My first time as the lantern rouge…..

Doing the coastal cruise

Doing the coastal cruise

I have never ridden with the Santa Cruz Randonneurs group before but I love to ride in new regions. This 600 km event looked like a nice route, and by the look of the roster I knew about 10 or so of the other registered riders. My riding partner Robert Owen and I decided that we should not miss out on this one. With almost 50 riders registered for the event, it should be a fun group to ride with!

It was forecast to be windy and for once the forecast was right. Small craft advisories were posted for wind and I guess that was intended for us! Northbound up the coast we had some small groups to help beat the wind but our progress was still slow. Once our route turned inland we had some relief from the wind but that is also where the climbing started. Ride with GPS shows this route having just under 19,000 feet of climbing in 376 miles.

A postcard control in Pescadero.

A postcard control in Pescadero.

The climbs generally weren’t too severe but they were numerous, some with grades up to 12%. This route was a little unusual because of the numerous info controls but also because of the postcard controls. At two locations we had to mail a stamped postcard to prove our passage. This was due to the somewhat circuitous route but required many more stops than normal.

The Rando Café at Skylonda

The Rando Café at Skylonda

The big climb of the day ended at Skylonda, a busy crossroad sitting atop the coast range. The little store there had a not too bad BBQ Pork sandwich and a sunny place to sit and relax. After this stop I was definitely looking forward to the downhill run back to the coast and hopefully a tailwind back to Santa Cruz!

Santa Cruz County back-roads

Santa Cruz County back-roads

I would be disappointed to find out that it was not all downhill to the coast. There was another sneaky big climb awaiting us soon. Eventually we did get back to the coast and enjoyed good tailwinds back to Santa Cruz. The favorable winds continued for the next several hours and even though we had a slow first part of the ride (due to all of the climbing) we felt that now we were doing pretty good. After Santa Cruz we sailed down through the farm country to Marina where we turned inland and then on down the Salinas River Valley to King City where we had planned our overnight stop. This is where everything changed!

We had originally planned our stop here on our return trip after going farther south to the turnaround at San Ardo. I talked Bob into stopping on the outbound leg for reasons that made sense to me at the time. Apparently under an optimistic haze, I reasoned that we could make up the time later on when we were rested. We did get about 3 and a half hours of sleep, a shower and a good meal but by the time we started riding again we were the last riders on the course. We were feeling better but also now knew that after the turnaround we would face headwinds for many hours.

Info control at Green Bridge

Info control at Green Bridge

The winds had picked up to a steady 20 mph, occasionally gusting to higher. We worked together and clawed our way back up the valley quite slowly, averaging about 10 mph for the next 80 miles. We crawled through King City, Greenfield and past countless valley farms, rotating each with one miles pulls then resting behind the other while he pulled into the wind.

It seemed to take forever to reach Marina, our next timed control and we were worried about reaching it in time. We made it just under the wire and reached the control 8 minutes before it closed. We were feeling like we had little chance to make the finish in time but after a quick burger and fries we struck out again.

Late in the ride on day 2

Late in the ride on day 2

As we left Marina the winds seemed to change a bit, to being more from the south. This was just what we needed and it gave us some hope of finishing the event in time. Our paced improved dramatically and we sailed through the countryside! Eventually, the winds died down as we reached the rolling terrain south of Santa Cruz. Here our pace slowed again as we got back into the urban areas, but we kept moving forward. We pulled into the finish at about 8:30 pm, just about 39 and one half hours after we had started! Apparently 8 other riders had DNF’ed and so we were the last of the finishers, which officially made us the “lantern rouge,” or the caboose of the event. I am not sure how I feel about that but I know that some people accept the title with honor. For me it seems a little more dubious! Thanks to my riding partner Robert Owen, who helped me through my low points and worked so well with me!

Here is a link to the Ride with GPS route.

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