Fish Rock 2019 – A Cold Epic!
I had a lot of hesitancy going into this race. The distance and climbing (72 miles & +9,000ft) were somewhat intimidating based on my training, but even more unpleasant was the forecast: heavy rain and temps in the low 40’s. As I rolled into Boonville with Team Mikes Bikes p/b Equator Coffee teammates Matt Adams and Roman Kilun, a patchy blue sky and a rainbow created a slight bit of optimism. But this was quickly taken away when the organizer announced “The start time will be bumped back 45mins to allow for snow in the higher elevations to melt.” Yippie, I thought to myself, this was going to be interesting!
“3, 2, 1, Go” and we were off. I looked around at other riders and have to admit I questioned if they heard the forecast or if I was just a wimp. I had on a long sleeve undershirt with a built in full frontal wind protection, our Capo team jersey, and a Castelli Gabba jacket. Tucked in my back pocket was a nice packable Rapha rain jacket to pull on if and when I encountered heavy rain (and it would come in handy, a lot!). Under my helmet was a winter cycling cap that covered my neck and ears. Velotoze were tucked under my Assos leg warmers. I saw many riders wearing what looked to be just a light thermal jacket, light weight gloves and nothing under their helmet.
Fast forward to about 10mins in and I was at the top of the 1st climb and had kept up with the lead group. I found myself thinking ‘don’t look at your power meter, just relax and ride’ because I sensed I was at a pace faster than I know I should go this early. The group included a mix of amateur, semi pro and pro riders, including Trek-Segafredo World Tour team member Peter Stetina. We descended down for a few minutes and began the next climb. I had looked at the course profile and knew this was going to be a longer one, closer to 25-30mins. We began the climb and I looked down at my Garmin and see 380-400W. Was my Quarq DZero power meter playing tricks on me. Nope, my HR started to rise above my threshold and I knew I had to let off the gas and ride my own pace. See ya guys! And not long after the lead group disappeared up the road as the climb continued. That would be the last time I’d see most of those riders.
About 25mins later I was at the top of the climb and began the charge over rolling terrain to the coast. Right around this time was when the rain started, which cued me to pull out my rain jacket and put it on. I ended up riding with one other rider for most of this section, remembering vividly the squealing of his disc brakes leading into each turn. I’m sure this steel on steel sound ended up shredding his rotors. It was nice having another rider to ride with, but unfortunately he slowed down and pulled off onto the side of the road on a smaller riser approaching the coast. “I broke a spoke” he blurted as I rode by. A small part of me thought about stopping but a bigger part decided to continue on because of how wet I was and the high chances I’d get much colder if I stopped..
Fortunately it wasn’t too long before I saw the silhouette of another rider up the road. The wind was coming from my left and straight ahead so I knew it would be helpful to find another rider to share the work. Head down and I pushed hard up a climb and made contact. I would ride with this guy until the 2nd rest stop, which was positioned at mile 33. He had dropped a water bottle and admittedly needed fluids and was feeling low on energy. I still had a full bottle so I offered him a few drinks, of which perked him up. But I could tell the lack of water combined with the cold and wet environment had gotten to him. I decided to stay with him and make sure he made it to the next rest stop.
Ah, the 2nd rest stop was a welcoming respite from the rain, wind and cold. I hadn’t stopped at the first one at mile 15 but happily did here. There was lots of food and Osmo hydration that I enjoyed. But I soon started to get cold and realized I couldn’t stay too long. My friendm and Achieve athlete I coach, Jamie Knowlton arrived at the rest stop not too long after I had. We rolled out together, likely both with a bit of intrepidation at the soon to be encountered infamous 15-20% dirt Fish Rock Rd. climb and final rest stop still 22 miles away. How hard would the climb be? What condition would the dirt road be in? How long would it continue to rain?
‘Grind away’ are the first two words that come to mind when I think about climbing the dirt Fish Rock Rd. My Specialized Allez Sprint Disc was set up with 39-52 standard front chain rings and thankfully a 32-11 rear cassette. But a 34-32 would certainly have been welcomed. Jamie and I made it to the top and carefully began our way over the rolling terrain and dirt roads to decrease our chances of a puncture. Not too long into the first descent, a rider passed on my right. It was Amity V, which I assumed was the first female rider. I have to admit I was impressed, but not only because of the pace she was on, but because she wasn’t wearing any gloves!!! I had been sitting up and taking my hands off my handlebars on flat sections to do large arms swings in hopes of getting blood to my finger tips. My ‘water resistance’ gloves were soaked and my hands were getting cold. I couldn’t imagine not having anything on them, especially because we had just encountered hail.
We made it to the final rest stop and downed some SIS gels, an event sponsor product, and filled our water bottles. I recall it feeling slightly warmer there. Maybe it was because we were getting further away from the coast?! Well, that thought would soon be turned around 180 degrees as I carefully made my way down what I recall the last main paved descent. It was here that the cold finally got to me. My hands and legs had been cold, which was manageable, but now I could feel my chest getting cold, and it created some hesitation and fear. So much so that as Jamie and I cruised through the towering Redwoods, wishing the final turn onto Hwy 128 would be around the next corner, I seriously thought I’d say yes if somebody came by and offered me a ride. I would likely look back and frown at that decision if it actually happened because we had come so far and were so close to the finish.
The turn onto 128 couldn’t come soon enough. A sense of excitement and relief came over me as I realized we only had a few miles to go. And it was still pouring rain. I sat up to do another set of large arms swing. My whole body began to bounce. Ah oh, could I be getting a flat tire. I grabbed my bars and bounced up and down again. My rear tire certainly was low on air, and Jamie confirmed this. All I could do was hope that the 28″ Specialized tubeless turbo tires would hold up to the finish. And thankfully they did, with about 20psi to spare when I got off my bike at the finish.
What an epic ride it was. The effort and determination netted Jamie and I 12th and 13th overall, respectively, and 5th and 2nd in our respective categories. The good thing is we will likely not encounter such bad conditions ever again (knock on wood).
Specialized Allez Sprint with 28″ Specialized Turbo tubeless tires on Zipp 202 wheels. I knew there was a gravel section and 28″ were the largest tired that fit on this frame.