2016 Central Coast Double Century

The Central Coast Double Century is one of the most beautiful bike rides on earth.

 It starts out in the Central California wine country town of Paso Robles. The course takes us west of town for some amazing climbs and descents through wine country before descending to the Pacific coast at Cambria, Ca. just south of San Simeon. We then head North on PCH to the southern end of Big Sur before climbing over the Santa Lucia mountain range to the Salinas Valley and the return to Paso Robles.

I have done this event 3 times before but I had never done it on a tandem bike before so when my friend Teresa said she would like to do it, I jumped at the chance. She had done it a couple times before on tandems but never on her single bike.

This event has a highland and a lowland route. The high route takes you up to and around Lake Nacimiento before dropping to the town of Bradley along Highway 101. The high has close to 16,000 feet of elevation gain.
The low route cuts out the climb to Nacimiento and a few miles for a straight shot to the town of Bradley. Elevation gain on the low is about 14,600 feet. That is a tough lowland route!!

We were planning on doing the tough highland route.

Teresa and I had not been on the tandem since our last event, the Southern Inyo Double where we had a major crash due to weather conditions blowing us off a really wet road.

When we arrived in town Friday night we took the tandem out for a shake-down spin of about 18 miles to make sure everything was working well.
We rode to Paso Robles from the house we were staying up in the hills, to rider check-in. 
 We felt good and the tandem was working nicely. I had just had it in the shop for new handle bars and stem so I wanted to make sure everything felt right. I did take it out myself after the work but not with my stoker on the rear.

Part One: Paso Robles to check point one. Santa Rosa Creek Summit.                                   Mile 0-30.7

Elevation gain: 3,365 feet

We rolled out of the start at first light which was around 5:45 am. We saw many of our friends as usual. When you have been doing this type event as long as we have, you get to know almost everyone. There are really not that many people that do these ultra-events in comparison to other sporting events.
Getting ready to roll

It was a beautiful ride through the rolling hills and steeper climbs out of Paso Robles. We went by many wineries. We were pretty slow right out of the box because it is quite a while before we stopped climbing after leaving town. We had to climb over the mountains to get out of town.

We were off the back of the group but hoped to really catch up after going over the mountains.
The descent and headwinds along the coast were to our advantage.

The first climbs were not too tough….just slower on a tandem.

Then came the two toughest climbs on this early part of the event, York Mountain Road and Santa Rosa Creek Road.
Scott Halverson climbing the very steep Santa Rosa Creek road

These were tough on the tandem. With gradients between 12-20%, I dropped it in the granny gear, we put our heads down and just toughed it out as usual. After all…..we have quite a history of doing tough events on the tandem.

There was poison oak everywhere along the road in this section. I don't know if I have ever seen this much and it so healthy. It is too early in the year to see its fall-like color which makes it more noticeable but I know its tell-tale leaf pattern. We were careful not to brush against it.  

We grunted our way up to check point one but made it in the rear of the group but still not last. We were climbing pretty strong.
Grinding up the final 20% section leading to the check point on Santa Rosa Creek 

We got water and made it a fairly short stop.

Part 2: Check Point One to Ragged Point                                                                                       Mile 30.7- 66.8

Elevation gain; 1,526 feet

The descent down Santa Rosa Creek Road is very technical and bumpy even on a single with a very tricky hairpin turn a few miles from the summit. It then drops steeply before the grade flattens out a little.

I planned on taking it nice and easy on this descent and felt very confident now that I had disk brakes. They had worked great on many others, much more difficult, than this one. I just took it easy and did not let my speed get up too much. The tires really cushioned the ride nicely and the bumps did not bother us much at all. I was running new, all condition, Specialized Armadillo tires. They are 28’s and I was running just under 90 lbs. in them.

The bike slowed down nicely on all the curves but when we got to the descent where the hairpin was, I noticed something was seriously wrong. I was losing braking for some reason. (This is not supposed to happen. Everyone said disks were so reliable on descents. All kinds of things were going through my head at a very rapid rate)
I just had the bike in the shop and it worked fine the day before and on my test ride.
You can see how steep and tight the hairpin turn is if you look down and to the right.

It gets steeper as you come to the turn. Really scary!!

