We came, we saw and Coe won.
For a while I’ve been fascinated by the idea of pulling off an unsupported 100-miler at Henry Coe: riding one giant, pure dirt loop, without repeats, out-and-backs or pavement. The vast amount of terrain Coe offers does allow this – it would allow even more if you’d be inclined to want more, with its 87,000 acres and 300-something miles of trails and dirt roads. And so the Hard COEre 100 was born (follow the link for route details and more). A century at Coe means one should count on at least 20,000 feet of climbing, as the trails – a concoction of bumpy singletrack, steep firebreaks and jeep roads, half-overgrown game trails, rocky creek beds and old horse carriage trails – tend to go either up or down, at mostly unforgiving grades.
I probed around a bit and found Patrick and Roy – two of the strongest Coe-riders I know – prepared to share in the madness and line up with me for a 2AM start of this inaugural version. The evening before, my goal was to get at least a few hours of sleep in before the start, my main fear was not to hear my alarm and suffer rightful embarrassment. Carbo-loading by drinking two IPA’s was just right to obtain both objectives, and would hopefully provide good energy for the ride as well.
crazies riders right before the start
And so three souls lined up at the start – we’d be carrying more weight than usual (lights, batteries, warm riding gear, all our food), and it finally started to dawn upon me that the schedule and route that I had thought up in front of my computer was verging on the edge of madness, given what I thought my own capabilities were. But I quickly pushed the worries aside, I wanted to play and see, and just try to make the best of the curveballs that Coe would throw at us.
A ride like this needed an appropriate warm-up, so what better way to start it than the slow grunt up Lyman-Willson? The most memorable part of it turned out to be a skunk running along in front of us for a while, forcing us to opt for the steeper part of a short braid in the trail. After reaching Camp Willson we decided to not pause and push through to Willson Peak, climbing further up Steer Ridge. Unfortunately the moon had set already, as the nocturnal views from Steer Ridge would have been magical. Now the fun could really begin: the combo of singletrack descents Spike Jones / Timm was a total blast in the dark – my setup of strong helmet incandescent light and bar mounted LED worked great and I hesitated only on the trickiest log rolls on Timm. Roy took out some snagging branches with his sheer enthusiasm, I believe. We were up for a 5 hour night ride, on its own already respectable, but I remembered this setup worked perfectly for almost 8 hours during the Moonlight Madness ride, so I didn’t worry too much about battery life. Alas, I should never trust anything using batteries, as I was about to find out.
Roy climbing out of Lost Spring trail, after ritual release of inner demons
Next up was a bit of Coit road, a bit of Anza (up, then down) and more Coit. Coit Spring / south Cross Canyon was the next notable climb, and at the crest we took our first real break. So far all was good, and we dived into Cross Canyon, a fast, furious descent. Then: my helmet light started to get dimmer and dimmer, and quickly failed entirely; another lesson learnt (test everything thoroughly and preferably right before you use it) but not a good spot and time to learn it, with Cross Canyon being among the most rocky, techy parts of the route. I still had my LED bar light of course, and it took some getting used to, and a few clumsy stumbles on the tricky dried out creek crossings, but it worked.
We told ourselves to not bother trying to clean the hardest climbing sections on this ride (one of our normal passtimes on Coe rides) – though Patrick in particular gave honest attempts on many of them – so the Cross Canyon Wall remained undefeated. Really hard to imagine it can be cleaned anyway these days, it is looking more rutted and loose than ever.
A few gentle miles of Willow Ridge road were up next and then it was time to check up on our recent trailwork near Hoover Lake. I couldn’t enjoy it very much due to my challenges with illumination but it rode well – minus dabs on the early switchbacks but I’ll blame those on the darkness.
In my current predicament I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Willow Ridge trail, a steep plunge on narrow, poison oak infested singletrack to Los Cruzeros, and I had to take it very slowly. But once we started the climb out of the Narrows on Lost Spring trail, dawn broke and my battery worries were over (for a while). Seeing the sun rise after a long night ride always gives me a good morale boost, and I enjoyed the climb out towards the top of China Hole East. After Patrick and I had crested the climb, we were upset by a loud, infernal grunt rising from the depths of the Narrows – the only thing this could signal was Roy not cleaning a climb. Coe cries every time Roy dabs!
A rather awesome part of long night rides: witnessing dawn
The descent into China Hole was fast and fun, and particularly nice in the fresh daylight. Next up was the, for Coe standards, easy, ‘family-oriented’ climb up China Hole West. After jointly dabbing on the toughest part of it, the first, elusive switchback, we slowly but surely dragged ourselves up Pine Ridge. The Manzanita Point fireroad leading to the park’s headquarters (HQ) had recently been graded (a mountain biker’s curse) and turned into a sandy mess in spots. The plan was to take it all the way up to HQ to refill on water and enjoy some other perks (full service bathrooms, instant coffee or hot chocolate for 25 cents!), which ment we would have to deviate a bit from the ‘rules’, as it implied a short out-and-back section, and even a very short stretch of pavement. But as it really falls in the noise overall (the out-and-back is about 0.6 miles), and it serves a clear purpose (water supply), we decided it was an acceptable exception (that’s the advantage if you make up the rules yourself!).
