Saturday, October 19th, 2013

MTB Henry Coe Hard COEre 100 (miles that is!)

“Did you get the license plate?” Mr. Mud asks while adjusting his body position on the couch cushion with a grimace on his face. Roxy, all her 14 pounds, rocked from his one leg to the other, but she seemed undisturbed at all. She did not see us the last two nights, so she’s content to get her lap back now. “What are you talking about?” I have not the faintest clue. “Apparently, my body has been run over by a truck. It hurts so much everywhere. Was hoping you got the license plate from that truck.” Ahh… I almost laughed. Just almost, because laughing hurts too much right now. There was no truck! But I know what he meant, and my body is feeling just the same way. However, I’m content too because I’m in the comforts of home, no longer out on a remote trail facing many unknowns while laboring every pedal stroke. I was doing that only 12 hours ago, and I did that for almost 18 hours. I was in the deep of Henry Coe State Park, the biggest state park in California, and at the time, Mr. Mud was also out there probably about 7 or 8 miles away from me. We were out there alone … together.

We were on the Hard COEre 100 course. This is the fourth year this mountain biking event is in running. Some people call it a race, but I don’t see it that way. A race implies competition and a single-minded goal, which is time. But with Coe 100, there is a lot more to it, or rather, there could be none of it. Of course, time is still essence, but not for competition reasons; rather, it is out of necessity — there is only so much food, water, and gear one can carry and it is only for so long one can pedal. Time aside, it is an experience, which could be either riding alone doing soul searching or meditation for hours on end or riding alongside comrades with whom you share jokes, embarrassments (when you don’t make that little hill), later, suffering, and ultimately success or defeat. And then there is Coe, nothing like it anywhere else. I have tried to explain it to others, but almost always resorted to “you just have to go ride it to understand it, and  then you’ll either fall in love with it or hate it so much that you would not want to hear another mention of it.” Come to think of it, it is unlike Mr. Mud trying to explain, in vain, to others why he thinks Pinnacles is a great place for rock climbing.  Anyway, I call Coe 100 a challenge. Doesn’t it sound more laid back? (The competitiveness in me makes me shy away from races as I try to avoid extra stress.) A challenge — you can choose to take it or not, you can take it whenever you like, you can take it however you like, and in the end, only you will be the judge if you have met the challenge or not.

Well, it’s a challenge I almost decided not to take. Last year, having come back to riding after almost a year long break, we gradually got back in shape. At the time, the event made headlines on MTBR. It got people psyched. There were posters, attempts, discussions, and videos. Mr. Mud and I decided to join the crowd. Having had never done any night riding, I opted to do the metric version (100km=63 miles), and managed to knock it off with plenty of day light and energy to spare. Mr. Mud went for the full 100 miles and rode strong, however, his effort was dwarfed when his GPS died after 60+ miles. With delays caused navigational errors, he rejoined with a bigger group coming from behind and completed the ride in 22.5 hours. There was really not a good reason for me to contemplate riding 100 miles this year. We again took about 5 months off bike after last October. After coming back, we have had trouble getting back in the shape we once were in before. Maybe it was because of the busy work schedule, maybe it was our dietary changes (almost vegans now). Not sure. But we rode when we could. We even managed to pull off a road trip to Utah, which collided with the official event date. That was a fun trip! We rode 9 days in a row. Nothing big at all and none was a real training ride since we were just tourists on bikes, but still, 9 days! So, when we returned, we felt that the state we were in might just be as good as it would get. Who knows when we may hang our bikes up for good again; plus we are not getting any younger next year. That, was before I learned from Bruce (bbundy on MTBR) that one’s endurance may just ripe with age. (Did you see his 100km ride, and his plan for next year???) If I had known that before, I may have just decide to wait for some decades to attempt the 100 miler. But our idea had been conceived and I was still thinking that I needed to seize the day and try it when I could.

