It’s now more than 24 hours ago since we finished but I’m still in some state of delirium… where to start? After last month’s attempt we had learned a few things, about batteries, nutrition, gear. But we would also lose almost an hour worth of daylight. The day that presented itself was promising to be an ideal opportunity though: the forecast said sunny with high temperatures in the 70′s, with trails turned uber-tacky by previous rains and now dried out to perfection. So I put my excuses aside and lined up with Patrick and Roy on Friday just before midnight on a frighteningly frigid Hunting Hollow parking lot… I had no idea how we would fare, but was trusting on our collective bull-headedness to pull us through.
On such cold and dark night (the moon had set a few hours before), climbing Lyman-Willson was a great way to get the blood flowing and we slowly started to warm up. The ridges were again much warmer than the canyon floors, with their pockets of seemingly arctic air stuck to the surface. On Steer Ridge we had our first noteworthy wildlife encounter: a skunk was running along in front of us, sticking to the trail rather than just moving to the side (the same, not-too-bright skunk of last time?). I lost my patience, launched into a sprint and successfully completed a ‘safe’ pass. This must have ticked it off a bit and poor Patrick was to pay the price, as he got sprayed by the cantankerous creature. Luckily for us, he managed to avoid most of it, though the unsavory aroma would accompany him for a while.
Descending Spike Jones and Timm in the dark was loads of fun again, I can highly recommend it. No trace of mountain kitties, though Patrick did spot a bobcat. We slowly made our way up to the top of Cross Canyon, then more fun ensued with the high speed descent and traverse through the canyon floor. The bottom was frosty and humid, and the slippery mess of vegetation and wet rocks made it a precarious and slow ride. We all failed miserably on the Cross Canyon Wall but didn’t really do an honest effort – saving our breath and legs would be the motto today. During the climb out, Roy got held up a bit, and Patrick and myself were to witness Roy’s extraordinary self-motivational skills again – the ungodly screams rising out of the depths of the canyon must have sounded terrifying to the untrained ear, but we knew better.
Willow Ridge road was next, then Hoover Lake trail. By means of contribution to the trail work day, we left rock cairns indicating where rework was needed (more seriously: Paul and co would end up doing a great amount of work, thanks!). Last time around I was rather miserable on the Willow Ridge singletrack descent, with my dead battery and wimpy bar LED – not so today, all was well in the battery department and the plunge into the Narrows was a blast. After the climb on Lost Spring trail, the descent then ascent of China Hole we started to tire a bit of the nightriding, and were looking forward to dawn, which we were able to witness in all its glory on our way to Headquarters. We arrived there pretty much on schedule, but unfortunately the schedule didn’t involve waiting around for HQ to open up so that we could storm the coffee machine inside. No coffee for us today, but that was fine, we had Flat Frog and Middle Ridge to look forward to, not a bad way to start the day.
Everything looked glorious in the early morning light and I was flying down Middle Ridge – on one occasion, a bit all too literally, as my handlebar clipped a tree and bike and pilot got launched off trail. Fortunately, no real harm was done (except to the mount of my bar LED). I guess this was the first time I was having some second thoughts on having installed a wider bar and bar ends. Patrick also had a minor stumble, but we were fortunate that in terms of incidents this was all we would encounter today – no other crashes or bad mechanicals (my main fear for the day) were to be reported.
Crossing the creek at Poverty Flat Camp we started to feel the impending doom of Bear Mountain, but we first needed to deal with its little cousin: Poverty Flat road. The recent rain has been a godsend – it turned the unclimbable mess of moondust into a nice firm tacky surface and I think I haven’t seen it in any better conditions yet. On our left, we saw some smoldering remains of the controlled burn that recently took place in the Blue Ridge zone. At this point, we’d done over 40 miles and were close to having climbed 10k feet, but we still felt in decent shape – I tried to ignore the fact that we’d just done a six hour night ride and imagined we were instead just starting out our ride on this bright sunny morning. More mind games were going to be needed to pull this off, I figured. As we knew from past experience, our paces were pretty well matched, and it certainly helped to have someone to complain to when needed close to you.
