From the annals of this year’s Hard COEre 100:
Tackling this endeavour again, I had three major objectives: first, do my best to ensure nobody got in real trouble (even though as un-organizer I should be un-responsible); second, finish the 100 miler; and last but not least, produce a recap even more painstakingly detailed than Patrick’s! I think that all worked out pretty well, as I hope you can attest (though that last part took almost two weeks).
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all the folks that have done some form of trailwork or another, cleaning up trails, removing down trees etc; it was great being able to ride Lost Spring trail without the constant need to weave and dodge shrubs of poison oak; Middle Ridge has regained its previous glory; Turkey Pond trail – last year a complete mess – was impeccable; Lower Heritage trail + Pacheco Creek trail in so much better shape than last time. Too many people to list and thank, as I will forget some, but Sorcerer Paul deserves special kudos for his tireless efforts throughout the years.
This monster of a ride has been inspired by a mix of things, Paul’s legendary 10k solstice rides being not the least. Though some may accuse me of dishing out cruel and unusal punishment with this ride, I really just like a good challenge, and enjoy taking one on with likeminded folks. Most people are capable of more than they give themselves credit for – this event shows that again and again. But enough with the psychology 101…
…it’s a bit before 7am and I hold a quick briefing at the parking lot – mostly to make sure that everyone knows what they’re in for, and that those who need them get maps or cue sheets (thanks Paul and Roy for providing them).
Even though I’ve done this ride now twice before, for a variety of reasons I haven’t been able to do much dedicated training – a perfect excuse to start sandbagging, as Patrick can attest – I honestly have no idea how I’d fare though. Luckily there are a few early ‘indicators’ along the way – how I’d feel on the Lyman-Willson and Cross Canyon walls, for instance. We start out with a fairly easy pace up the Lyman-Willson trail – and I don’t have much trouble cleaning the Wall, so that’s a good first omen.
Reports have been floating around of many of the fireroads having been freshly graded, which is always unwelcome news, in particular since we haven’t seen the first rains yet, and we could expect a loose, dusty mess in many places. Steer Ridge road is the first case in point. It feels harder to clean than it should. The string or riders stretches out – I chat with Brian, it’s always fun to hear what he’s up to and he talks about some incredible trail runs he’s done with a team of friends – right now a friend of his was trying to break some ultrarunning record in Tahoe. His white mask of sunscreen looks like war paint indeed, though I’d suggest next time he’d add some different color features, to get rid of the geisha-look. He has a pretty lightweight gear setup, with a big handlebar bag (which would create at times a bit of trouble on steep descents) and small hydration pack. So far I’m very pleased with my own backpack-less setup, featuring a Revelate seat bag and fuel tank. It would survive the rigors of Coe perfectly – consider this a shameless plug for their stuff (they’re a tiny operation in Alaska specializing in bikepacking gear and deserve the kudos). Soon we find ourselves descend Spike Jones and Timm trails, as always a blast.
Sean Allan had dropped the field earlier on Lyman-Willson, and I’m secretly hoping Brian would take off to chase him down and give us some racing action. That is exactly what seems to unfold, as soon he takes off with only Erik (with ‘k’, aka Mr. Mud) in his wake. I find myself riding in a little group with Patrick, Roy, Eric (with ‘c’, the Nightrider), Brett (aka Leopold Porkstacker) and the two ‘Google riders’. I chat a bit with Liehann, one of them, from South Africa, who just moved here a year ago – he talked about some adventure racing he had done back home and I think about that famous video shot in South Africa where a mountain biker almost gets taken out by an antelope in full sprint. I figure he has seen quite a variety of wildlife riding out there. He talks about an ultrarunner colleague of his, Beat, who for a while considered to trail run the 100 miler with us – sounds like Google may have cloned Brian!
We seem to have dropped the other 100k riders as there is no trace of JL and company. After a fun intermezzo on Anza trail we climb Coit road and subsequently first climb, then descend Cross Canyon trail. I pass the spot where I went down hard last year – conduct a brief search for the LED bar light that I lost there, to no avail. I clean the entire canyon trail, another good sign, but that of course only lasts until we hit the Wall – it is just too loose right now. The slow grind out seems to take forever, but at last we make it out and hit Willow Ridge road.
