The Terrible Two


The Terrible Two was going to be my last double. (That meant that I would never ride another double century in my life.) Upon finishing it, I would achieve my goal of riding three doubles in a single year, and get my California Triple Crown, entitling me, gladly of course, to purchase expensive Triple Crown merchandise.

It had been about six weeks since I completed the Davis Double, but with that and the Devil Mountain Double under my belt, I was feeling pretty confident that I would be able to complete the Terrible Two. I had studied the route of the Terrible Two during the days before the ride, carefully calculating how much effort I would need to expend at various points of the ride. The two main climbs of the Geysers and Skagg Springs looked pretty formidable due in great part to their steepness. Moreover, this ride has a reputation of being hot. Extremely Hot, especially on Skagg Springs, where temperatures had reportedly hit over 110 degrees in 2003. Also, for the 30th anniversary edition, the ride organizers had restored the route to the one that was last used in 1994, adding an extra 11 miles to the day. With the extra mileage and the possibility of hot weather, the Terrible Two would certainly test my endurance. However, as the weekend approached, the forecast was calling for the coastal fog to push inland and stick around for most of the day, and that would keep temperatures cool for most of the day, perhaps even making Skagg Springs more endurable.

My ride plan was to take it easy for the first 70 or so miles, which didn’t have a lot of climbing. There would be a long mostly flat stretch up the Silverado Trail to Calistoga, and I wanted to get onto a pace line that would allow me to reach the bottom of the Geysers in reasonably fresh condition. Then I could pace myself up the climbs and reach the coast where I would hope to have a tailwind drive me south until I reached the Fort Ross climb, which was the last nasty little climb of the day. That was the plan at any rate, and to jump ahead a little, it turned out that the beginning part went pretty much according to plan. Another part of my plan was to keep my bike in one piece. I had lost a headlight on the Devil Mountain Double and my taillight on the Davis Double, plus I had twisted my handlebars down while hitting a pothole, requiring me to get a new stem. Needless to say I wanted no more equipment issues on my last ever double. Of course, there was no way to ensure beforehand that I wouldn’t suffer any mechanicals, other than giving my bike a general checkup and cleaning the drive train.

I drove up to Santa Rosa on Friday to stay at one of the two Motel 6’s that were practically within throwing distance each other. There was a NASCAR event in town so the motel was pretty full, but apart from that, the NASCAR fans were basically unnoticeable. Although given that my room was right next to the freeway, I don’t think I would have hear anything over the noise of the traffic whizzing by at 70 mph.

For supper, I went out to the Union Hotel pasta restaurant and had spaghetti with fairly large meatballs, which made for a very substantial meal. I did notice some other possible Terrible Two riders come in after I did, since one of the diners in one group was wearing a Terrible Two t-shirt. There was no-one in that group that I recognized, so I kept to myself and finished my tasty pasta dinner. After dinner I talked to Tina, who was in Anaheim attending a veterinary conference. With this weekend apart, and then an upcoming trip for me to Montreal just after I got back from the Terrible Two, we were going to be spending quite a bit of time apart in the upcoming week. However, we were looking forward to our trip to the Tour de France at the beginning of July, and spending lots of time together in the Alps riding legendary Tour climbs, including L’Alpe D’Huez and the Col du Galibier.

I tried to get to bed early after dinner, but it was hard to go to sleep given that 8:30 was not my normal bedtime. I eventually nodded off, but 3:30 rolled around much too early for my taste. My usual trick of keeping some milk cold in the ice bucket wrapped in towels worked well, and I enjoyed some muesli for breakfast, which is the perfect meal before a long ride. I donned my riding attire, wearing my Devil Mountain Double (DMD) jersey, since that wouldn’t be bragging too much since the Terrible Two was pretty much the same difficulty as the DMD.