The big one was up next: Bear Mountain. I felt better than last time and attacked the lower section with some amount of success. Of course, all resistance was futile once we got to that ludicrous 40% section. Patrick was a beast again and cleaned more than I thought possible or advisable. After the seemingly endless sequence of false summits, we finally made it to the top; meanwhile things had been nicely warming up and we could finally strip some layers and bask in the sun a bit. We had a few ‘easy’ miles to look forward to then, the descent to and circumnavigation of Mississippi Lake. A bit of climbing on Willow Ridge road got us to the top of Heritage: a bumpy descent leading to the even bumpier, pothole-ridden upper Pacheco Creek trail. I was not in a happy place on my hardtail here, and upped the pace, looking forward to get it over with quickly and to some rest and repose at Pacheco Camp. We rolled into camp almost exactly at noon.
I considered beforehand the third part of the course, which was up next, to be the make-it-or-break-it part. It’s a deep excursion into the backcountry, and even on a ‘normal’ ride not for the faint of heart. But by now the miles had started to weigh real heavy, and we entered deep into our respective pain caves. To describe the horrors Kaiser-Aetna (‘a mile and a half of hell’?) or Center Flats road inflicted on us at this stage of the ride is difficult, it’s something to experience rather than explain. But the payoff is we got to ride incredible and unique gems of singletrack (Dutch’s trail: undiluted awesomeness! That superfast downhill stretch of Burra Burra!), in the middle of nowhere, the trails all for ourselves. On Dutch’s I even retrieved a water bottle (one with an integrated filter) that I lost there some time last August.
Not surprisingly, our pace had been dropping a lot, and on this short November day we were soon going to embark on part two of our night ride. We had planned for this and made sure we had plenty of battery juice. After we had dragged ourselves off of Center Flats road, we witnessed a spectacular sunset on Wagon road, and hooked up our lights (and warm gear) again. The last 20 mile leg of the route had been designed to be a bit faster and easier, though that was all highly relative at this point. The Kelly Lake trail descent in the dark was certainly fast and fun, just as Dexter/Grizzly Gulch trail, a wonderful combination. Then there were a bunch of slow fireroad grinds (Crest road, Coit road from Kelly Lake, Grizzly Gulch road/Wagon towards Camp Willson) that certainly felt easier than the earlier butchery on Center Flats and its likes.
To add mileage to the route (and ensure a clean 100 as per the official Coe map), I had included a slight detour off of Camp Willson in the end, featuring sections of Vasquez and Long Dam trails, and I hadn’t bothered to preride them. Roy and Patrick gave me a disparaging look once we had regrouped at Camp Willson, and I was unsure why. As soon as they sent me ahead down Vasquez I understood. The downhill part is horribly rutted, the short climb out vicious, and the descent down Long Dam most possibly the worst trail I have ever laid wheels on (basketball sized potholes, ruts and ditches are literally all over the place). But in a way, I guess it’s not unfitting for a ‘hard’ Coe ride.
Even though we were plodding around like zombies now, I was getting quite excited, knowing that we had it almost in the bag. The last-but-not-least hurdle however was the 500ft climb on Wagon road. A smooth fireroad, but the bottom part sports a sustained 18% section and I had to use all my willpower to refrain from dabbing and ditching the bike – having Patrick climb next to me helped to ease the pain and at last we made it to the top. I must have fallen half asleep, as I missed the spectacular meteorite that Patrick and Roy were gazing at (I did see a smaller one earlier on). The fast and furious final descent down Wagon road upped the adrenaline level again, and we stormed back home through a frosty Hunting Hollow road to claim our 100 miler, which had taken us a grand total of 21 hours and 12 minutes. We were pleasantly surprised to see a welcome committee on the parking lot, which we highly appreciated, thanks Paul and Bryan! Some numbers needed rounding up (damn GPS receivers), so after a bit of bonus riding we were finally able to enjoy the festivities while staving off onset of hypothermia. Best – and hardest – ride ever! Thanks Patrick and Roy for sharing in the madness. Next year, I’d love to see some strong riders show up and shatter our time; after all, if we can do it, why not you?