Occidental-Sea Ranch: Stage 4
October 19, 2011 – Occidental to Sea Ranch via King Ridge.
I had heard of King Ridge from Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo , but didn’t really know anything about it. I follow Bicycling Magazine on Facebook and a month or two ago they posted a link to Levi’s Gran Fondo and referenced King Ridge so I followed the link and then proceeded from there to read more about it.
What I read made King Ridge sound more suitable for professionals than a cyclist like me. One article I read written by an ex-professional racer described the descent as very technical and dangerous if you weren’t extremely careful. The climb up King Ridge sounded tough but there’s usually no danger in climbing unless you slow to a crawl and can’t unclip so you fall over – Arte Johnson style.
Tough climbs hurt your legs, maybe hurt your pride but they don’t usually cause you any lasting harm – so I was okay with the climb – the descent however, had me worried.
Sometimes you can know too much (or think you know) and this was definitely a case of that. Living in Oklahoma we don’t have any serious climbs other than rolling hills – at least in the central part – this would be the toughest climbs we’ve ever done or sagged – whichever the case might be.
As it turned out it was a fantastic day of bike riding. An epic day! The most climbing (4300 ft. approximately of ascent) and the toughest climbs I’ve ever done. It was a day in the saddle I’ll look back on with fond memories and a sense of pride because of the beauty of King Ridge and the ways it pushed and tested me. It hurt like hell at times but I loved every minute of it.
A few parting shots of the Inn at Occidental’s garden
Here’s how the day’s ride went:
Leaving Occidental was cool, both literally and figuratively. For the first 5 miles or so we pedaled easily along the heavily treed Bohemian Highway. The morning air was damp and cool and the road was dark because of all the tree cover.
We came across a group of totem polls; it may have been after we turned off of Bohemian, I don’t remember for sure. Several different animal totems, all colorful; the dog was my favorite.
I took that smiling dog totem to be a good omen.
The ride continued easily to Cazadero. Our team car was waiting so we stopped to refill bottles and pick up gels and snacks – a couple of the nut clusters and a handful of peanut butter pretzels – good stuff. Fuel for the legs and all that…
From what I had heard the climb up King Ridge would start almost immediately after leaving Cazadero. Barb, Gayle, Rod, Mark and I rode together. Director Sportif and Soigneur (sans massage and musettes) Neal and Joeli, drove the team car and provided support the entire way across King Ridge. The faster group of Andrea, Peter, Marla, Mike, Jerry, Gord, Char, David and TG Mike were off the front.
When the climb started it wasn’t steep immediately but it got that way pretty quickly. We kind of all scattered once the climb started in earnest – we were in our own private purgatory – to quote Paul Sherwen.
Taking Neal’s advice, once it got steep I got out of the saddle and pedaled slowly using my weight to turn the pedals, trying to time my strokes to my breathing. When I needed to I stopped but I didn’t walk. My goal was to ride the whole way.
Stop and rest but no walking. TG Mike had said something to me earlier in the day as he rode by that stayed with me and that I used as motivation the rest of the ride: “Ride like a champ”.
I rode within myself stopping when I needed to. If I saw something I wanted to take a picture of I did. I was surprised at all the fall foliage along the route. The scenery – vegetation and terrain – changed each day it seemed. All of it was beautiful but today surpassed everything else we had seen to this point.
The further we rode the steeper it got. Climbing out of the saddle helped. It went against everything I had learned and also practiced – normally I did the majority of climbing seated spinning an easier gear. Standing worked so I stood. When it didn’t I stayed seated and pedaled as easily as I could.
When it got really steep and difficult I stopped a lot. As it got steeper it was more difficult to clip in – I often couldn’t get the pedal in the right position to clip in and I would have to float that leg and try and clip while my right leg did all the work. Very tiring and very frustrating!
On one section after trying repeatedly to clip my left foot in (I use Look pedals) I gave up, unclipped the other foot and hung over my handlebars trying to catch my breath – just when Neal and Joeli showed up. They told me later they thought I was throwing up. I can see why – I felt like throwing up!
Neal gave me a pep talk and I continued to ride and stop as needed. Thankfully he didn’t tell me the worse was yet to come – or maybe he did – by then I had severe bike coma.
The road continued up and the views got better and better. Reward for all that effort.
The picture just above on the left is looking down the road from the first summit (1620 ft. elev.). Neal and Joeli were there and the rest of the gang came up too.
We had some up and down hills for a few miles. More spectacular views too.
The sunlight was beautiful the way it came through the tree tops (and no I wasn’t lying down when I took this picture).
The pavement continued to go up too, but not as steeply. Steep enough though.
Things were going okay and then we came to “Oh-Shit Corner” – which is exactly what I said when I saw it. The steepest thing I’ve ever contemplated riding a bike up. Gayle rode up and we stared at “Oh Sh*t together. Neal and Joeli were there and we discussed how to best negotiate it. Neal offered to give us a push start just like the pros get when the team car stops for them – can’t ask for more than that – I don’t know how he did it – it was steep but he did for both Gayle and me. Thanks Neal!
The push worked because we made it to the top of Cima Coppi – 1730 ft. elevation – our hors categorie climb for the tour!
As a reward we had several miles of easiness – fun descents and easy climbing. Then we rode along the top – gorgeous – breathtaking views. You could see for miles and miles. And I took picture after picture of one stunning view after another.
Riding along top made for spectacular views and experience. It was quiet and undisturbed by traffic or people. It wasn’t flat, but gentle (although there was one or two that weren’t so gentle) rolling hills and twisting roads.
A bit further up the ridge you could just catch sight of the Pacific on the horizon.
We stopped at Tin Barn road for a very good picnic lunch and a little rest and took relish in the fact that the most difficult part was behind us.
The only daunting thing in front of us was the tricky descent. I think we all pictured worst case scenario. We had an option to go 10 miles further but have an allegedly (I say that because the group that did it suffered through more steep climbs) easier descent – I guess that part was accurate. Thankfully we chose the regular descent.
The descent wasn’t as bad as advertised but then I kept tight control on my speed – squeezing my brake levers with all my might. So much so that my hands and forearms were sore the next day. The descent we had done between Summit 1 and “Cima Coppi” was fun and fast. I did it at probably twice the speed but it also wasn’t as shaded or rough and had less traffic than this descent down Skaggs Springs road. The descent down to Highway 1 was dark, steep, twisty with blind corners – and cars – I took it very slow – slower than needed probably. It wasn’t as bad as I expected but I was really happy when it was over. Mark on the other hand loved it – probably even more than he hated all the climbing – and flew through the descent.
I stopped for a “natural” break and got separated from my group. I had to ride the rest of on my own which was fine except for the unsavory character in the red truck who passed me very slowly. When I came around the final turn and saw the awesome Pacific and Mark, Gayle and Rod I’m not sure who or what I was more excited to see.
Riding north on Highway 1 we encountered our first strong headwind but who cared – we were riding along the Pacific ocean.
Pulling in to Sea Ranch Lodge was thrilling – because of the beauty and great views and also because we had conquered the legendary King Ridge!
In celebration I used my new rule of “beer before shower”. There were adirondack chairs for taking in the views and that’s where we found the rest of our riding buddies. We traded stories and laughs and enjoyed the beyond gorgeous views. Of all the lovely places we stayed, Sea Ranch was my favorite.