I had read about this underground race for the past couple of years. A race in Henry Coe Park outside of San Jose that would entail one big 100 mile loop with no repeat trails and somewhere north of 20,000' of climbing. Henry Coe State Park is the largest State Park in California and one of the largest in the US at over 85,000 acres. A few locals had been doing pretty big days in the park and had eventually come up with a 100 mile all dirt loop using dirt roads, double track, trail, game trail, rodent trail, insect trail..... you get the point. A really cool deal given that the route was all dirt within 15 miles of one of the largest cities in California. The prevailing theme of rides in the park involved one constant; F'ing Steep!
Couple this really cool idea with the fact that I had never been there and I was in. I set off for the town of Gilroy and the campground at Coyote Lake on Friday. The campground was just 3 miles from the start of the race and had showers and bathrooms, not a bad deal. I arrived a bit before 3 pm and managed to get a short 15 mile ride in since I had not been on the bike all week. Showered and setup, I headed into Gilroy for some dinner and a few last minute items before heading off to bed for the 5am wake up.
I arrived at the start at about 6:15 with only one car in the lot, it looked like they had been there for the night so I settled in and waited for the other racers to show. One by one the rest of the hearty souls arrived. There had been a 100K option added this year and 6 people were up for that challenge, the rest of us, seven in all were out for the 100 miles. I knew a couple of people from some previous rides, most seemed to know who I was, an uncomfortable deal for me.....
We exchanged names and after a brief intro to the route we were off. I settled in towards the front and eventually made a getaway as the trail grew steeper. It was ridable, but certainly uncomfortable and it continued for what seemed like forever. The route followed some very fun singletrack, steep roads and beautiful scenery. The first water stop was at Park Headquarters at about the 35 mile route. My initial thought was that I would reach that spot in 3-4 hours since I generally always average somewhere in the 9-10 mph range. Somewhere in a steep creek canyon my gps turned off. I forgot I had put some lithium batteries in on the last 4 day trip and the fuel gauge always reads full on that gps with lithiums, right up until it dies.... When I started it up with new batteries the signal was lost and it found a spot 20 or so miles to lock onto, great, now my cue sheets and map are useless. I had no idea where I was or how far I'd gone but it seemed like I should be getting close to HQ.
"Trail" along the route to HQ
Boy was I wrong, the route continued up and down steep canyons on trails and roads. At the 4 hour mark I was out of water with no idea how far it was till I would be able to refill. Turns out it would be 1-1/2 hours without water and that essentially made the next 11 hours and 65 miles miserable at times. I finally reached HQ 5-1/2 hours into the race. 35 miles and nearly 8500'of climbing...Had I known that I would have filtered somewhere along the way and adjusted my grossly inaccurate ambitions.
Coit Lake shimmering in the morning sun
I made my way out of HQ and into the great unknown. I was hurting pretty good at this point, the terrain alone would have hurt, yet alone being dehydrated so early in the day. The combination was unrelenting. The route was pretty consistent very steep climbs, a little ridgeline riding and a steep decent, repeat....
More good stuff out past HQ
Yeah, that's the trail... really fun though.
Bear Mountain had been talked about by quite a few of the locals. Only one person was known to have cleaned it, Brian Lucido, who was somewhere behind me at this point. I knew I had come to it without a doubt. Steep does not do it justice. I walked all of this beast, hoping o save a few matches for later lighting. My matches were sweat soaked by the time I hit the summit and would never light again.
I sat down for a bit just off the top to eat a bit and relax a bit, it had been a pretty tough day so far and I was only halfway. Just as I was underway I was surprised to see another rider come along beside me, it was Brian.
Crap now we have a race on our hands.....
Bear Mountain, ouch....
Brian and I chatted a bit and I finally made the connection as to who he was. He is quite a bit younger than me so we never raced each other so to say, but we had raced tandems against each other at Downieville and Sea Otter for years. I knew him to be a strong rider and more importantly he had ridden in Coe 100's of times.
"Trail" out past Bear Mountain
Brian and I chatted and rode for the better part of the next 20 miles. I was not feeling great but the company forced me to push through what were now beginning to be rather painful cramps, we still had 30 miles to go when he finally disappeared into the fading sunlight. Great, now I'm alone in the dark in the outer reaches of a place I have never been to. The roads and trails seemed to go on forever, steeper and more unforgiving as my legs continued to scream in displeasure. I was now walking just about any hill that required me to get in my lowest gear.
It was an absolutely stunning night though. The stars and local lights of Gilroy and Mountain View were awesome. Several times I sat with my lights off and stared into space just taking it all in. It's been awhile since I've ridden at night and not been in a 24 hour race so this was a nice treat even though I was suffering mightily.
I would see Brian's lights ahead of me every 15 minutes or so, I could tell he was putting time into me but I couldn't tell how much. I never saw another light behind me through the night. The final 8 miles or so just about killed my will to live. I was lost several times, rode past turnoffs and generally flailed around. I still had a pretty good attitude though, the good thing about not knowing where you are is the temptation to bail is nonexistent, you're in it finish no matter what.
I walked the final 600' climb and headed off for the final decent back to the start. I stopped to put my thin windbreaker on about halfway down, I should have done this earlier as I froze my ass off getting back to the car. I was greeted by a cheering group of racers at the finish, very cool to see. Brian had beaten me by about 45 minutes for the win and looked very comfortable. He would have likely gone out for the Everest Challenge( another 40 mile 9000' loop) if I had been up to it. I was most certainly not!
It has taken me 16 hours almost to the minute to complete the 100 miles and 20,090' of climbing.
I cleaned up a bit and crawled into the back seat of the truck for the night. Cramps came and went through the night but I slept pretty well for being curled up in the fetal position. I awoke about daybreak and headed back to the start. The last group had just finished(21 hours I think) and it was nice to know that everyone who set out yesterday to conquer this beast was able to do so.
I said my thanks and goodbyes and headed off for breakfast and the long drive home.
Thanks to Dirk and his group of hardcore adventurers who brought this to life. It was nice to ride with like minded souls in this beautiful area.