Roy needed some dusting after Patrick was done with him here
A sea of fog rolling into the valley below
Our pace had been dropping throughout the ride, or rather, our breaks getting increasingly long and more frequent – and I knew it was going to be very hard to finish it in something resembling daylight, which was weighing a bit on me knowing my battery situation. But the coffee/chocolate at HQ was a godsend and got us all psyched up again for the goodness that was to follow: Flat Frog and Middle Ridge (ok, with some Hobbs-drudge in between). Middle Ridge is of course about the finest singletrack descent one could dream up. I walked the steep climb at the beginning of it to save myself for what we’d get on our plate as soon as the downhill fun would have dried up.
The joys of Middle Ridge
So much fun just had to have a price. Poverty Flat would be the appetizer for what was to come: an unclimbable loose mess, an excursion towards the outer limits of what we were willing to put up with. Meanwhile it had started to warm up, and temperatures were definitely exceeding the 80F barrier of my comfort zone. The main course was Bear Mountain. Roy and I had stoked Patrick – a Bear Mountain virgin – about it and I hope it delivered. The first stretch was a long hike-a-bike for the three of us, but it was impressive to see how Patrick managed to clean a formidable section later on. It was clear that he had the best legs today; a climb like this doesn’t leave much doubt. But the mountain did get him in the end: he seemed to suffer a slow leak in the rear tire and needed to replace a tube. Myself, I think I ended up hiking almost half of its 4 mile overall length.
Bear Mountain: the Crusher of souls, the Obliterator of hope
Bear Mountain: delivering on its evil promises
We pretty much looped around this lonely house-on-the-hill
Fortunately, Bear Mountain road does have an end, and we were relieved to zip down towards Mississippi lake along County Line road, on occasion staring into the Orestimba Wilderness on our left. It’s always a joy to see Mississippi Lake appear and after riding a fun stretch of singletrack around it we took a break and filtered some water. The next part of the route was the only one I hadn’t ridden before: a stretch of Willow Ridge road followed by a descent on Rat Spring trail – the Willow Ridge part seemed innocent enough on the map, a gradual climb followed by some ‘rollers’. But these rollers turned out to be a rather painful affair – ridiculously steep walls that were generally just a tad too long for me to power up through momentum – I was still in the process of recovering from Bear Mountain and felt beat down by the heat and now this. I suffered/hiked through them, but needed a long break at Pacheco Camp to regain my composure and some strength.
A typical Willow Ridge ‘roller’
But a worse thing was that we were now more than three hours behind schedule. I had tried to design the route so that leg 2 (which we just completed) and 3 were the hardest, and leg 4 easier and faster. Riding legs 3 and 4 was going to leave us with an ETA of at best 10pm. Given that I would have to rely on a wimpy bar LED, and Patrick and Roy’s lights may have had only one or two hours left, we made the hard decision to pull the plug on the whole route, skip leg 3 and finish by continuing with leg 4. It would still give us 80 miles with ~15,000 foot of climbing.
After eating a bit and employing my secret end-of-ride weapon (GU shots) I started to feel better again. The last part of the route was a bunch faster indeed and featured highlights such as the Kelly Lake trail (East) descent, the Dexter + Grizzly Gulch singletrack (great downhill!) and some exhilarating high-speed downhill fun on Wagon Road (speeds approaching 40mph). Roy started to look a little pale and we were afraid that he would decide to climb up Serpentine rather than stick to the route (yes, he’s one who would opt to climb more in order to feel better!), but our fear was fortunately ungrounded.
Roy cresting the final climb on Wagon Road
It was very rewarding and great fun riding this in a small group, but there is a final, near-500 foot climb on Wagon right before the descent home, and my original intention was to propose to Roy and Patrick to duke it out here, close to the very end, for the ‘win’. Of course that wasn’t relevant anymore, and Patrick would have handily smoked us anyway, so I didn’t even bring it up. Hence we rolled together through Hunting Hollow right before sunset, around 6.15pm, back to the lot, to enjoy some post-ride festivities. Too bad that the mtbr HCFC crowd had left already, but we did manage to sweep up Brian/knobs from his ride and chatted a bit.
A great adventure was had – thanks Roy and Patrick for the company and willingness to take part in my borderline-ridiculous plans – and we all learned something. For instance, that it should be possible for us to finish this thing, given a better preparation, some minor tweaks and perhaps a longer day. This ain’t over yet!
‘After’ shot, enjoying some well-deserved goodies