Riding the Peloton

I arrived at the Willowside School for the start and called Tina. She was still asleep, but was happy to hear that I was feeling good and ready to roll. I picked up my number and route sheet, and by 5:20, the ride organizers gave us instructions. The start would be “neutralized”, which meant that we would have to follow a pace truck that no one was allowed to pass until we got outside Santa Rosa. Since it was such a large group of riders, this would keep the pace at a more mellow level and the pace truck would also trigger the approximately 20 traffic lights we would encounter in town. At 5:30 we got under way. The sky was lightening up nicely, but it was overcast, a condition that would persist through most of the day. We made good time through Santa Rosa and didn’t hit too many red lights, even though the peleton would just keep going through those, checking for any cross traffic. During this time I saw a few other fellow Western Wheelerswho were making their attempt on this ride. I stuck with Ken Holloway for most of this part of the ride. Ken is an experienced doubles rider who had just finished his 50th double century as well as doing many long brevets and finishing Paris-Brest-Paris, a long 750 mile ride through the north of France. He is always good to ride with, as he has tons of entertaining stories about rides he’s done over the years.

The neutralized section gave way to the first climbs of the day, leading to Trinity Grade, and then Oakville Grade. This was the easiest climb of the day, rising to only about 1800 feet and having a pretty reasonable gradient. The peleton broke apart pretty quickly as the stronger climbers surged to the front and then off into the distance. I stuck with a small group that included Ken. Ken and I had ridden a couple of training rides the weekend before, and based on those rides I knew that I could keep up to him on the hills so hopefully we could do most of the ride together if we didn’t part ways at one of the rest stops.

We soon reach the top of Trinity Grade and then the top of Oakville Grade. The descent of Oakville grade is supposed to be quick and fun, but with a line of riders in front of me, I didn’t reach the top speeds that I was expecting. No worries though as we all made it down safely, although one person in front of me suffered a flat tire on the downhill. He managed to brake smoothly and get to the side of the road safely so no problems there.

With the first hills out of the way, it was time to grab onto a paceline and ride it into Calistoga, a distance of approximately twenty miles. Nothing melts the miles away like a well functioning paceline, and this one functioned pretty well. The front rider would do his pull for a little while, and then move to the side and let the next person in line do a turn. With this kind of cooperation, we kept the average speed up to over 20mph for the entire run into the first rest stop. One fellow had a blowout but made it to the side safely, but other than that it was a very uneventful portion of the ride. I stayed at the first rest stop for only a brief few minutes, getting water, some fruit snacks, and a quick bathroom break. Even with this short stop, the members of my paceline group, including Ken, had departed before me, and I was on my own for the next part of the ride. I attempted to catch up to a group in front of me, but it was no use, and I slowed down my pace once I realized I wasn’t going to catch them. Soon enough I was caught from behind by another smaller group, and I latched onto the back of them and enjoyed the free ride to the bottom of the Geysers.

Into the Mist

The Geysers is a triple summit climb, but the downhill sections between the summits are pretty short. The gradient is pretty tough, with most of it in the 10% range with sections approaching 15%. Our small group broke apart when we hit the climb, and I stayed out in front for a while with another fellow, but I wasn’t felling particularly strong on this climb, so he started to pull away slowly, leaving me to my own thoughts. As we climbed, we ascended into the fog, and soon my erstwhile riding companion literally disappeared into the mist, as I could no longer see more than 100 feet in front of me. With the still, foggy air around me, it was almost an otherworldly experience, and it felt like I was the only person on the planet. After a long interval of climbing, I started to ascend above the fog, and my reverie was broken by the sound of another bike behind me, as a rider from the paceline group was slowly catching up to me. I quickened my pace slightly and we rode together. On reaching the second summit, I could see the top of the third summit of the Geysers directly ahead, with the rest stop vehicles glinting in the now clear sunny day. The road leading up to the top was cut into the side of the mountain rising above me, and the fog that I had just climbed through filled the valley beside me.

We continued climbing, and now in contrast to the lonely silence of the foggy part of the Geysers, we started to catch and pass several riders on our way to the summit. The last part of the Geysers was very pleasant, and soon I reached the second rest stop. It was only 10:30 and I was already 80 miles into the ride, with first of the two tough middle climbs finished. I stayed about 10 minutes at this rest stop, getting refreshed with some V-8 and some PB&J sandwich bites.

