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La Roo tah, La ROOT ah, Laroo Tah…
I’ve been thinking about La Ruta Loca for 2 years now. It caught my attention when reading Carlos’ personal website/blog posts – It Followed me Home – of his rando adventures. I read his account of La Ruta 2010 and was really taken by the idea of Mixed Terrain riding. The mixture of dirt or fire roads, trails, single track at times, and pavement opened up a world of cycling challenges. And it gave me a possible excuse for yet another bike; one that takes you anywhere you wanna go. Oh yeah.
After reading Carlos’ account I was interested and skeptical. I am just not that strong of a rider to complete a ride like LRLR. This ride has so much dirt climbing in the first 30 miles that I’d be so far off the time limit that it was highly unlikely that I’d ever finish. Heck, Carlos has been on the time fence and it’s his own ride!
Still, I’m not one to back too far away from a challenge. I mean, I rode Paris Brest Paris within 6 months of starting this sport, and at the time, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting into or what that event would entail. In other words, if it’s a long shot, and in this case, I thought La Ruta was a really long shot, I might go after it and see. That’s how I felt about PBP in 2007. It was a crazy longshot.
So, with La Ruta firmly planted in my mind I just needed to practice on mixed terrain roads. Carlos, our Mixed Terrain coach served up a series of rides to help people get ready for and used to what mixed terrain rides entail. I went on a couple of them last year and had a blast every time. Andrea, Willy, Larry, Metin, Drew, Henry, Eric, Brian K, Carlos and a few others were all in attendance on one of these and we suffered. The ride was the first 40 miles of LRLR and then the last 20 or so, which basically skips out on any of the pavement. Don’t need help with that. We would regroup at most intersections and Carlos would give us a heads-up on the next section. He was helpful, patient and really great. Encouraging and upbeat, telling us “you can do it, just keep moving, don’t let the time scare you”. All words I would remember on Saturday.
It took us 5+ hours to cover 30 miles that day, and we bailed on the ride, it was so hard. At one point we regrouped and Carlos gave us the chance to opt for the brewpub in Fairfax. Everyone except Larry jumped on that train, and we were off. We found Potis at Iron Springs sipping a tall one and we settled in for lunch. Mixed Terrain – done. Back at the Golden Gate Bridge, I was tired, but really excited about what we had done. The day was a total blast, in a this-really-hurt-but-what-a-ton-of-fun-now-that-its-over kind of way. The views of the Pacific and the hills were just beautiful, and the extra challenge of riding the dirt on a road bike (I was on my cx bike) was great. It took most of my concentration which was a plus. This riding doesn’t come easy.
And in the Marin Headlands, it shouldn’t. The trails and roads are steep! Plenty of 10%+ grades and loose, rutted, and eroded trails.
The bummer for me was that LRLR was held later in the season and I wasn’t gonna be around for it. It is also offered as a permanent, which means you can sign up directly with Carlos and ride it whenever you can or want, but for my best shot, I‘d need a group on the road. Knowing that people are both in front of you and behind provides a bit of a safety net in my mind.
That was last year, and this year, LRLR was moved up to June on the SFR rando calendar. I signed up for it in January and made sure all systems were a go for Saturday. Got in a pretty quiet week of riding so I was rested (a rarity), also got in some good sleep (another rarity), and I ate well the day before (still another rarity). What could go wrong?
Up at 3:30, in the car by 4:00, in SF by 5:30, I park as the sun is beginning to rise on Crissy Field. Plenty of riders are milling about – 23 starters! Many familiar faces plus a number of folks I have never seen or met before. Roland is in attendance with a semi-upright bike. Potis, Carlos, Henry, Greg and Metin are here, Brian C., Larry, and Carl too.
This is it – today is the day. We are off promptly at 7:00 after a few words of warning by Carlos. I hear none of them, I am nervous. Glad to be pedaling we make our way up and over the bridge where a cruise ship is crossing under us as we crest. Greg is waving madly at the ship and I am thinking that he has extra energy that I would want and need to conserve. Today, every ounce of energy counts.
Up Conzelman and onto the dirt. I always get a great sense of glee when I enter onto the dirt, and my senses go on hyper alert. The dirt signals the adventure and the road narrows down to a trail and drops. Super fun!
