Executive summary: they were right about the pain, but it was a great
ride put on by a dedicated group of cyclists. I finished in 13:15,
which is about 1:15 off the record for the 211 mile, 16,000 feet-of-
climbing course. My excuse? The other riders were even slower.
The ride began at 5:30 from Dave's Bike Sport in eastern Santa Rosa.
My wife and I and our two two small kids were staying with Allan
Armstrong (a regular here and an author of one of the long replies
to my original T2 question). Because Allan was planning on riding
the first half of the course and had stashed his car at the lunch
stop the night before, and because I didn't want to strand my wife
without a car for the day, a friend of Allan's, name of Kevin,
picked us up and drove us to the start. It was only five miles or
so, but I figured by the end of the day five miles would feel like
a lot. Kevin, like Allan, was a local planning on riding part of
Dave had opened his shop for the convenience of the 60 or 70 riders who
were milling around at the start. We lined up inside among the bikes
and workstands to use the restroom and top off our bottles until,
shortly before 5:30, we were called outside for the obligatory warnings
about dew-covered hairpins and dehydration. At 5:36 we were sent, en
masse, on our way. Drivers of private sags were asked to stay behind
for a much more involved talk about how to support their rider without
getting in everyone else's way.
The first 15 or so miles were flat. We spent the time chatting,
checking out other riders and their bikes, and warming our bodies for
the work ahead. Warming was not really needed, however, as the
temperature was already quite suited to the shorts and thin cotton shirt
I was wearing. After the ride several locals remarked that this had not
been a sign of good things to come. But at the time I enjoyed being
comfortable as I settled into the position I'd assume for the rest of
Trinity Grade, the first significant climb, began without introduction
as we turned from one road onto another. There was no time to say
farewell: the pack disintegrated almost instantly as people adopted
whatever speed they thought struck the best compromise between
conserving energy and getting through a multitude of climbs before dark.
My choice was to go fast, in large part because I remembered Allan's
promise that there would be fast pacelines going over the flats on the
other side and that much time could be gained by joining them.
The climb passed quickly. I'd done a good job of hydrating myself
before the ride and so had to stop at the top; besides, it was time to
put on my sunglasses. By the time I was back on the bike another rider
had passed me -- Rod, who, as I later learned, had ridden some of the
early T2s back in the '70s and rode a Serotta that looked almost that
old -- and three more caught us on the descent. One of these was also
doing the whole ride; the other two, Dave of the bike shop and Kevin of
the ride to the start, were strong local riders looking to get in a
morning workout before doing their normal Saturday thing.
The five of us settled into a *fast* paceline, dragged along as we were
by two riders who didn't have to save anything for the afternoon. Egos
being what they are we all pretty much did our share of pulling. About
half way up the valley the third T2 rider, who'd been letting gaps form
in the line for several miles, dropped off to get water from his sag.
Then, a few miles north of Calistoga, Dave and Kevin turned off to
return to Santa Rosa. Rod and I kept going, if at a slightly slower
At about this point both of my large water bottles had run out, so I
suggested we look at our maps to see when the first rest stop was
supposed to be. It was close, we decided, and so passed the school
where Kevin had said we'd find water. Big mistake. The remaining miles
before the beginning of the second major climb revealed plenty of
vineyards but no water or rest stop. So we kept up our rotation until
the road turned upwards. It was pretty warm by this time, and Rod, who
had two *small* water bottles on his bike, began to drop back. At some
point I looked over my shoulder before rounding a turn and saw him for
the last time. I didn't know it then, but he was the last rider I'd see
before the finish. It was gonna get warmer too.
After perhaps five miles of climbing and getting more and more thirsty I
was passed by the sag belonging to the guy who'd been in our paceline.
I smelled water: the T2 organizers insist that private sags have to help
out riders who ask. When I caught the van parked by the road I stopped
and asked the driver who, after several minutes of fumbling with his
back to me so that he couldn't hear me over the radio, took a bottle and
filled it for me with a helpful grin. Another quarter mile or so and I
came upon the first rest stop: I'd have felt silly for bothering the guy
in the van but I was nearly out of water again.
After confirming that the guy in the long-sleeved cotton shirt was
indeed a T2 rider the people at the rest stop told me I was the first to
arrive. Cool! I've always made it a habit to linger at rest stops on
organized rides, and have lost a lot of time as a result. This time I
decided to keep moving -- the descriptions of Skaggs Springs that I'd
read here had more to do with this than any desire not to be caught at
this point. So I filled my bottles with water, my cheeks with fig bars
and strawberries, tucked a couple of powerbars in my butt pack for
eating on the descent, and split.