The first date available for us to do this ride was two weeks after the event date. That meant we were really in this alone. I should be scared, and I was. Because of that, I woke up to my alarm at 3:40am after four hours of sleep and at 4:49am, I set off from Hunting Hollow Parking Lot, in the dark, by myself, onto my planned 100mile long journey. At that time, Mr. Mud stepped out of tent and just had time to give me a goodbye kiss. It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Well, it actually does. On our Coe ride a month ago as well as on all our Utah rides, I remember Mr. Mud was always the one first reaching the next intersection and waiting. Even though not in a peak shape, he was riding stronger than me. I wanted to give him a chance to ride at his own pace, at least for a while… until he caught me.  But then, when he did catch me, what would I do then? Last year, he had a shot to complete the ride within 18 hours, but got unlucky. Trying to be a supportive wife, I wanted to give him another chance to finish at his own pace. But when he caught up to me, would I be willing to tell him, “you go ahead and I’ll finish the ride on my own?” … or will I be wrap my arms around his leg and cry, “please don’t leave me behind!” How scared would I be when the night fell? Would I have a total melt down? Really, there was only one way to find out. A head start would provide me with the opportunity to test the water.

Soon, I was climbing Lyman Willson. Soon, I was off my bike. I didn’t remember when it was last time I didn’t make that wall. It had to be years ago. The power was just not there, and the legs felt noodly. The spinning rear tire did not help either. When I did a trailside flat repair in Utah less than two weeks ago, I was shocked to see that the spare tube I pulled out of my saddle bag was only a 1.1-1.5” tube. With my tire at 2.2”, I knew it was stretched thin. In order to prevent pinch flats, I pumped my tire up to 40 PSI (I normally run <20 with a tubeless setup). The price to pay is the constant loss of traction, especially on today’s loose ground almost everywhere at Coe. Remembering how I cleaned pretty much everything that’s humanly clean-able on last year’s metric 100 ride, and even on our last Coe ride, I was cleaning most steep hills despite an over pumped tube (a mistake by Mr. Mud unbeknownst to me at the time),  I felt a little disappointed about my weak performance today, and then I got a little worried — would I be able to continue on for 100 miles like this? I would find out, but for now, I would just take it as it was. Well, as it turned out, I was able to. I walked a lot of hills that I had no trouble cleaning before. Legs remained weak, and later in the day, my hips started hurting when I tried to pedal hard — it was an old problem that returned. Walking the bike was not really more pleasant because my heart pounded way too hard when pushing, and the heel bone spurs hurt against the beat up cycling shoes, but at least I was able to stop every couple of steps without worrying about tipping over. There was a lot of walking my bike on this 100 mile ride. Disappointing? For sure! But I didn’t give up, so I’m okay with that.

But before I found out the ending, I already had another discovery – night riding is not scary!!! I know I’d still be scared if I were walking alone in a remote area at night because I hear sounds that I cannot explain and they spook me out. But what I just discovered that early morning was very few sounds could be heard on a bike – I was either breathing so hard while climbing or the wind filled my ears when I was descending that I hardly even noticed any external sound. Well equipped with a helmet light and a handle bar light, I could see trails just fine. As a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed night riding!  Yes, there were a lot of animals out there throughout the day. I can’t count how many deer I saw on this ride. One ran along side of me for ways when I was riding up Coit Rd. I was glad to have her graceful hops to admire before she disappeared. At night, when they appear, they were just two eyes in the grass reflecting in my lights, but almost always, the two eyes hopped away in the same graceful manner. I was not scared of those eyes; nor was I scared of those eyes right on the trails. They were from a small bird. There were many of them. They like to stand in the middle of the trail until you ride  very close, so close that you can see they have dark feathers and some colors on the top of the head. Then suddenly they lift off right in front of you without any sound. Very peculiar.

When I almost topped out on Cross Canyon (before crossing Coit Rd for the descent), it was already bright yet with the sun still below the ridges. I saw wild boars. Not one or two, but about three dozens of them. They were grazing, very close to the trail. I tried to strategize while soft pedaling, what to do, what to do? One adult boar can easily take me out… like this:

Okay, I know this is not a boar, but a boar looks just as powerful. What to do, what to do? As I got a little closer, they noticed me. They heads perched up. Suddenly, they went running with a few baby ones straddling behind. Soon, I was left alone riding through the grassy field. I, I made three dozen boars run for their escape! That’s it! I would not scared of riding alone, and I would not be scared of riding at night! I felt like thumping my chest if I could take a hand off the handlebar – always a delicate maneuver for me – and I felt invincible…  until I came up to Pepé Le Pew. Small in size, but he sure has a lot of intimidating power in him. Everyone I know is scared of him. I met him on the long climb of Wagon Rd after Long Dam Tr. I was nearing the end of my ride, also nearing the end of my matches. I was eager to get back. I just saw Mr. Mud cutting his ride a little short after yet another GPS catastrophe and he was taking a more direct route back to the car. He was waiting for me. But there he was, the skunk, right in the middle of the fire road. Him looking handsome an all, but I knew better not to get close. So, I stopped. I remembered what Mr. Mud taught me. I barked. His tail was now held high, but he was not barging. I gave up because my tired barks sounded more like meows. I disengaged my bear bell, which had been silenced all day, and I jiggled it a little. That seemed effective; he moved. He merely ran ahead of me, still right in the middle of the road, but at least, I was moving again. But he may be in search of bugs because he would stop frequently, nose down inspecting the dirt. I kept telling him there was nothing there, but he either ignored me or turned around and stared at me. So I shut up. Then he was running again, and I followed before stopping yet again. Thus, we repeated. I think he was enjoying being pursued. Even though I didn’t think he ever sprayed, I thought he got so excited that he leaked a little. I could smell him in the air while following him. That made me even more cautious – he had the substance in him. Finally, was that after a mile? It felt like eternity, but finally, he veered off the road. I gingerly rode by close to the other edge making sure I didn’t get close to him and then I was also at the top of Wagon Rd. Goodbye, Pepé Le Pew. Thank you for not marking me. I later returned home to hear about Mr. Mud’s double encounter with a different Pepé Le Pew. Well, let this be your take away – there will be skunks, at Coe, at night!

Oh, I think I jumped ahead a bit. My ride is not done; it has just barely started. Cold at the start, I had all my layers on. Lyman Willson did warm me up, but I kept them on in preparation for the descent down Spike Jones and Timm Trail. It is very interesting to feel the thermo zones and at Coe. You go through quite a few just within a few miles’ distance. Cold at the bottom of Lyman Willson, and then engulfed in some warm air near the top. It cools down a bit after descending to Coit Road, but it really freezes up at the bottom of Cross Canyon Trail. If there was water in the creek, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some ice. It was not until the top of Cross Canyon on Willow Ridge Rd where I took the warm gear off and back to summer riding attire. Yes, they called it Indian Summer for these few days of warm temperatures in the fall season. Indian Summer was the last thing we needed. I was on Bear Mountain around 1pm. I knew it could have been worse, (yes, we’d experienced it) but the hot air still irritated the throat. I kept sipping my water when I felt that my throat was scorched. It would be even hotter when Mr. Mud came through this part 1.5 hours later. But everything has its flip side. Earlier when I stopped at HQ, after picking up the food and water from our stash for the remaining 65 miles, I simply could not find any room for my leg warmers. They were left behind. I dreaded the cold feeling at night, but thanks to the Indian Summer, I was able to ride back in relative comfort as late as almost 11pm just in my leg coolers. I’m glad that everything has its flip side!

Now, about my stash at HQ. Is my effort tainted? Maybe, but I don’t care. The official date coincides with the Tarantula Festival at HQ that provides a stash-like means of refueling. I simply could not fit a whole day worth of food on me. I don’t like to carry a pack. It always hurts my lower back and rubs a spot raw on my spine. Over time, I’ve gotten away with no pack riding by drinking/eating minimally, but this ride would be the ultimate test. My small 5 ½” full suspension bike frame can only take one shortie water bottle @16oz. After all, I picked this bike for its water bottle cage mount. Two handlebar feedbags can take two more shorties. But that can no way get me from HH to HQ (35 miles) or HQ to Pacheco (25 miles) during the heat of the day. Here is a trick — I don’t recommend it because it may make you look like a turtle, not very fashionable on a good looking mountain bike – I stuffed two small bottles (@20oz each) of Gatorade under the back of my jersey. I swear I got the idea from watching some pro road racing. Actually, on a MTB, I had to insert it under the back of my sports bra for them to stay put. For you guys… hmmm, maybe under the top of your bibs? I just don’t know if they will slide down to look like two lumps on your butt cheeks. Could be cute, like a chipmunk mouth full of nuts. So, the five bottles got me from HH to HQ, and I refilled my bike bottles and picked up two more Gatorade and they got me all the way to Dowdy. Thankfully, when I got to Mississippi Lake, there was a trash can so I could dispose of the empty Gatorade bottles; otherwise, I’m sure Charlie wouldn’t have known what to make of it, the lumps on my back under the jersey when I saw him at Pacheco.