I was now diving from high in the turn to low so I could come out high and hopefully make the turn at this high speed.

My brake levers were all the way compressed against my handle bars and the bike was not slowing down as much as it should.
I yelled out to Teresa that I couldn’t slow down completely and I went into survival mode!! I went very high into the curve on the left and then dropped low before coming out high on the other side. I rolled into the dirt on the left side coming out of it and thought I was going to lose it there but miraculously Angels were watching over us because I saved it.

It was then that I remembered the road up ahead and saw it. The road goes straight but becomes even steeper with and nasty dip of over 20% a few hundred yards up ahead. I had the brakes full-on and I still was accelerating!!

It was at this point that I made a split second and very difficult decision which could save very serious injury or worse.

I yelled out to Teresa at this point that we were going to have to get off the bike because I had no breaks. I took the bike off-road and into the dirt on the right side hoping that I could just roll up the hill on a slight angle kind-of like a truck brake failure ramp thing. 

Well……no such luck!!

 I must have hit a rut or rock in the bushes as I was slowing down not far off the road. All I remember is a pretty violent hit and my neck and back cracking like I was getting a chiropractic adjustment.

We ended up with the bike flipped 180 degrees and Teresa 180 degrees from where she was behind me. I think when we hit something, she plowed into my back before flying over me for a fairly soft landing. Her shoulder hurt a little but all in all she was shaken but OK.

(The following two videos are of the crash. One at regular speed and one in slo-mo. You can actually tell we are still accelerating coming out of that nasty turn!!  In the slow motion video, if you look closely, you will see Teresa hit me straight in the back and then fly to the right and behind me as the bike flips in the opposite direction.)

Regular speed video

Slo-mo video

I was not so lucky.
My neck and back were not in too good of shape and I was worried. I was stunned but felt pretty good when I stood up. Then I tried to walk on my ankle and thought it was broken.
Some of our friends stopped and helped us. They helped me check out the bike and everything was ok. Hardly a scratch on the bike. It was the brakes I was concerned about. Was it cable stretch or worn out brake pads? Someone looked at the pads and I still had plenty of wear on them left. What the hell happened!!

My friend Tony helped me tighten the cables so the levers gave me some braking power and we thought we had it fixed. 

I've done over 40 doubles on the tandem dating back to the late 80's with not a single fall (not even a clip-out incident). These last two incidents were just freak things, both, causing me to make a split second decision that was very difficult but hurt. Glad I was able to break my stoker's fall in both of them. Teresa Beck is one incredibly tough woman.

We decided to ride the bike down to the coast and see how we felt before quitting the ride due to injury. This happened at mile 35 and we had about 160 miles to go. All that was going through my mind was……How the heck am I going to make it 160 miles in this shape!!!

Teresa and I walked the bike down that really steep kicker. We then gingerly finished the descent which was not as bad from that point. I seemed to have good braking power on the rest of the grade but it still did not feel like when the brakes were new.

  Cindi Staiger, who is on the staff for this ride, followed us down the hill in the support vehicle to make sure we made it down ok. Thanks Cindi!

For many of you newbies who do not know, Cindi Staiger is the 1988 winner of The Race across America. I remember watching the race and seeing her win back in the late 80's when I was first getting the ultra-cycling bug.

We got down to Cambria and I had to stop at a stop light. This is when I really noticed that I was not getting full braking power. There is no way I was going to do any more descents and I told Teresa. I was having serious thoughts of quitting at this point. My ankle was killing me and my back was feeling really strange.

We stopped on PCH and then Brian Stark, the organizer of the ride pulled up along with one of his mechanics to check on us. His mechanic (whose name I do not remember), saved our ride although at this point my body was telling me otherwise as far as finishing.

He checked the brakes and said we had plenty of pad left. He then noticed that he could move my wheels even when the brake levers were fully pressed…..both wheels!!! He then found the problem!! Only one pad was contacting the rotor, not both. He did a 5 minute adjustment and I had such powerful braking power that I couldn’t believe it.

How could this happen?!?!  I just had the bike in the shop with the guy who installed the brakes!

Well….Long story short….in hindsight I think I am partly to blame. I know nothing about disk brakes and am a very trusting person by nature. (Maybe too trusting but that’s just me). I took it for granted that he checked everything out when I had the bike in the shop. He took it for granted that I knew how to tell when the brakes were out of adjustment.

