Up That? Fish Rock

Up That? Fish Rock

By the time I rolled into rest stop two the Tee Rex crew had taken off their dinosaur suits, so I didn’t get the amazing comedy that has greeted me on other occasions. Honestly, I didn’t mind. I walked straight up to my friend Sebastian and he asked me one question:

“Bacon and cheese or vegetarian?”

My response: “Duh.”

He quickly pointed me to a stack of pre-made quesadillas containing both cheese and bacon. The way I felt, even that wasn’t going to solve my predicament. I was only half way into a 70-something mile race (okay, ride for me) and I felt like I’d been beaten with a bag of flour.

Screw you, Brady!

I knew the guys manning the rest stop, so whereas they were mostly polite and helpful to anyone passing their way, in my case they made an exception.

“You’re only half way through.”

“Even Goldzman is ahead of you.” This was a reference to Sebastian’s girlfriend Julie, who is a fit and capable cyclist.

My ego was already so shattered (or so well shuttered) that I wasn’t lying when I said, “Good for her!” No one should be as far back as I was.

Bike Monkey’s sales pitches for their events are Tom Sawyer-esque. It takes a special sort of person to even want to do the average Bike Monkey race. They are distinctly Type 2 fun, and so deep in that vein that sometimes they still aren’t fun at the first retelling. BM head honcho, Carlos Perez said during the starting announcements, “This ride is no joke.”

It didn’t take long for Ted King and a few others to separate from the group.

I’d been privvy to the story of his encountering the road some seven years ago after following dirt roads between Cloverdale and Boonville, which is to say stretches of unpaved nothing between podunk and nowhere.

A friend had warned me that the start was without compassion or warning. He advised me to warm up thoroughly. At the gun we rode 100 meters only to have the road immediately tilt to eight percent. Just as I got used to that, it tilted again,up to 12 percent. Then on to 15 percent. The grade undulated for two miles before offering a brief respite and a 1.5 mile descent into another stupidly steep climb. This second uphill held grades in the double digits for most of the climb, even hitting more than 20 percent twice.

The first rest stop came a mere 15 miles into the ride, and on any other day, with any other event I’d have pedaled right by. But there were two dozen people pulled over and they all looked like I felt. I can’t recall even taking anything from them; I was just glad for the excuse to stop.

I commented to no one in particular, “What the hell was that?”

Heads shook in amazement. People looked at their feet.

“That’s the hardest opening 15 miles of an event I can ever recall riding,” I said.

Heads nodded. No one really spoke.

Most of the first 25 miles are shrouded in forest. You really don’t see much other than Redwoods that rise like radio antennae, and oaks that blot the terrain from view. So when you descend out of the forest and to the coast plain near Point Arena, I felt like I’d arrived. At what, I couldn’t say, but the change in terrain and the presence of eucalyptus trees lining the road gave me enough of a sense of a change that I felt, finally, like I must be making progress.

That descent out of the forest? Not to be brushed off like cat hair from a T-shirt. It’s a six-mile descent with one short bump near the end. For more than three miles the road rarely offers thrilling grades of eight or nine percent. Nope. It’s composed of mostly double-digit grades of 15, 16 and 17 percent. For a guy running carbon clinchers with rim calipers, I had to brake hard and lay off, brake and release.

Because the descents were as steep as the climbs, I, and many other riders, couldn’t help the perception that the ride went up more than it went down, as if the course were drawn by M.C. Escher. Crap.

Can I share something? I don’t believe all Type 2 fun is created equal. When you’re really fit, you finish and think, “Wow, that was really hard! What fun!” When you’re pretty fit, it’s more, “Holy cow. What the hell was that?! I’ll make sure to be more fit next year.” However, after a fall and winter using beer and wine to cope with a multitude of stressors, the 12-mile climb (with one descent) to get to rest stop two left me in survival mode. I saved my legs as much as possible on the steep stuff, sticking to my (limited) aerobic fitness, and then dug in any time the grade dropped below six percent.

So when I rolled into the rest stop, all that was on my mind was how to get over the opening four-mile climb that gains roughly 1800 feet. Like all dirt roads in California, it can get loose, so it’s important to stay seated, and patient.

It was easy to see why Carlos called Fish Rock a special road. It’s just the sort of road that if you encountered by any other means you’d think, “Oh, I need to ride this.” Redwoods dominated the views; hell, they were most of what I could view. Despite a cool start to the morning, conditions rose into the 50s, maybe even the low 60s. Just warm enough to make the riding pleasant.

Fish Rock was as unrelenting as a hungry kid. (Image: Padraig)

Compared to events by other promoters, one of the aspects I love about Bike Monkey is how well-supported you are. People hated me when I pointed out that I didn’t see a single vehicle sweeping the course at D2R2. At Fish Rock, there were two CHP officers as well as two motorcycles patrolling the course the whole day. And with three rest stops on the course, bonking was reasonably difficult. One would have to willfully ignore the signs. There are course marshals at every turn, even the ones that are obvious.

My tire of choice for the day was the Continental Cyclocross Speed, a 35mm diamond-file tread with side knobs I’ve run at a number of events. My only wish is that it was tubeless. Once I got onto the dirt descent I can say I was glad for the extra volume. I can only imaging how many flats all the granite chunks in the road must have caused. A great many people were running 28mm tires on straight up road bikes. Oof.

There came a point on Fish Rock where well up on the ridge a view opened up to my right, a vista to the southeast that gave an expansive view of the pristine wilderness. I pulled over to soak it in. Something deep in my brain salivated. For every sawtooth peak I saw in the distance I registered yet another ride I’d like to do. Moments later I gathered a sense of just how small I was in the universe. I could spend a month in Boonville and not come close to hitting all the trails and dirt roads nearby.

Looking at the profile of the event on Strava there is literally (actually) (truthfully) not a single spot on the course that is flat for a half mile. I’ve never encountered anything like it. Even after turning onto the 128 from Fish Rock Road for the seven mile run to the finish, the road continues to rise and fall, though, thankfully, it mostly loses elevation on the way to Boonville.

Every now and then I encounter a course where I feel like I didn’t ride the course, the course rode me. This would be one of those times. Next year.


Images: Jorge Flores, Justpedal

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  1. tominalbany

    That sound like the time I rode Monarch Crest in Colorado. I’m a sea-level guy. I was told it starts high and is all downhill.

    Most climbing I’ve ever done on a downhill route!

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