The roads of the Mike Nosco Memorial Ride are familiar to those who live near the Santa Monica Mountains. The memorial ride is largely supported by Southern California locals who can ride them anytime they like. That’s not why they show. The Nosco ride is a gathering, a day to hit the reset button on perspective and friendship.
But since we mentioned the course, it’s worth noting that this thing is no walk in the park. And just about everyone who took on the 2016 edition got a refresher on how relentless the Santa Monica Mountains can be. Shorter laps have been added, but the big route remains an 82 mile, 8-thousand foot affair. The main climbs are Deer Creek, Mulholland and Latigo Canyon. The fastest times are just under four and a half hours.
The big course was a form of therapy Jack Nosco. Mike, a 20 year veteran of the Navy, was hit and killed while on a ride on November 3rd, 2004. Jack, a Ventura County Firefighter, heard the accident on a radio scanner. Later that day he would learn that it was his little brother who had been hit. Jack Nosco dealt with his grief by riding the route that would later become the Nosco Ride.
The ride is unique for two reasons: it is held on the same day every year, November 3rd, the day Mike was killed. The other is the lack of a set registration fee. Organizers simply ask for a donation. Give what you can and they will make sure it goes to a good cause. The Mike Nosco Foundation helps people with cancer and other devastating health issues.
At nine in the morning, we rolled out of a Ventura County park for what would be the 8th Mike Nosco ride. On the descent of Potrero road, there were several flats, most involving carbon clinchers. The road is steep and the pace is neutral. The day was warm and the heat from the braking was more than some tubes could handle.
The ride always stops for a moment of silence at the spot where Mike Nosco was hit. The intersection is in the middle of fields where local strawberries and lettuces are grown.
The ride then turns onto PCH, and this year there were crosswinds. The field was fragmented a mile down the coast highway. It was a battering affair, and almost a relief to reach the first climb, the ominous Deer Creek with its average gradient of 12.4 percent.
Deer Creek is a short climb, just 2.1 miles, but its pitches are unforgiving. At the end of the day, stories came back of riders at the side of the road, doubled over and a few, returning breakfast to the earth.
The Nosco ride is an up and down affair. After grinding up Deer Creek, we blitz down Yerba Buena and back onto PCH for a short trip to Mulholland. Then it’s back up. At this point, groups of 20-30 had been turned into tight knit alliances. Twosomes, threesomes, foursomes: we all found friends of equal power and determination.
One of the tough things about the Nosco ride is how slowly the miles tick by. The bottom of Latigo Canyon, a 7.8 mile climb, comes at mile 53. And this year’s edition saw temps on Latigo approaching 90 degrees. Organizers had properly placed rest stops at both the beginning and near the top. They were both well used.
Getting back to the start-finish is no easy affair, with rollers on Mulholland, winds through Hidden Valley, and a final short climb up Potrero. Along the way, stories are shared of climbing and suffering and cramping. The conversations mask the pain of a day’s worth of lactic acid in the legs and the sting of salt in the eyes.
Around picnic tables, the stories continue. One of the best was from a man who was out for his first Nosco ride. David Sunderland, a Vice President with the company that operates Interbike, said after the Mulholland climb, he got lost. Missed the turn back to the coast. He did not know the area. All Sunderland could say was that he had gone through some tunnels and that maybe he had reached Agoura Hills. He said he hooked up with someone else and they just kept riding and climbing. Sunderland had every reason to be frustrated and mad over the ten additional miles and tons more climbing. But has he gorged on a plate of chicken and rice, he was smiling. The Nosco ride was his, no matter where it took him.
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