We quickly thin out – Carlos isn’t coaching today, and I get into my rhythm. Carl is nearby and we catch up while climbing the Miwok and Bobcat trails. He’s on a taper ride – cruising on a mtn bike, and only riding the first 30 and last 30 miles – most of the dirt portions. I ask him questions and he chats with ease, while I breath hard chugging up the hills. It’s always fun to hang with him; he’s upbeat and easy-going, and the convo takes my mind off of the steepness of the hills we are going up, and the views on top of the ridges are breathtaking.
There is a corner that is pretty rough – it’s off camber and badly eroded and Carlos always warns us about it. Just above it, Carl realizes the fork on his mtn bike is not “on” and he switches it over yelling, “it’s time to rock and roll!” He disappears around the corner and when I come around he’s on the ground. A bit too much rocking and rolling it appears. He’s ok and he mounts right back up and heads down to Muir Beach.
We continue to chat up Deer Park and Metin asks to ride on through. He is riding super strong and has really gone after the mixed terrain rides. The upcoming Orr Springs 600k will be his stretch ride and I’m confident he’ll make it. We continue to climb and dump out at the Pan Toll ranger station, where folks stop for water or a pee. I continue on, following Metin. Carl will catch up in a minute and he does, before we get onto the Lagoon trail, which has a steep descent.
I’ve been here before and I’m a pretty good descender, so I know what’s coming. But since I was here last, large sized gravel has been put down and I plow into it, feathering my brakes. Metin is in front of me and I am thinking about if I should try and pass him, when I go around a slight corner and go down hard on my right side. Dammit, that hurts. I untangle myself from my bike and stand up slowly. Nothing broken. Shorts are ripped, rash on my right leg and a gash on my knee. I check my elbow, which was smashed a few years back and it doesn’t look good. It’s disfigured and bloody. Carl is here by now, asking me if I’m ok. Yes, and get back on my bike. We continue down to a water spot and Metin is there.
He has the medical goods and saves my ride. Everything stings and is smarting, but nothing has that sharp pain that signals a broken bone. My elbow is freaking me out some (it was a long recovery the last time it was smashed) and so Metin helps me bandage it up and after a couple of Aleve, we are all on our way. Thanks Metin!
It hurts to ride, but not horribly, and Metin asks, if I’m gonna abandon. Nope, I’m gonna keep on going. This all happens within the first 3 hours of the ride, at about mile 25 or so… We have got a long way to go.
Carrying on downhill we come upon Larry who is changing a flat. I will spend the rest of the day with him, which is great, as Carl is about to turn in a different direction. Larry and I ride up BoFax Rd. which feels hard and takes forever, and we turn onto Bolinas Ridge. Metin has disappeared up the road – he’s on fire! Bolinas Ridge is so great. Wide and forested, hilly (as in mostly uphill), I just feel like I’m playing in the forest riding through. It’s still hard for me, but really enjoyable, and we turn for a steep descent down the Randall trail.
By now I am starving, and we have about 10 miles till lunch at Pt. Reyes. We arrive and see a few fellow riders. We are not the lantern rouge, and it’s good to see Henry there, who is about to depart as we chow down pizza, chocolate milk and more pain meds for me.
The bad news is its 12:30, and we have ridden a mere 55 miles. That’s 6.5 hours into a 13.5 hour brevet with 70+ miles to go. Not good. Time to make up some time on pavement.
Asphalt feels so luscious. Who knew? We start up towards Nicasio and then turn right at Platform Bridge and wind back around into Samuel P. Taylor Park and Sir Francis Drake. This stretch of road is new to both of us and it’s nice to be on it. It flows into a well-known road for us and we make our way up and over the hill and drop down into Fairfax and San Anselmo and ride on through the “wiggle”.
Over to Tiburon, we ride around the peninsula and reach the control just after 3:00. There’s a car show on the Main Street so we have a small detour, but nothing dramatic. I have been thinking about having an affogato (my fav desert which Eric W. had on his LRLR at this control, Café Acri). Metin is at the café leaving and he tells me to make sure we leave by 3:30 to make it on time to the finish. My hopes for the espresso over ice cream vanish when we walk into a long line of people casually scanning the menu, unsure of what they want to order.
I want to scream at them to get out of the way! Can’t you see that we are on a tight time schedule and I need to have an affogato NOW?
