Saturday, May 6. DAY 2.
I was eager to get going. Judging by my Day 1 success, Day 2 should also be possible, although I did anticipate it to be the hardest day as it was 100% off road and completely remote with limited water and little shade.
Goal for Day 2: Ride 186km/4500m to finish in a hotel in Carpinteria, just past Santa Barbara. Shower.
The day started well with a beautiful 1200m climb up a road which wrapped its way around the edge of the mountain - higher and higher. Much of California, in my experience, is loud, crazy and full of traffic. I have often tried to picture California before all the people, and this place felt as if I’d been transported back in time. Remote and rugged beauty sitting in silence. My spirits were good, the body felt ok, and mentally I was doing great by focusing on the present undertaking, not the enormity of the future.
At about 55km I passed through Painted Rock in the Los Padres National Forest, and I was hit with what would become the worst hour of bike riding I have ever experienced. The ground, once muddy but now baked hard, had been shaped by cattle into steep, harsh bumps. It was relentless, painful and my pace became excruciating slow. It was pretty dry and I was wildly unsuccessful at finding water refills. I began to ration everything I had left. One bottle was filled with a drink mix that changed water into more of a gel-like consistency. It also had a purification tablet and was now warmed by the midday sun. It was like sipping hot pool water…
At 85km came Chokecherry Springs and fresh water – finally! Now I was only 10km from the summit of Big Pine Mountain. Only 10k more of climbing, I had fresh water and after that? A HUGE descent back to Santa Barbara. My optimism was back! I filled my bottles and set off for the last push to the summit. And that optimistic high rapidly dissipated. Severe storms had wreaked havoc on the roads which steadily became worse and worse. The piles of rocks, over which one had to climb, became bigger and more aggressive. The fallen trees, thicker and higher. Underfoot the terrain became a mix of patches of snow and soft sandy dirt. Unable to ride, I was constantly on and off my bike.
At 95km I finally reached the top. I was 12hours in, exhausted and nervous. It was getting dark and I had a huge descent in front of me. Oh well ... at least it was downhill…
I had missed, apparently, the memo alerting us to budget between 4-6 hours to cover the storm ravaged descent. The wash-outs got worse. It had long gotten dark, I hadn’t really eaten or had anything to drink in a while. I pulled over to plug my phone in and the next moment I was on my hands and knees puking up hot pool water.
At 119km, I took, once again, an ibuprofen for dinner and crawled into my bivy, next to my pile of puke and broken dreams. I didn’t sleep much. I was shivering and uncomfortable in my lumpy ditch. But, and it was I now realize, a part of me felt proud. There were so many times I thought about pulling over, but I willed myself to continue, not wanting to give up. I’d never achieved such tenacity before. I had often caved in mentally and quit, before my body declared it over. So ... while this state of exhaustion was not something I wanted to repeatedly seek, this overcoming was something to remember with pride and for inspiration.