It wasn't long before the road turned downwards. The descent was fast
and for someone who knew the road would have been faster: I'd fallen on
a turn only a couple of weeks before and was still mindful of how
quickly that can end a ride. I dropped about 800 feet before crossing a
bridge and heading up again -- sharply. Within a few hundred yards I
was forced into my lowest gear and was progressing at about 6 mph, at
which speed I continued for perhaps half a mile until the road returned
to a more manageable grade. I was now on the opposite side of a canyon
from the road I'd recently come down, and at one point could see where
I'd been perhaps twenty minutes before. There was no one in sight, and
at this point it began to occur to me that if I kept going at this pace
I might just finish first -- which would be a first for me.
The road reached the top of the ridge, rounded it, and headed down.
Near the bottom it reversed direction to follow a stream that, after
another 10 or so miles, returned to the broader valley floor. The
transition from steep hillside covered with dry grass, digger pine and
mansenita to flat irrigated vineyards was quite sudden; the improvement
in road quality, though less pronounced, was equally welcome. I'd flown
down the rough road out of the hills and flew now among the grapes. No
more climbing, and no more rough roads, until after the lunch stop --
which I reached after 15 more miles remarkable for nothing but an
unwelcome increase in the number of cars. Being on a highway (101) and
closer to towns does that to you.
I got to lunch four minutes after it was scheduled to open, and nearly
half a hour before the next rider, having ridden exactly 100 miles and
climbed 7000 feet in 5:30. There were a lot of members of the
sponsoring Santa Rosa Cycling Club there to offer support and to chat;
but still I got back on the road in perhaps ten minutes with more water
in my bottles and more powerbars in my pack. It was getting hotter and
I was now at the foot of the climbs I'd heard so much about -- and roast
beef sandwiches didn't seem like quite the right thing. The man I took
to be the ride chairman told me where to look for water stashes, and a
public sag driver promised to be out there soon with even more water.
That road has a serious reputation.
And one well deserved. Allan's response to my inquiry about the ride
had cautioned "You'd better like pain," and indeed, "pain" is an
excellent word with which to describe the next few hours and miles. The
"Army Corps of Engineers' Road from Hell" behaved as advertised: it went
up nearly 2000 feet in not very far, though at 4 or 5 mph not very far
takes forever. The promised false summits were there too -- only I
didn't mind, as they let me rest. I wasn't thinking nearly far enough
ahead to mind that they would increase the total amount of energy I'd
have to expend to get through this part of the ride. I was in my 40"
gear nearly the whole time -- sometimes even when descending -- half the
time sitting and the other half standing, each change in position an
attempt to evade the pain the other dealt out.
There were two main climbs here on Skaggs Spring Rd, each peaking at
close to 2000' after a starts at 300' and 700'. Near the top of the
first I was met by the promised public sag, and stopped to fill my
almost-empty water bottles. I stopped again part-way up the second to
rest, eat (which I couldn't do on the bike), and to check my map for the
first time to see how much farther I had to climb. A later rider,
tackling these hills when it was even hotter, would collapse by the side
of the road and bathe himself with effluent issuing from some drainage
pipe in an attempt to cool down. I was luckier: soon after I started
again I reached the older, gentler road above where it emerged from the
lake. It was possible even to shift up, and after a few miles I reached
the second peak and began a long descent and then a brisk ride along
another stream to the next rest stop at the base of Annapolis Road.
More water, powerbars, fruit and fig bars, and very little time getting
them. There remained two hard climbs before I'd reach the ocean. Yet
though they were hard they were nothing like those on Skaggs Spring.
The grade may have been similar, but there was shade and I was somewhat
refreshed from the run downstream. More significantly, though, they
just didn't climb that far -- about 600 feet, which at 11 or 12% is over
pretty quickly even in a 40" gear. I soon reached the ocean and turned
south on Hwy 1.
The next 25 miles were beautiful. The coast in that area is dotted with
steep-walled inlets where waves rush off of deep blue pools to break on
sculpted rocks. You can see some of them quite well from the road --
and there were lots of idiot motorists doing plenty of looking on that
Saturday afternoon. I was nearly forced off the road twice by cars that
refused to wait for a break in oncoming traffic before passing. Still,
the miles went quickly by. I'd recovered enough energy to sprint in the
drops over most of the little hills and so stopped only once when Allan,
now driving sag, caught up with more water and food.
