Butano Fire Road – 1:17pm, 57 mi
Knowing from Skyline35′s rides where to go, I led the way up the road. At the bottom, we found some roadies milling around seemingly lost!
I was wondering how the conditions would be on the road and it quickly became obvious that we would be seeing a layer of mud on the trail that would make the climb hard going.
I settled into a comfortable pace, wondering when the roadies would pass me. Eventually I realized my heart rate was way too high, close to anaerobic, so I tried to back the pace off even more. It felt so slow, which is typical on trail climbs on the CX with the harder gearing than my MTB.
But no matter how slow I took it, my heart rate remained high! After some time, I heard someone approach and ZT came by. He was running full-steam and disappeared very quickly up the road. I knew there was zero chance I could hang with him, so settled in for the climb.
It was cold.. really, really cold. I was climbing, so I didn’t really feel it that much but was aware of it. A few miles into the climb, my legs began to cramp. Weird cramps in unusual parts of the muscle. I had no idea what was going on given the easy pace I was taking but my mind began to analyze.
Was I dehydrated? I hadn’t been drinking a whole lot, for sure, but my mouth felt quite wet and I had no thirst to speak of. Seemed unlikely. Perhaps my legs really were toast from the Highway 1 ride and Stage Rd climbs, but I knew I was in good enough shape to handle all that. With the rushed rest stops, perhaps I hadn’t eaten enough?
Finding no definite answer, I took some Endurolytes hoping to feel their magic restorative powers. But it just got worse. I stopped at the point on the climb where there is a great view and stretched out my legs gingerly (even stretching was causing cramps). It helped stop the cramping for a few minutes but they returned soon after.
I’d never had cramping like this – ever. It finally dawned on me that it must be the cold. It had to be in the low 40s, if not 30s. I’d never thought cold could hurt my legs while actually climbing.
Data from Garmin via Strava by Mtbr member djconnel
As I approached the airstrip, I hoped that ZT had gone on. He was clearly super-strong and I was feeling guilty at holding him back. I knew the route so resolved to encourage him to go on while I suffered up the climb. I was sure the road descents to come would restore my strength to finish the ride with him.
The Airstrip – 2:05pm, 62 mi
ZT was waiting for me as I crawled onto the Airstrip. It was kinda humiliating to be riding so slowly and I felt much guilt that he had to let a bunch of roadies that he’d demolished on the climb pass him by to wait for me.
About the time of the airstrip, the rain must have picked up and my Garmin got wet. I really should have put it away much earlier – once water gets in, it goes nuts and quickly drains out the battery. I was so disappointed that I wouldn’t have documentation of the suffering remaining!
I took a quick opportunity to stretch the legs out again, I think I ate something, then in just a couple of minutes we took off. The rest of the road starts with a descent, which felt very good, but then a series of climbs that get quite steep. It was such a weird sensation to feel strong in my legs but have them randomly cramp up. I resolved that I was going to have to walk many of the climbs and ZT rode with strength on ahead.
Some of the climbs I pushed a little too hard and ended up unable to even stand for all the cramping going on. Horrible. I learned quickly to just give up on any I couldn’t pedal up super-slow rather than initiate more cramps.
And I wasn’t alone.. some roadies came by having very similar issues, walking most of the same hills I walked. That actually made me feel much better – misery loves company!
The trail itself had quite a few muddy spots, and I watched where the tracks of those who had preceded me went to find the most firm ground to ride on. Often, I found, it was actually in the water flowing down the trail.
After a seemingly endless muddy climb, I reached the Scout Camp and a properly graded road. Bliss! Of course, my legs were still unhappy and I had to climb gingerly but I was able to stay on the bike. Pushing sucks!
As painful as the climb had been, it was very, very cold up here and I was very worried about the descent. I thought about the possibility of continuing down China Grade, across 236, taking a short-cut to Jamison Creek Rd. But I wasn’t sure where (if) ZT was going to wait so I stayed with the planned route.
China Grade/236 to Big Basin – 3pm, 67.7 mi
Fairly quickly, the fire road dumps out onto paved China Grade and begins descending. Yay for no more painful climbing. But I immediately began to worry about the cold. My gloves were soaked and I’d lost one of my toe covers while pushing up the fire road. I would be descending into increasingly colder air.
I recalled that there is a visitor’s center and a gift shop, both of which have fires, so I figured the sooner I get down there, the sooner I can warm up, and with a climb out of Big Basin, I should stay warm enough for the remainder of the ride.
5 miles was all I had to survive, and nearly all of it downhill. Ordinarily I love this twisty, fun descent but today I was worried. I shook out my hands to try to regain some feeling in my fingers for braking and cornering, only partially successful.
On the way down, I passed a lot (5-6) riders stopped by the side of the road trying to warm up their hands. I later heard that one rider crashed here from being unable to brake! I passed one rider who was running his bike down the hill to try to stay warm!
It was a very scary situation.
Every minute that passed, my fingers became not just numb but freezing. I could barely move them. I couldn’t use the drops any more as I couldn’t be sure if I was on the brake levers or not. From the hoods, I could wrap four fingers on the lever and make them work.
As cold as it was, I knew getting it over with quickly was key so let my speed go as far as I could. Again, my CX bike was awesome. The disk brakes required hardly any effort and my 33mm tires were gripping the wet road perfectly and soaking up bumps.
Weirdly, I passed two roadies I recognized from earlier riding back up 236, presumably abandoning under their own power. That seemed a weird decision!
The whole descent, I was checking my feet and hands and trying to see if there was any feeling at all left and despairing as feeling in both completely disappeared, replaced by a dull ache of being frozen… just a few minutes more! Going through my head was advice from a great friend who said, “don’t do it” when I described what I was getting into. Why didn’t I listen?
By the time I reached Big Basin State Park, I was very cold but hadn’t yet started shivering. Shivering will slow you down because you cannot keep the bike pointed straight (I had this on the Death Ride after a cold rainstorm on Carson Pass).