Hoover Lake currently looks more like Hoover’s Pond of Scum but that will hopefully change soon. The rollers on Willow Ridge road are tedious and take a lot longer than I care to remember. Eric, Patrick and I ride ahead of the rest of the pack. Eric talks about the Furnace Creek 508 race starting on this same day, and jokes how our ride isn’t too bad compared to the grueling 100 degree heat and distance the Furnace Creek riders have to endure – he mentions one of the Nightriders is out there crewing right now. We drop down Willow Ridge trail, always a fun undertaking and I try to dodge as much poison oak as I can, making it reasonably fine through the Urushiol Tunnel from Hell near the bottom… onto the Mahoney Meadows Wall now! I make it past the hardest section only to lose traction a bit further and dab. I curse loudly, as God doesn’t just kill a kitten when you don’t climb 10k in Coe, but he also pulls out whiskers from the poor things every time you dab somewhere. Patrick stoically cleans the entire Wall – I remember how he almost did the same on his CX bike and -gearing months ago. Amazing how he’s capable of cleaning pretty much any line, as steep as they come – he should try rockclimbing.
Eric mentions he and others had brushed and cleaned up Lost Spring trail, and it shows – a job well done and in its current state the trail is very friendly to even the most PO-phobic. At the top we are joined by Roy, and a bit later the rest of the group. The China Hole descent is a welcome opportunity to recover and I continue the recovery process by setting a pedestrian pace up the long climb towards HQ. With Patrick in tow we finally make it to the bench on Manzanita road. A dusty fireroad is all that separates us now from the Tarantulafest taking place at Headquarters, and the heaps of grilled food that go with it. A very welcome prospect at this point. Patrick and I are joined by Eric and Roy and we complete the slow grind up to HQ. We are greeted by Paul and his wife Chris (Coe uber-volunteers and trail builders) who are manning the ticket/cash counter where we can buy our goodies. A bit later Erik “Mr. Mud” appears out of the crowd – he is on his way out and we briefly talk about the events of the day: Erik is currently riding solo, as Brian had left him behind, in pursuit of Sean.
I had told myself before not to lose too much time at HQ this time around but somehow that never really pans out. The company is fine and the food tastes great; I chat with head ranger Verhoeven, and a bit later Brett (who starts devouring two huge sandwiches) and the Google guys show up. I check how they’re doing; the Google riders will probably turn around at some point (they are not planning to night ride, which looks unavoidable now also in order to complete the 100k route) – Eric is going to do his own ride from here on, and Brett only needs a little bit of coercion to commit to the full 100 miler. With the long break at HQ I put my intentions for a ‘fast finish’ aside – with Brett never having been at Coe before I don’t think I’d like to see him roam around at night alone in Coe’s Bermuda Triangle – and we form a small, four piece grupetto, with the stubborn intent on finishing this thing. Roy is a tad more quiet than usual – only at the very end he would mention his rib injury due to an early crash; Patrick is eating through his brake pads and after we finish the always entertaining Flat Frog trail he rides ahead on Hobbs road to take some time to swap them out. Brett is a non-stop source of entertainment, doing impressions, accents, and almost entire stand-up comedy acts.
Middle Ridge is awesome and almost fully restored now; the fatigue makes me pick some questionable lines but I make it down without too many blemishes. Then, knowing what’s in store the next few miles, my mood sombers. All of us clean Poverty Flat (the appetizer), which is fairly rideable now a couple of seasons after it had gotten the moon dust grading treatment. Schafer-Corral is a short but pleasant intermezzo, and we float through the tall golden grass down into the dried out Coyote Creek bed. After the few bumpy miles through the creek bed, a welcome surprise awaits us: Mike B is greeting us at the base of Bear Mountain, the giant roadblock ahead. He briefs us on the status of the other riders: the 100k’ers are far ahead and out of reach; equally out of reach are Brian and Sean; Erik is about an hour ahead of us. The big climb then; that first glance never disappoints – with another ‘Bear Mountain virgin’ amongst us I admit finding an almost diabolical enjoyment witnessing Brett’s jaw drop when he takes in the scene.
