The third segment of our relay leg was leading Tony, Eric, and I from the small agricultural town of King City to San Luis Obispo, a ride of around 72 miles.
Third days are special days: Everyone gets out of bed a little slower than before; every bone aches a little more than yesterday; and that persistent morning fog feels just a little cooler than the damp starts we had on the days one and two. I guess the cumulative effects of around 15hrs saddle-time started to show and it seemed that we all had gotten some lead weights tied to our feet when we wobbled over to Denny’s for our early morning eggs, coffee, and ibuprofen.
Despite the initial lack of momentum we decided to quickly get moving after Melanie and Evan revealed our route for the day and – more importantly – the accompanying route profile. Some 20 miles into the ride the profile quickly climbed from 200ft to a 1500ft pass in less than 3 miles. Ouch! That would be a spot you really want to hit before the sun comes out and bakes you. So off we went at 6.50am to make our way out of the Salinas Valley and up into the hills of Fort Hunter Liggett. Luckily most of the pain in our legs and rear-ends subsided after the first 10 miles, or maybe our bodies just got used to it …
The vegetable fields that were so prevalent yesterday slowly turned into rolling California grassland and then into oak-covered hills as we approached the Santa Lucia Range. The golden grasslands were covered with early morning mist and the blue sky just started to peek through the banks of fog hovering over our heads as we hit the foothills. What a pristine country! We had to stop for a moment to inhale the beauty of this place.
Just as we were settling into a good cruising speed we realized that Melanie, our support van driver, had not passed us since breakfast, and we got a little worried about having taken a wrong turn somewhere in the carrot fields. After getting to a spot with cell phone coverage we got the shocking message: The Pony was hurt! But how bad was it? Were there any injuries to the crew? Would this be the end of the ride for all of us? To our great relief we soon found out that the Pony was only lame, did not have to be put down, and could possibly even recover in a day or two. And the crew was unharmed, too. As it turns out, the hydraulic pumps that operate the loading dock of the Pony had tucked themselves behind some silly pole at a gas station and decided to stay behind while Evan rode off into the morning fog. Thankfully we were blessed with incredible tour operators, and Mel and Evan quickly redistributed food, water, and supplies from the Pony into the support van. While Evan stayed behind to get the Pony’s wounds welded, Melanie caught up with us and the rest of the day would progress without any further incidents.
We approached that dreadfully steep climbing section at around 9am as the sun had just burnt its way through the fog and the temperature quickly rose to the 80s with a strong upwards trend. We had to push on if we wanted to make it up and over that pass without a heat stroke. We filled our water bottles and attacked the incline one by one spaced out over a few minutes. Tony led the pack and made it to the top first. There he would stand and cheer at us, waiting to spray us with his water bottle as we approached. Then we flew down from the pass through 20 miles of rolling but slightly downhill grassland into the heart of Fort Hunter Liggett. Soon the only other vehicles on the road were Humvees roaring by and automatic rifle fire in the distance would occasionally interrupt the hum of our tires on the dead straight roads. Eric decided to do some office work in the supply van and so Tony and I set out to pass through the grassy hot-pot of the Hunter Liggett high basin by ourselves. We were approaching noon and the heat was quickly picking up. Staying hydrated was everyone’s biggest concern and we went through two bike bottles every 30 min or so. Just before lunch break the temperature on my bike computer showed 109F and the hot air was blowing up from the asphalt, drying layers of salt onto our faces. Ice packs cooled our heads as we munched away on our sandwiches under a shady tree. The afternoon included a final climb out of the Hunter Liggett basin and then a long and hot decent back down to the Salinas River and Paso Robles. There our ride ended and we travelled the last few miles to San Luis Obispo in the comfort of the air-conditioned supply van along US-101.
After a long shower and some relaxation in the hot tub, we met up with the riders for the next segment: Sally Frautschy and Eric Hayden. We had many great stories to share with them over dinner and made sure that the spirit of the ride got passed on. What a remarkable three days!
Thank you to the organizers, the Alzheimer’s Association, the petitioners, the donors, and everyone involved who made this event possible. And special thanks to our fantastic road crew: Melanie, Eric, Evan, Joey, and Celest. Go Breakthrough Riders, Go!
– Philipp Jaeger, MSc.
Philipp Jaeger is a graduate student in Tony Wyss-Coray’s lab at Stanford University.