave me an opportunity to say “Tanks” to all my friends who had sent me birthday wishes. Always handy to have a tank nearby.
Fort Hunter Liggett seemed to go on for some time and I was just cranking through the miles as best I could but having to stop when the scenery called for a quick photo,
After 33.1 miles of riding, or half way, I decided to stop for lunch with much the same options as yesterday. Two Tylenol and a mint Builder Bar seemed to do the trick. I stretched out in the sun and had to motivate my lazy ass to get up again.
It was lucky that I did motivate myself because within a mile I spotted another one of those roads that crested the mountain range. This time I mumbled something to myself about “fire roads”, ignored it and kept going.
Mile 32. OMFG. Another hill that made you question your sanity. It went on and on and just when you thought you were going to die it went on just a little further, leveled out and had a nice downhill finish. I came to realize on this section that what goes down must go up.
Another ten miles later and it was time to climb again and this time I was rewarded with a great view of Lake Nacimiento.
By this time it was about 80F so the 6 layers I had started the day with had become zero layers. I kept my shorts on but had it been dark they would have been off too in order to provide a glowing red light to approaching traffic.
The downhill ride was pretty awesome but, as I realized, what goes down…..
From this shot you can see the road as a ribbon in top center of the photo. Hill number who-cares-I-stopped-counting-hours-ago was upon me.
To say that the next twenty six miles were not undulating would be like saying that the Pope (Bless Him) is vaguely Catholic. It was an unrelenting series of enjoyable downhill sections mixed with tear inducing uphill climbs.
When I finally reached the outskirts of Paso Robles (or “just Paso” as it’s known, thanks Mom and Amazon for the tourist guide) I was close to weeping and when I checked in to the Hampton with a hot tub and 24 hour guest laundry service I really lost it. It was like I had watched Notting Hill and Love Actually simultaneously.
After dumping my stuff in the washer I headed to the hot tub then excitedly headed back to the drier. Nothing beats the smell of not-me the next morning!
I met up with the parental unit and we headed to Thomas Hill Organics for what turned out to be a pretty awesome dinner. With the radiation treatment I lost my love of wine and beer but muddled through and had a great meal followed by a wonderful “cheese cake” for my birthday.
I very much wish my wife and kids could have been here too but it was not to be this time. We’ll be celebrating Mother’s Day, a Masters graduation day and a measly 50th on Sunday with the folks at Hornblower Cruises.
- 4,341 ft
Key learnings of the day:
- The ACA maps are better than your own. Use them but try not to peep at the climbing involved.
- Don’t look so far ahead that you can see awfully steep hills. Let them creep up on you.
- When you see a Sherman tank in the middle of nowhere, you need to stop and take a photo with it.
- A mile uphill on a bicycle is a long, long way.