From now on I am doing my own brake adjustment before every long event……Period!!

We rolled up PCH, I figure, over an hour behind everyone else into an ever increasing head wind. White caps were starting to form on the pacific as we rolled through San Simeon. My ankle was sore but started feeling better as long as I didn’t do any lateral motion. The Advil was starting to take effect and my back started feeling better too. (I knew that recovery was going to be a different story in a few days) I figured if anything was broken, I would feel much worse.
Cruising through San Simeon

Climbing one of the many hills along PCH

Teresa was very strong and we both started feeling better and were starting to get over the shock of the accident.
We both discussed it and figured we would attempt to finish the ride even if our time was not an official finisher’s time. If we could not make the cut off for the highland route we would switch to the lowland.

It was a really tough coming up the rear of the ride in that head wind but it was a spectacular day and the beauty of it all just made it easier. I couldn’t push my usual big gear and had to spin more due to my ankle which slowed us down a bit.
The support vehicles kept checking on us to see if we were OK.
What an amazing staff Brian Stark had put together!!

I don’t think anyone had any hope for us after that crash but we were determined to take it one step at a time. Our first hurdle was the coast which had a lot of climbing. The second was the climb over the Santa Lucia Mountains on Nacimiento-Fergusen road. If we could make it over these two hurdles under the cut-off we hoped to be OK.

After a beautiful ride to Ragged Point we pulled into the check point in last place as they were starting to break down the rest stop. We stopped longer than we wanted but needed it at this point. They told us we really were only about 20 minutes behind the last riders so we figured we must have made up some time in the head winds. It is a lot easier for a tandem in a head wind. You are much heavier and the wind does not blow you around as much.

I was feeling pretty crappy!! It was not only windy but a lot of climbing along the coast. 

Part 3: Ragged Point to Mill Creek and the start of the climb inland.                                            Mile 66.8 – 87.4                                  

Elevation gain: 2,068 feet

Check out the white caps. It was brutal in this section.

Finally a little calmer water

We continued up the coast toward Big Sur. It was so beautiful and the pacific was so colorful. I started feeling much better once we reached the coastal summit and had a nice long descent. It really helped me recover. This section of the coast is so spectacular all the way to Monterrey. We would be turning inland about 60 miles from Monterey.

We made up a little time on this section and when we reached the Mill Creek check-point we caught a few riders. One was quitting and the other was going on. One other had just left and started the climb. Now comes the really tough part!!

Mill Creek. Now it really gets tough!

Part 4: Mill Creek to Lunch                                                                                                                Mile 87.4 – 112

Elevation gain: 3,188 feet

We now started the very difficult Nacimiento-Fergusen road. The climb starts right off the bat at about 11%.

I put the drive-train in the lowest gear right from the start knowing this climb very well. It is relentless for about 7.4 miles straight up!!

The first part of this climb is so beautiful its amazing. The view of the Pacific Ocean and the Big Sur area is breathtaking.
We ran into a guy named Ed from Fresno area and he did the climb with us. This was one of his first double centuries.
My ankle was really bothering me so I could not climb out of the saddle with all my weight on the legs where it was really steep. Teresa had to literally push me up some of the slopes by getting out of the saddle for some more momentum. When it leveled to under 10% I was fine. About half way up the gradient becomes a little easier but with so much climbing in the legs already, it was difficult.
Up and up some more we go!

Looking south down on PCH

Looking at north-bound PCH down below

Looking way down at the Pacific. Starting at close to sea level,this picture is taken about 1/3 of the way up. You can see the road switch-backing up that small first hill on the bottom right.

We took lots of video and pics where ever we could.

We made it to the water stop at the top and we were ecstatic.

 We topped off and headed down the steep descent on the other side. The brakes worked effortlessly but I still took it very easy and slow. I was a little skittish after the morning ordeal.

After the initial few miles of descent we rolled into and through the Fort Hunter-Liggett Army base for some rolling terrain and a nice tail wind. We waved at the MP’s parked at the side of the road and they gave us a thumbs up.