Our route turned inland again at Ft. Ross where there was a rest stop
and, immediately behind it, the steepest climb of the day waited: 1400
feet in 2.4 miles. It was quite a climb. During the drive to the start
Kevin had referred to Ft. Ross Rd. as "stupid." He'd never been up it
and would never want to. Yet someone else familiar with the area had
compared it to Old La Honda, which is hardly a difficult climb. I soon
found out why. It was steep (as it must be to climb so far in so short
a distance) but it was a *nice* climb. It was interesting: a narrow,
undulating, twisting ribbon that threaded its way among redwoods whose
roots had been cut away on one side to make room for the road so that
the living trees were almost fence posts by its side. Somehow, though I
was in my lowest gear from the rest stop to the top, I was always
sufficiently distracted by what I saw and by my progress through it that
I never got to think about how slowly I was moving or how much it must
have hurt. Allan thinks I'm nuts, but I don't really remember hard
From the top I rode along the ridge for a while, then into a valley and
up another climb that is also supposed to have been hard (I do remember
using the low gear), and then down to a road that followed another
stream to its junction with the Russian River. Beautiful road: smooth,
with a bit of a shoulder and manageable traffic, and redwoods mixed with
right-looking houses on the sides. The next turn took me along the
banks of the river for a brief while, and then across it and up the
Bohemian Highway's gradual climb to Occidental.
At the auto-free cities conference in Toronto I met a free-lance writer
who lives in Occidental, and who was surprised to learn that this ride,
allegedly the most difficult of all such events, passed right through
her town. We'd traveled to Canada to talk about bikes as transportation
when there was this bikes-as-lunacy thing happening right next door.
Anyway, she'd said she was going to look for us on the 20th.
I hope she didn't, because the route turned toward Santa Rosa before
ever getting to central Occidental. There was a final rest stop (whose
personnel, placed as they were on the main street just before our turn,
had been besieged by hungry passers-by who mistook them and their loot
for a refreshment stand), a climb of several hundred feet, and then a
descent and some rollers as we approached the settled part of the plain.
At some point I passed a sign telling me I was 13 miles from the city:
13 miles is my commute distance, so I knew I was home. The route
through the city was extremely well marked -- as was the rest of the
course -- so that even an exhausted cyclist could find his way.
Dave's Bike Sport was closed to the public by the time I rolled up to
the door, but there was a good sized crowd of cyclists hanging around
outside to cheer us in. It struck me that they are proud of hosting
such an infamous event and strive to help all the riders finish it. It
has been suggested, however, that they enjoy watching the antics that
extreme exhaustion can sometimes engender. At any rate, they were
there, they applauded, and they chatted with me while I ate everything
I stayed for about two hours, during which about ten people rolled in.
The second rider was about half an hour behind me; in other words, I
barely maintained the lead I'd had at the halfway point (and I'm not
even sure the same rider had been the second to lunch: he may have
gained on me over the second half.) Rod finished an hour or so back
with a very good time. I didn't see the other guy who'd been in our
paceline early on, and whose support van I'd bummed water from on the
climb to the Geysers. The heat was worse this year than it had been the
last time it was held, or so one rider concluded from the fact that my
time had been nearly equaled by a number of riders then. I heard that
something like 18 of the 40 or so riders who started were expected to
finish; someone said that this was a lower percentage than normal
although it's better than the 30-40% figures cited in those scary
responses to my first inquiry. Maybe one of the netters from Santa Rosa
can give us final stats when they're available.
A few comments that didn't fit the narrative too well:
Training: the T2 brochure suggested that all riders should be riding 200
miles/week with plenty of climbing for the two months before the ride.
My commute is 125 flat miles/week, but travels along the base of a
significant range of hills. So, about three times a week I rerouted my
commute up that ridge and down again so that I averaged close to 9000'
of climbing during the week. (For you locals, I either went up Page
Mill and down Hwy 9 in the morning or up Redwood Gulch/Hwy 9 and down
Page Mill in the evening.) I also did a few longer rides on the
weekend, but the bulk of my training was accomplished by adding 3
hours/week of riding to the commute I have to do every day.
Food: as you'll have gathered I did the ride primarily on powerbars and
water. I've never used energy drinks beyond an occasional sip of
Gatorade or orange juice on a century, and wasn't about to start in the
middle of the T2 (though I do wish I'd snagged a couple of packets of
Exceed with which to experiment later.) I'm not convinced that
powerbars are superior to other high-carbo, low-fat snacks like fig bars
except in one respect: they're extremely easy to stuff in a bag and eat
while riding. They're also expensive enough that I don't go through
more than one a month when I have to pay for them. I usually carry
almond butter and honey on whole wheat sandwiches on long rides and find
that they work just fine. You just have to stop to eat them.
Thanks: Bruce Hildenbrand, Bud Noren, and Jeff Orum all responded with
emailed replies to my inquiry about the T2, and then answered my ensuing
questions. Louis Salz and Allan Armstrong posted lengthy replies to the
net. All of these, including Allan's memorable "You're stupid." and "Oh
brother. You'd better like pain." helped me look forward to the ride --
and motivated me up the hills I'd added to my commute. Special thanks
to Allan for putting me, my wife and two screaming daughters up the
nights before and after the ride. He was right that I wouldn't want to
drive back home the evening after!