The top part of the descent was quick and easy, as the road surface was excellent. Soon, the descent leveled off and turned left onto a rougher road. Most of the road surface was paved, although there were a few gravel sections. I came upon the first of these rather quickly and without much warning, except for the word “Whoa” spray-painted on the road just before the road dipped into the gravel. I was going pretty quickly, but managed to keep upright as the gravel slowed me down to a more reasonable speed. As I departed the gravel section, I thought, just like the cobbled sections Paris-Roubaix. Of course, the cobbles are probably much worse than a short section of gravel, but I was slightly relieved that the gravel sections weren’t any longer and harder. I kept a reasonable pace as I continued to descend towards Cloverdale, until a tandem-led group passed me. I hesitated for a moment and had to work hard to catch on the tail end of the group. We made good time and soon we crossed Highway 101 and turned towards Lake Sonoma and lunch.

It was just before noon, and I had already finished 106 miles. I got a PB&J sandwich and some V-8 and called Tina and left a message to let her know where I was. The lunch stop was the longest rest I took all day, but even so I was finished and on my bike in less than 15 minutes.

Stomach Problems on Skaggs

Skagg Springs is step climb, with steep sections punctuated by more shallow grades or even slight downhills. This isn’t my favorite kind of climbing, as I like to get into a rhythm and peddle at a constant pace. However, it was a relief that it was still overcast and the temperatures were very reasonable, as the road was very exposed to the sun. There were views of Lake Sonoma, although the Army Corps of Engineers had built the road so that it wouldn’t be visible from the lake, so the glimpses were fleeting. The road was wide and the shoulders were generous. The most common feature of the road was the guardrails, presumably to keep the boat-hauling trucks from plunging down the hillside. The hills rolled off into the distance, and I spent some time wondering where the coast was and what hills I would climb over to reach it. Eventually the sun came out, and the temperatures started to rise, although they were still bearable. Eventually I reached the first summit and a water stop, where I quickly replenished my bottles. The rest stop crew was extremely helpful and kept offering me different items, but my lower intestines were bothering me a little, so the thought of food made me slightly queasy. I declined the food and continued on my way.

The road tilted downwards and I tucked down and enjoyed the quick descent on the smooth roads. However, on this road, what goes down must go up again and soon I reached a bridge crossing a deep gorge and started the climb up to Las Lomas. As I started the climb, the road narrowed and the guardrails disappeared, and the trees lining the road offered welcome shade and protection from the sun. I made good time on this section and passed a few riders, including a tandem. At this point of the ride, I was surprised to see tandems, as they don’t perform on steep hills as well as us single lightweight climbers. However they were holding their own and climbing well enough to be able to catch up on the downhills and the flatter sections between the climbs. Soon enough I passed the water stop at the summit but I continued on through, knowing that the Camp Gualala was close, with mostly downhill riding to go before reaching it. The top part of the descent was technical but not steep, and then it leveled out. Another rider caught up and we rode together for a while, and were soon joined by the tandem I passed on the climb. We jumped on the end of that line, and enjoyed riding along the Gualala River coursing its way though a narrow canyon until we reached the rest stop.

At this point, my lower intestines were grumbling a lot. Moreover, my right leg was starting to bother me more. I had been riding with mild but constant pain in it for quite some time now. I had tried to rest it on the downhill sections but it was not recovering enough to be 100% effective. So I grabbed a couple of Advil and washed it down with some 7-Up, and then hit the porta-potties to try to solve the intestinal issues. Suffice to say, that did the trick and I was quickly on my bike and heading towards the Annapolis bridge. Unfortunately, my bathroom break had been long enough that the tandem had already gone ahead, so I was on my own. Another rider passed me, and mentioned that he wanted to try to catch the tandem before reaching the coast so that he would get a good pull down the coast. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to catch the tandem, and didn’t want to burn too much energy in the attempt. However, the other fellow wasn’t going all that much faster than me, so I was able to keep up pretty well. We passed a couple of riders on the hill following the Annapolis Bridge, but still no sign of the tandem as we hit the first downhill section before the next short climb.