It appears Mike has created again some real nice ‘Coe 100′ trail art with the materials at hand… after we ride past his handiwork, we make our way through the creek and tackle the climb… I ride, stall, hike-a-bike, ride, stall, push, curse and repeat this ad nauseam. I witness in awe how Patrick cleans some very challenging pitches but my mind is going blank – I start to feel real lousy, and even though it has been a rather cool day, the afternoon heat is now getting to me, I’m a tad low on water and start dreaming of the shores of Mississippi Lake… but I need to get over this steep pitch first… and then the next, and the next. Finally, there’s the summit, and Patrick; Roy and Brett have fallen behind, but it seems Brett hasn’t been suffering in silence, as soon we hear them turn the last corner. I don’t feel too bad cutting the break short, as I need to go filter some water and we charge onto County Line road to Mississippi Lake. We loop back on the lakeside trail, overgrown in spots, but I always find this primitive trail a pleasant break from the fireroads at this point. At the picnic spot on the other side of the lake we have a lengthy break where we filter water and dislodge a very stubborn little rock that had been sabotaging Roy’s front derailer. At this spot I reach the same sobering conclusion as in previous years: we hardly made it past the halfway-point…
Under a cloudless sunset we install our lights and head up Willow Ridge road, towards the always entertaining Heritage trail. Both Heritage and upper Pacheco Creek trails have recently been brushed and cleaned up by friendly trail fairies – Patrick charges ahead and I follow in his wake, storming towards Pacheco Camp. It was a time to recover from my typical ‘mid-ride crisis’, during which I entertained thoughts of bailing, knowing the camp is so tantalizingly close to home. But of course, once at Pacheco Camp there is no doubt that I will take a left on Coit road instead, onto the third leg of our course. We don’t bother trying to filter the water (where did the tub go?) and pour it in directly from the hose; I think back of those pictures of the innards of the water tanks near Live Oak Spring trail… I figure it’s somewhat cleaned up now, and how bad can a bit of an ‘escargot flavor’ be? It is very dark now, the night moonless so far, and riding under lights gives things a new dynamic; it rejuvenates and injects some needed adrenaline, waking me up and making me more aware. Self-delusional perhaps, but I’ll take self-delusion if it works! Improved awareness is a good thing, as with Phoneline and Turkey Pond trail we have some tricky descents ahead. Unlike last year, no mechanical or other incidents occur and we find Turkey Pond trail fully cleared of down trees – quite the contrast with the previous editions.
We grind our way up County Line road, to the top of my cherished Dutch’s trail; in the dark almost even more fun than in broad daylight. The cloud- and moonless night allows for a great viewing of the stars, the milky way and various flying objects – I try to look for (bike)lights in the general direction of Dowdy Ranch but am not able to discern much. Soon the fun is over and we enter Coe’s Bermuda Triangle, starting with the grueling climb out to Yellowjacket pond and Tie Down trail. We’re now able to find our way pretty easily in the Triangle, even in the dark, and soon we hit the fun descent on Tie Down trail to the North Fork trail bit that will then dump us on Kaiser Aetna road. A steep-ass fireroad looks to be exactly what the doctor had prescribed for Brett, as he seems suddenly fully revived, and takes off setting the pace towards Dowdy Ranch. In truth, the grade is not that steep, and its consistency allows for fairly easy granny spinning. But it seems to drag on forever. At last, we hit the ranch.