We rolled out of the base and into the lunch stop as a bunch of people were leaving. We had caught up with a bunch of the people who were riding with us in the morning but they were already leaving lunch and may have been there a while.
When I clipped out of my pedal, my ankle really hurt. I could hardly walk through the dirt up to the picnic area where the food was. I stayed with the bike and Teresa went to get us a Coke and some food. I was feeling really bad and had nothing left. I, again was contemplating stopping here if I didn’t start feeling better.
My friends Tony, Rick and Ellen came out. Tony and Rick were doing the event on their fixed gear bikes. Wow that never seizes to amaze me!
Tony gave me a neck massage and I started feeling better. When Teresa came back with a coke and a sandwich I didn’t feel like eating. I only drank the coke and put the sandwich in my pocket in a bag to eat slowly on the road.

As soon as I drank the soda I started feeling better. I think I just needed some rapid sugar.

Part 5: Lunch to Lockwood                                                                                                                                Mile 112 – 147

Elevation gain: 2,026 feet
 We got back on the road a while after Tony’s group. We rolled slow for a while into the head wind climb and I slowly started feeling better.
It is amazing but I think we climbed that section after lunch faster than I had in years past.
This particular section is usually 100 degrees and with a head wind. On this day we had 65 degrees and less wind. It was actually pretty easy.

Descending into the Salinas Valley
Tiger says hello!

Rolling out of the Salinas Valley to Lockwood. The last 3 times I did this ride, it was blazing hot on this climb. It was very difficult. This year it was nice a cool. The climb seemed easy, even after what we went through and on a tandem.

Rolling out of the Salinas Valley to Lockwood

Rolling out of the Salinas Valley to Lockwood

We rolled to the next check point in Lockwood pretty fast and I was recovering the whole way as it got cooler and the sun was setting. We hooked up with Ed again on this section and he ended up going all the way to the finish with us after dark.

We went over the last climb before Lockwood and got to the check point by a little after 8:30. We still had time to make the cut-off at the final check point by 9:45. We took a quick break and rolled. We would find out later that Tony’s group had just been there a couple minutes before us.

Part 6: Lockwood to Bradley                                                                                                             Mile 147 – 167

Elevation gain: 581 feet

We left the checkpoint and had a nice tail wind all the way to Bradley in the dark. It was so strong that it was pushing the tandem. That doesn’t happen too often. We flew over the few rollers to Bradley and got there a little after 9 pm with enough time to spare to eat one of the famous Bradley hot dogs. (this is known as the hot dog stop).

The wind was howling at over 30 mph here and it was chilly.

The finish: Bradley to Paso Robles                                                                                                  Mile 167 – 197

Elevation gain: 1,490 feet
Now came one of my favorite climbs, Hare Canyon. I had never done this climb in the dark before. All the other times I had done this ride, I was at this point early enough to climb it late in the afternoon. Both on the highland and the lowland.

This climb seemed effortless as we talked the whole time up with our new friend Ed from Fresno. I was really feeling recovered now and starting to smell the barn. We rolled over the top and down the descent on the other side. I took it really easy like I had been on all the descents after the morning incident.
We flew by the final water stop without stopping and just yelled out our numbers. There were some rough roads going back into town but the new tires really made a difference. Everyone was commenting about the rough roads but I hardly noticed them.
We made it to the finish about 12:15 am.

I really had a hard time walking to the car but we had finished it and we were really excited. 

We hadn’t had to DNF on any of our tandem rides since we started riding together in 2013. We had some really close calls but we always got her done but not alone. Without the help of friends and volunteers we would never have finished them!

I would like to that Brian, Cindi and the entire staff of the Central Coast Double. You guys have always put on an epic event. 
For those who have never done it, you are really missing a great one.

Thank you to everyone who helped and checked up on us after we went down on that nasty hill. It will always be appreciated.

Thanks Teresa (Tiger), for being so strong and determined to finish. It was tough but we did it. Another one that really tested our teamwork and we made it through. 

Last but not least.....My wonderful Wife and family. Thanks for putting up with my crazy Ultra-Cycling obsession. Love you all!!

Below is our ride data:

  • 195.2mi
  • 16:29:35
     Moving Time
  • 14,344ft
  • 1010
    Epic Suffer Score

Elapsed Time18:52:31


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