At this point, the combined action of the Avdil and the bathroom break was starting to work, and I began to feel much better. My legs didn’t feel as blocked and I was starting to get a nice rhythm on the climbs. As a bonus, we soon reached and passed the tandem. With that mission accomplished, I kept up my pace and I looked around to comment to the tandem-chaser rider I was with and he was gone. I didn’t look around too much to see where he was and kept turning the pedals in order to get to the coast before the tandem. My plan at this point was to ride at my own pace as long as possible before the tandem caught me, as I don’t enjoy riding in a paceline for extended periods of time. While I definitely enjoy being able to conserve my energy and make up good time while in a paceline, I have to concentrate more when I’m following closely behind someone else, and the changes in pace as the speed varies under someone else’s control are not as enjoyable as when the speed is totally under my control.

With that in mind, I kept a good rhythm and soon I was passing other riders. I felt pretty strong, but I wasn’t riding beyond my abilities. I was enjoying this section of the ride, with hills gently rolling into the distance. Still no sign of the ocean, but soon enough I was on the downhill so it wouldn’t be long before I saw it. With one small hill climbed, I could finally see the water and there was still no sign of the tandem catching me. I turned onto Highway 1 and started southwards towards Fort Ross.

Down the Coast

I didn’t know how far Fort Ross was, but I put the front gear into the big dog and started churning the miles away. In the distance in front of me I saw some other riders, and wondered if I could catch them. Behind me there was still no sign of the tandem, so I keep my head down and tried to catch the group in front. I never could track my progress towards that goal very well as the twisty rolling nature of the highway along the coast meant that I couldn’t see very far up the road for the most part.

I soon passed the turn off at Stewarts Point that the regular Terrible Two route took. That was a good milestone knowing that I was back on the regular route, and that the extra 11 miles added to this year’s route had passed. I was getting a good idea of my mileage along the coast by watching the mile markers along the road side. Eventually I passed the ten mile mark and still no sign of the tandem. I started to wonder if I would be able to beat it to Fort Ross, and thought that would be a nice little feat. I could catch occasional glimpse of the small group in front of me, and I was definitely catching up to them, and I would probably catch them before Fort Ross. I took a look behind me and finally caught sight of the tandem group. It was about 8 miles to Fort Ross and even though I was making good time, it was only a matter of time before they caught me. Up ahead I noticed that the group in front of me was being led by a tandem, but I sat up and waited for my pursuers to pass me. It had been a good effort but I decided to hitch a free ride the rest of the way down the coast.

Our tandem pulled nicely the rest of the way, and we crept slowly towards the tandem group in front of us. However, with the rolling nature of the road, we would lose a little time on the downhills and our progress was more yo-yo like than steady. Eventually we reached the town of Fort Ross, and soon we would reach the next rest stop and the turnoff back towards Santa Rosa. On one of the uphill rollers, other rider attacked with the goal of catching the tandem group in front. I decided to join him and stepped up my pace and started catching up. Soon we were both on the end of the front tandem group, but next rest stop was just ahead, so that new tandem-led paceline quickly disbanded as we slowed to turn off the main road.

Ken Holloway was already at this rest stop, and didn’t look like he was going anywhere soon, socializing with the rest stop crew as he knew most of them from his many double centuries. I quickly grabbed some soda, potatoes and fruit, and refilled my water bottles. After only a few minutes I was ready to go, and joined Ken as he was ready as well. It would be good to have a familiar face with which to finish the ride. However we had one more big obstacle to go, and that was the Fort Ross climb.