Rolling in, I discern a figure in the darkness, quietly seated on the porch bench; luckily it is not the dark Sith Lord of Coe preying on us but instead Erik, who welcomes us to Dowdy Ranch. He recounts how he got lost in the Triangle, finally ended up here after some amount of frustration and quite a few bonus vertical feet climbed, and decided to then wait for us. It is time now to recover a bit, eat, refill on water and check out the facilities: yes, the full service restrooms are open for business. It is getting cold now though, and the spectacular crescent moon rising from behind the hills is the sign for me to get moving again. It takes some mild coercion to get everyone on board and leave the relative comfort of our temporary shelter, but off we go again, into the dark of the night.
I feel surprisingly frisky as I motor up Burra Burra trail – it’s a bit too early though for my traditional end-of-ride kick. Center Flats road then: a seemingly endless sequence of rollers and steep walls. Some time a massive search party should be organized to try locate the namesake flats; as far as I can tell they have never been observed. Roy, having learnt his lesson from last year, had started ingesting espresso beans, and they seem quite effective; no more ‘sleepbiking’ for him. As usual, Patrick delivers the best efforts on the steeps, though Erik seems to have a good deal of energy reserves left as well. At long last, we hit the intersection with Wagon Road. Making the mental switch (‘all easy miles from now on’), I take up my role of ride tyrant again and try to keep the break short; those last miles may be ‘easier’ but they will seem to last forever.
After the slog up Wagon road, an unpleasant surprise awaits us at Live Oak Spring trail. The ‘trail’ – in this direction normally a fun rollicking descent – has mutated into a hideous and dusty mess of a dirt road; the mark of the grader, so it appears. Oh well… more miles of fireroad are ahead of us now, until we finally reach the top of Kelly Lake trail. A fun and thriling singletrack descent breaks up the routine, and dumps us in the chilly basin of Kelly Lake. Brett and Erik need to filter water; they seem to be taking a while, and Roy and I decide to start the slow climb out, as we’re both freezing and starting to shiver; it’s warmer on the ridges and hilltops. I switch into ‘grind’ mode and plod up the hill. There’s the summit, at last, and Patrick arrives soon after me; we both lie down and rest. There’s Roy… but no Erik or Brett, or any lights we can discern in the distance. For a while I worry they took the wrong turn up Coit, which would be a very bad thing, but luckily that fear proves to be ungrounded, and soon our five piece grupetto is complete again.
We’re closing in on the finish now, and complete the fun singletrack intermezzo Dexter / Grizzly Gulch trail at a very healthy pace, riding almost in formation. A break at Camp Willson is kept brief when Erik says ‘let’s get this done’, and we take off… to tackle the last few obstacles. First, Vasquez trail – surprisingly it has received the grading treatment as well, but in this case made it a tad more pleasant (which is all very relative, if you know Vasquez); next up is Long Dam trail, with its confusing and post holed labyrinth section – I do find my way relatively easy this time, practice makes mastery I guess; and finally, that last beeyatch of a climb up Wagon road to Phegley Ridge… I can almost hear Brett and Erik curse me in their thoughts for including this in the route; but I’m delighted, as I know all of us have got this in the pocket now.
I’m sleepy and cold but clean this last hill without too much trouble. I keep moving to try stay warm while the others summit. Erik, Patrick and I lead the fast descent into Hunting Hollow road, which is as I expected a very frigid affair. Patrick picks up some extra footies towards Kickham Ranch in order to make his GPS display the proper value (20k) and when Roy and Brett arrive, we head for home. The frosty conditions inspire me to get these last four miles done with quickly; I’d say beer gravity was at work but I’m far too cold to enjoy that treat at this point. When I roll into the lot I’m delighted to be greeted by a welcome committee and after the rest of the group rolls in, the party is on – at least if you can call a hypothermic congregation of a handful of delirious sleepwalkers a party.
While the sun makes some shy attempts to rise, Sean Allan drives up the lot in his truck to say hi – we have seven finishers of 100 miler, and two of the 100k, and I’m delirious… but very tired and cold. Too tired and cold for the Everest Challenge, which once again remains elusive; there were no takers, though Brian and Patrick probably came closest to giving it a go. I head to the car now, which will provide warmth, but I need to apply the Roy Method (repeatedly slapping oneself in the face) during the drive home to stay awake and get home safely…