I have a dropper post on my bike. It’s not needed for this ride (on this ride, it would not go down anyway), but it’s the only post I have. That limits the saddle bag I can carry. I only have a very tiny one that can fit under the seat and not interfere with the post. Within it is a CO2 pump with three cartridges along with a newly purchased fresh patch kit (very important as we learned our lesson in Utah). A hand pump would have been better, but I just have no means of  mounting it anywhere. I figure three CO2s can get me through three flat repairs. If I get a fourth, I should just accept fate and start pushing my bike out via the most direct route. I also carry a spare derailleur hanger, some chain ring bolts and some bolts I forgot the purpose for. and a few chain links. Oh, a spare battery for my LeZyne lights, and some single use chain lube. I was amazed how much I managed to stuff in that little saddle bag.  Right, a tube, a proper 26”x2.1” tube. Where do I put that? The genius I live with suggested I zip tie it to the underside of my top tube in the front. Was he a genius, or what! But I’m now thinking about zip tying it along the top side of the top tube. I had a bone-toptube collision on Heritage Trail on this ride when I plowed into a bush that made me cry for mommy. I need padding on the top tube!

I also have two small bento boxes, that’s where I keep most of the bars, gels, and burritos before they over flow to my jersey pockets. I throw in a dozen or so zip ties in them too. A Multitool and a knife are kept in the outer pockets of my feedbags. Knowing there is no way my GPS could last, I also have a not-so-compact portable power pack in the outer pocket of a feedbag that’s plugged in to my Garmin Edge 305 the entire ride. By the end of the ride, the power pack still had > ½ juice left and my GPS was still fully charged. Paranoid, I also carried my spare Edge 305, which records fine, but the data connection port is worn out and usually takes a lot of replugs to transfer data. And of course, a camera… except that these days, my iPhone takes better pictures than my old dumb camera and its panoramic mode is unbeatable, so my phone comes with me too.

Well, I think that’s all my gear. And Charlie captured this picture of me with my bike, and he also has a slightly close up shot of my bike only. In the photo, I was leaving a love note to Mr. Mud.

Talk about Charlie, the good ‘ol Charlie! What a pleasant sight to see him at Pacheco Camp after I had been riding for almost 10 hours without talking to anybody. I wish I had taken a photo of him, but my oxygen deprived brain did not register that while I was too busy catching up with him. He did the metric 100 last year, and was logging humongous rides this year before he broke his collarbone. But he came out to greet the riders on the event date. And now, he provided the only human contact I had on my quest at a very unexpected time and place. But what’s even more unexpected was this art of rock laid out loud and clear in the wide Pacheco Ridge Road shortly before the turnoff to Phoneline Tr. Considering it was not far from Pacheco, I’d say, Charlie was the main suspect. Wouldn’t you agree?  The big COE 100 logo out in the middle of nowhere is an acknowledgement of our effort. Mr. Mud and I alike, it made our day. We both had to stop and take some pictures of it (this one came from Mr. Mud as he had the better lighting). Thank you, Charlie!