That's it. It was a great ride, and one that I heartily recommend to
anyone who gets off on this sort of thing. Just make sure you are in
good shape first, and are climbing well.
Eric House "My employer doesn't share its opinions with
me, so I can share only mine with you"
RETRO-MAN CLEANS HOUSE ON TERRIBLE TWO
Toss that trendy lycra in the trash. Lose the latest clip pedals. Put
that carbon fiber wonder bike out on the lawn at your next garage sale.
Retro-man, in the guise of Eric House, is here to show you that the
rider makes the bike, and not the other way around.
A rookie entratnt, House breezed thought the 1992 TT in 13:08, leading
all the way, to easily cover a ravaged field of over 40 riders. Eric,
nattily attired in a long-sleeve, oxford cloth business shirt, and
sporting a swell little fanny pack, rode to victory on an ancient
Univega beater with leather strap, rat trap pedals, funky reflectors,
and a pump held on by that time-honored favorite, string. This is not a
sneer at his equipment, but rather a tip of the hat to a great rider,
and the fact that dollars, technology, and style don't count for nearly
as much as ability, stamina, and spirit.
On a beautiful (?) day, with the official temperature in Cloverdale 106'
and the unofficial reading on the bake-oven blacktop of Skaggs Springs
at least 10' hotter, numerous riders who wouldn't have been caught dead
on Eric's bike were instead caught as-good-as dead on their Kestrels and
Merlins. The TT lived up to its brutal reputation, as only 20 of 44
starters made the 10 PM cut-off, and only 22 finished at all. (Nine more
hopefuls had registered, but were no-shows, perhaps coming down with a
last-minute dose of sanity.) In stark contrast to those suffering and
wilting behind him, House seemed relaxed, cheerful and cool at every
rest stop, and looked at the end as if he had just tooled down to the
corner store for a quart of milk. An awesome ride, Eric...Bravissimo!
See you next year.
The other great story of the day (night) was at the other end of the
field: Bruce Pauly and Marvin Rensink (both former top five finishers)
were sharing a tandem and doing fairly well when Rensink became too
dehydrated and nauseated to continue near Fort Ross. (The 16,000 steep
feet of the TT have never been a good match for the big two-seaters and
this year was no exception, with the only other tandem bailing out at
lunch.) Pauly, left without a captain at the base of the infamous Fort
Ross climb, made the gutty--some said crazy--decision to move up a seat
and ride the tandem in alone, over some of the toughest hills of the
course and into the gathering gloom...nearly 50 miles of solitary
punishment. Bruce's challenge was compounded by the fact that the bike
had the shifters mounted on the stoker's bar-ends, necessitating
yoga-like contortions to change gears.
Back at headquarters, many thought he should have been pulled, but after
speaking directly to Bruce via radio (thanks SCRAPS), the ride director
allowed him to continue. Finally, just after 11:00 PM, with SRCC sag
Beverly Turney patiently lighting his way with her van, he rolled in to
hugs from his lost partner Marvin and cheers from the handful of
supporters who had stuck it out to the end to see if he could really do
it. He really could, and for his plucky lunacy, Bruce gets the 1992 TT,
True Grit, No Brains Award.
Other notable accomplishments: 1990 winner Tom Davies and Christopher
Richards finishing equal second; Steve Matson [sp?] struggling in just
behind them despite doing the last 30 miles with double vision, numb
arms and total exhaustion; Rod Mowbray, one of the three founding
fathers of the TT, returning to the scene of his misspent youth for a
strong seventh...second behind House at the half-way lunch stop; Don
Gray, the one-armed recumbent rider, impressing us with his courage
before bonking on Skaggs.
1992 TERRIBLE TWO RESULTS
Eric House, Palo Alto ................................. 13:08
Tom Davies, Magalia & Christopher Richards, Concord ... 13:36
Steve Matson, Capitola ................................ 13:48
Kevin Hodge, Santa Rosa & David Signor, Santa Clara ... 13:58
Rod Mowbray, Soquel ................................... 14:06
Curt Ferguson, San Mateo .............................. 14:15
Tim Morken, Fresno .................................... 14:27
Warren Havens, Berkeley ............................... 14:43
Keith White, El Cerrito ............................... 14:53
Jim Pyatt, Santa Rosa ................................. 15:03
Steve Marsh, Redwood City ............................. 15:08
Lawrence Pon, Oakland ................................. 15:37
Brett Hendrix, Santa Rosa ............................. 15:44
Robert Robinson, Concord .............................. 15:45
Bob Rugo, Berkeley .................................... 15:49
Rick Hodgson, Campbell & Manny Molina, Los Angeles .... 16:11
Elizabeth Galler, Chico ............................... 16:30
Bruce Pauly, Pleasanton ............................... 16:58
Bill Bliss, San Jose .................................. 17:03