Fort Ross and Finish

The Fort Ross Climb starts nasty and stays nasty, and not for a short duration either. It would average about 10% for just over two miles, winding its way through a nicely forested area. It was good to climb with Ken, as I knew that I could keep his pace, but would still have to work hard enough to keep up. I can always tell he’s working hard on a climb as his breathing gets louder and we are no longer talking. After a mile of this, we passed a man and his daughter on the side of the road who were cheering passing riders. They offered some encouraging words and said it was only a mile until the top. That was good news, but a mile of 10% is still a mile of 10%, so it didn’t get any easier. Soon the sounds of Ken’s breathing started falling further and further behind. I was setting a good pace, but I didn’t feel like I was going fast enough to drop him. However, after recovering at Camp Gualala I was still feeling pretty strong, and I suppose that riding 170 miles was taking its toll on Ken, although he was still making good time not far behind me.

Soon enough the climbing ended and I hit the downhill section towards the last climb up Black Mountain. I made good time on the technical section at the top of the downhill, but decided to wait for Ken, as I wasn’t assure of where the next turn was going to be and didn’t want to get lost. Even though the road was very well marked, sometimes it’s easy to miss a turn, so having a veteran to help lead the way was welcome. Soon enough Ken caught up and we hit the last climb together. He warned me that it would go up hill for a ways, and I grunted an acknowledgement. This section started to get just as mean as the Fort Ross climb, and my legs started to cramp. I tried to push through it, and grabbed my Powerbar bottle and started to quaff it in great gulps. Within a minute or two, it started to work and I felt the cramps subside. It was like a miracle, that Powerbar stuff, and soon I was relatively pain free. We reached the summit and started the downhill towards Monte Rio and the last rest stop of the day. The descent was technical and featured a few rollers before it flattened out and turned onto a main road. Ken got into his aero position on his aerobars and we made good time, reaching the rest stop in no time.

We stopped for only a minute or two, and I downed a soda to give me some quick energy for the push to the finish. There was only one more gradual climb to Occidental, and then it would be mostly downhill to the finish. We mounted our bikes and continued on our way. Soon after we left I heard bikes behind me and sure enough it was a tandem-led group. This was the tandem that I was trying to catch all the way down the coast and a small group of other riders were with them. However, they let Ken pull up the hill for while before passing us and taking their preferred position at the front.

With a tandem pulling our paceline, we made good time towards Santa Rosa, and the last few rolling hills weren’t even a problem at this point. Soon enough, we turned onto the Guerneville road and then onto Willowbrook, and the final mile before the school. At this point I pulled off and rode along side the rest of the group, preferring to set my own pace in the finishing straight. We turned left and to the applause of the support volunteers we were finished. The official time at the finish was 7:08 pm and the ride had taken 13:38.

Ken and I congratulated each other and we went over to get our “I Did It” t-shirts. I also decided to buy a jersey as a memento of my last ever double century. I called Tina and let her know I was finished and we were both pretty happy about that, although we would have enjoyed it better if we were together. I grabbed a quick shower, and then some food, as I was starting to get hungry then. I chatted with Ken and all the strong riders that he knew who had finished before us, and then waited my friends from the Western Wheelers to finish. As it got dark, they rolled in one-by-one, until Jeff and Lyresa came in just a bit after 10pm. It was too bad for them, as that was the official cut off time for getting a free t-shirt, but finishing the ride in the dark was more of an accomplishment that I was willing to attempt.

I had finally finished my goal of completing my quest for a Triple Crown, and now that it was over, I pondered it a little. As far as the Terrible Two was concerned, I was surprised at all the time I spent in a paceline. There was certainly more of that than during the Devil Mountain Double, but the climbs were certainly challenging enough. I felt my finish time could have been better if there was more climbing and less pacelining, as my climbing is stronger than my flats riding. And I definitely prefer to set my own pace on a climb than riding behind someone for 20 or 30 miles. So in order of satisfaction, I would definitely put the Terrible Two just behind Devil Mountain Double. For sure, I enjoyed the Terrible Two, but in terms of accomplishment, the Devil Mountain Double was more of a challenge, not only in terms of the climbing, but it was the very first double that I had ever attempted and not only did I finish it, but I greatly exceeded my expectations by finishing it before dark. I fully expected to finish the Terrible Two before dark, so my expectations for it were definitely different. Like a first love, I guess you’ll always remember your first double century.


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