Instead, I wait patiently, grab a soda and down it before the waiter has brought me the cookie I have ordered, grab the receipt, refill water bottles and we depart.
Back over the 101, we head through Mill Valley to the next dirt section – Railroad grade. Larry said that he rode down this a couple of weeks back when the others were riding up it. He said they looked pretty worse for wear. I asked him how we looked. He mumbled, “pretty spent”. I guess we were, but who cares, we have to be at the top of the West Point Inn by 5:00. I don’t know where that time came from, but that’s in my mind. I put my head down and go. 5 miles at 5 % grade by 5:00.
It’s slow, but it goes. There’s a stretch of pavement on Fern Canyon, and the views are pretty, but my head is down and I am just making circles. I reach the West Point Inn a bit ahead of Larry and down 3 glasses of lemonade. A couple is there also on bikes. The woman asks me if I am riding LRLR. I am surprised she knows what that is, and so we chat for a few minutes. She is both astonished by me and very encouraging to me. It was really nice to get such a boost from a stranger. It gave me some much needed energy.
I hustle Larry a bit because I think at this point that we have a shot at finishing in time. I didn’t have a clue before, but now, I think it’s a possibility. Still, we’ve only gone 102 miles, which means there’s 26 to go, and we have 2.5 hours to do it in. On pavement – no problem – but we still have a few more dirt sections!
We are off and descending. We reach pavement and head downhill fast. Down, down, down, down and then we are passed by some locals who are totally tricked out with top of the line carbon bikes, who ride past us like we were hobos on 2 wheels. If they only knew we’d been on our bikes since 6:00 and up since 3:30, they would may be have a bit of respect…
It’s time to turn onto another trail. Thank God for Larry, who has scoped out so much of this ride and knows the trailheads. We jump onto the Miwok trail and continue on. At the Coyote Ridge trail we turn right and there before us is a steep-assed hill. Cursing Carlos, I crawl up this and a few others that come next. And then it is time to descend the Coastal trail. Down down down, the air is cool and the trail slippery, but I am not going down, I’m just going downhill.
There are still two more ridges between us and the GGB and we make our way up the Marincello Trail. We are both slowing down, but I grit my teeth and just keep plugging away. I want to finish in time. I reach the intersection of the Marincello and the Bobcat trail a bit before Larry and I continue on. Time to go, not wait. Every second counts.
Down again, and across Bunker Rd. One more trail up to Conzelman and then it’s free sailing back to the start. I have to reach the top of this by 7:00pm, and the Coastal trail is not flat. I work my way up it. About mid-way a guy is laying across the trail, sort of half-sleeping. I hit my bell and he slowly rolls out of my way as I go by him. I just miss him, but don’t care because I am going to make it to the top by 7:00.
Topping out with 2 minutes to spare, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I fly down Conzelman and amazingly the bridge is windy, but empty and I cross it with ease. Through the GGB plaza and down to Crissy Field, the last stretch of gravel seems smooth. People are out and I fly by, hit the parking lot and I see our group of randos by the picnic tables where we typically hang out.
I jump off my bike, drop it and throw my hands up in the air. I have done it! With 12 minutes to spare, I have finished La Ruta. I cry. Overcome with elation and the sense of accomplishment. YES!
Hugs all around. A beer is put into my hand, more Advil and then Rob’s hearty soup. By now, Larry is in too – with 5 minutes to spare – plenty of time he says.
I tell Carlos that I’ll never do it again. Not because I didn’t love it, but I think it is highly unlikely that I could be in shape, have such fine weather and great riding companions to ever make it in time. In the last 72 hours, I’ve been asked by a couple of rando-pals if I would do it with them as a perm. You already know what I’ve told them…
Uber huge Thanks go to Carlos for this fabulous route and for all of the help and encouragement he has given to me, and others, in pursuit of LRLR. Also Huge Thanks go to Metin for carrying the exact medical stuff I needed and being nearby so I could access it. You totally saved my ride. Huge thanks to Carl as well for making the earlier yet demanding portions of the ride seem less so and to Larry for spending the day with this bloodied rando-chica, keeping her on track and on time. Special thanks to Carlos Duque, Brian Chun and Metin Uz for taking pictures! And allowing me to use them here. Honest to God, who has time to take snaps? And always, thanks for reading.