I left a note for Mr. Mud at the HQ stash, Pacheco, and then at Dowdy to let him know my departure times. It is mainly so he knew I was on route, and also to help him gauge our distance. I expected to be caught by him eventually, but since I didn’t know how much later he started the ride behind me, I had no base to estimate when he could catch up. Out riding at Coe, everyone needs to be self-reliant. If anything, he has way more outdoor experience than me, and I trust that he will get himself out no matter what kind of trouble he is in, and I hope he has the same kind of trust in me as well. We have always been inspired by stories like Touching the Void and Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, and we understand that human can endure way more than one can imagine. Of course, I don’t ever wish to test our boundary, but I don’t let myself worry. So today, I just kept riding. As I later gathered, he started an hour behind me, and unlike what both of us predicted, he was not gaining on me. In hindsight, we reckoned, on long rides like this with a lot of steeps (my forte despite of my weak performance today) and downhills (his forte), our average speeds probably matched fairly closely. He had an OTB crash diving into the rock garden at China Hole and had shifting problem for 40-50 miles after that before he stumbled upon the problem and solution. And maybe I just took breaks a little more efficiently. Who knows, but by the time he left Dowdy, he was probably about two hours behind me (one more hour on the course). Even that would not have been a problem. Maybe not a super fast time, but at least he could finish. But his Garmin Edge 800 died again before Dutch’s, just like in last year, even though it was on a charger. He had an iPhone in his pack on a charger recording the track, but it would not provide directions. He had forgotten to pack the cue sheet. You might ask, didn’t he do the ride last year (in complete dark), and didn’t you two just do the part from Dowdy a month ago? The truth is, this is how I think now, the most confusing part of the route is actually not at the Coe Bermuda Triangle, which refers to Dutch’s, Yellow Jacket, and Tie Down before Dowdy. In my mind, the most confusing part is from after Center Flats and before descending Dexter. I know by heart that the route will traverse (descend) Live Oak Springs and descend Crest Trail before it makes way to Dexter, but in between there are many fire roads and you encounter many fire road intersections that lead to various destinations. You take a wrong turn, you end up alternating the route, thus abandoning the ride anyway. That’s exactly the problem he faced after he finished the very punishing Center (NOT) Flats. With already 80+ miles and near 17000’ of climbing behind him, he decided to bail. I would have made the same call – it’s only sensible under that situation. And I admire him for taking it very well being so close to completion. He made light of the situation and had a helluva (funny) story to tell. He is da man!

I think I’m done telling my story now. I rode from before sun rise (oh wait, that’s the full moon above the fall foliage) to way past sun down. I finally finished pedaling when the GPS registered almost a full 100 miles. I did not crush the course, nor did the course crush me. I am sorry if there is no drama and the story sounded rather mundane, but hey, it’s my survival story, so I’m proud of it.

IMG 2094     IMG 2107     IMG 2109

Let’s see your story. To each his own.




7 Responses

  1. Mark Hunteron 28 Oct 2013 at 9:42 am

    Wow! Thats an incredible ride I am very impressed. Did you stop at the Geo cache box atop Crest and have snacks? I had put a Cliff Turbo and some bars in there and noticed you had signed the book. I think it was you. Glad it went to good use!


  2. mudwormon 28 Oct 2013 at 9:48 am

    Hi Markthetrailhunter, thanks for the comment! I wish it had been me because it would have been cool to have found the treasure. However, I can say with confidence that neither I nor Mr. Mud had the good luck to have seen the box, let alone signing it. Now I’m curious which signer got you confused as me. Haha… he/she had better have not taken all the bars pretending to be me! 😈 Keep up the good work at Coe and have a great time next weekend!

  3. mudwormon 28 Oct 2013 at 10:51 am

    Oh, BTW, I assumed you were one of the organizers for the Nov 3 Adventure Race at Coe. I apologize if I was wrong. Regardless, I know with certainty that you are my Coe comrade.

  4. Patrick Herlihyon 28 Oct 2013 at 11:51 pm

    Somehow I completely missed that you ride and finished the whole course! Incredible achievement, especially solo! I’m in awe!

  5. mudwormon 29 Oct 2013 at 12:33 am

    Hi Patrick, thank you for the comment! I am relived to hear from you because I started to wonder if I had somehow offended all the Coe Gods… 😀 Patrick, this year’s Coe 100 was so different from all previous years’. For one, it was missing you trio! But I thought you might still go for it? Compared with the crazy big rides you’ve been doing on the road, this will be cake!

  6. Patrick Herlihyon 29 Oct 2013 at 9:05 am

    We won’t let that happen next year 🙂

    I’m so glad you did it – always knew you could. I would love to have tried it but ran out of weekends and it has been a very roadie year for me (randonneuring is my new passion).

    Your writeup was fantastic btw.. publishable. Reminds me of Dirk’s published recap.

  7. mudwormon 29 Oct 2013 at 11:10 am

    I hear ya about the new passion. It’s very inspiring to see that you are always passionate about something. And thank you for liking my report!!!