Seth Davidon’s Big Day Ride was inspired by the La Grange Santa Barbara Century Ride – namely, no-drop ride up there, then hammer home. Seth added in the Gibraltar climb, so the race would start in SB at the beach, race up Gibraltar, back down to the SAG, and then race to the finish line at COTKU (Center of the Known Universe in Manhattan Beach). Winner gets a loaf of home-baked sourdough. This would be a 230-mile day with 23 hand-selected hardcore racers.
Rahsaan Bahati doesn’t warm up before a race, I like that. Peer pressure makes me pretend to warm up before a race, so I told Leo we should warm up before the 5:30am start at COTKU. Westchester Parkway (NPR) seemed like a good place as it was on the way. We set off at 12:01am and did a few laps to get ourselves ready. Maybe we got a little dizzy doing circles as we only just made it to COTKU before the rollout and we’d racked up 105 miles with 3,500 feet of elevation! Sorry Leo! There were 21 other racers at COTKU, from ex-pros (Rudy Napolitano), to the unofficial 24-hour World Record holder (593 miles) Evens Stievenart. People flew in to race, everybody was a threat. If I had one wish on that morning, it was to get in a break with Rudy and Evens for the race back to COTKU!
The ride up to SB was 2-wide at 23mph with 5-minute pulls. It was relatively #EasyPace, overcast and 57 degrees. We arrived as a 23-person group in Santa Barbara, met by Seth’s very generous wife, Yasuko, with water and supplies. We loaded up and 10 minutes later the gun went off. It was race time!
As we meandered our way up and out of town, the skies cleared, and the sun bore down on us. With 205 miles under my belt, sweat pouring off my head, I decided to go slowly up the never-ending Gibraltar climb. I typically go too hard and fade. Going slower actually allowed me to maintain a constant pace and pass some of the other riders. We were all hurting, the sun was blazing down on us, now well over 100 degrees, but we kept going. The race had just started! As I passed one person after another, I realized that there must be only 5 or 6 ahead of me with less than 5 minutes to the top. Then they started whizzing by me, one after another – boy they looked happy. I summited, took an obligatory selfie and headed down. Unfortunately, at the first sharp corner I made a critical mistake – I stopped to take photos. It was simply gorgeous; the sun was glistening off the clouds below. Just as I was getting back on the bike another racer saw me and asked me to go back to the edge, so he could grab a photo with me in it. Why not? After our photo session, we rolled on down, passing weary racers wobbling their way up the mountain.
Just as we approached the SAG stop at the base of State Street, I noticed the lead group of 4 (Alex Barnes, Mathieu Brousseau, Rudy Napolitano, and Evens Stievenart) pulling out. Without hesitation, I skipped the SAG and gave chase. If only I hadn’t stopped for that photo! I had less than half a bottle – the race still had 100 miles to go. I looked at the 4 racers, they seemed calm, each had 3 full bottles and food supplies oozing out of their pockets. Rudy even had a beer! I had a Bonk Breaker, a Gu and practically no fluids. But here I was living the dream, in the break with the best in the world. I held on for dear life as they slowly ratcheted up the speed. 5 miles out of town and there was an explosion, my rear tire was slashed. Orange Seal was spraying everywhere, there was no chance my tubeless would seal. But alas! I had Erick Rodas at Helen’s Cycles put some extra sealant in just 2 days before and after 30 seconds of spraying it fixed itself! I was down 20+ psi, but heck, I was still in the game!
The 5 of us got into a heavy rotation, all taking solid pulls – but obviously 2 were taking pulls bigger than the rest. I held on. I got lower, I hid under Evens’ saddle, I did everything I could to make it from landmark to landmark. Now we were doing 31mph, the wind was picking up and holding a wheel was extremely difficult. We ripped through Emma Beach RV Park like we had sails. Ventura came and went. As we headed inland from Port Hueneme, the speed once again picked up. Now it was 35mph. I was second wheel as we made the right off Hueneme, putting us into the wind as we approached the jets. Evens pulled off, I took a pull, it didn’t feel good. The pace slowed, the kill was about to happen. Rudy went to the front and laid it on thick, Evens in tow. The remainder of us cowered behind. Mathieu screamed out – he’d got a flat! Alex slowed to help and in the blink of an eye, we were three.
We rolled onto the PCH with me on the front doing 28 – 30 mph and the bump to The Rock quickly approaching. I knew I wouldn’t make it over. I tucked in behind as we rolled up at a solid 27. I stood up, cadence down in the low numbers and rolled on through - I was still in the game. I let Rudy and Evens know I was done and could no longer pull. I’d hold on as long as I could. Now they were challenging each other, the pace went up once again. Between the Rock and Neptune’s Net we averaged 31.2mph for 12 minutes. Seeing the climb after Neptune’s Net, I knew I could not maintain this pace. Evens crested and continued to pile it on. False Flats are the devil. I pulled alongside Rudy and told him I was done. With Evens pulling at 31mph, Rudy calmly reached into his back pocket and pulled out a large can of Stella Artois. He popped it open, foam going everywhere, took a few chugs and handed it to me. My first drink in hours and it was too fizzy, spilling all over my face, only a few drops made it into my parched mouth. But that was enough, it was the generosity, the friendship and the taste that made me smile. I handed it back to Rudy who finished it off, scrunched it up and put it back in his pocket. I giggled to myself at how far we’d (literally) come. We were knocking on Leo Carillo, then Zuma, then Geoffrey’s dip, and before you knew it Pepperdine (not the bypass). I made it through, I survived with the best of the best, albeit skipping every pull since the Rock.
We rolled through Santa Monica and wound our way towards the Marina. It was over, we’d made it.
Apparently not! Once we came out of Playa Vista, Evens and Rudy went at it again. The wind was as brutal as you could possibly imagine – it felt like a 30mph cross-wind. It was so strong we had to ride side by side to get out of the wind. And we were still doing 24 mph! The 3 of us, neck and neck. Just the little bump up to the Chevron station to go. And they went, they started to gap me out with just a few hundred meters to go. I looked at what once was and asked myself why this always happens. Not today I said, I stood up and gave it everything I had to bridge the gap just as we passed the Chevron station. It was neutral from here on and so we sat back and digested what had just transpired. We rolled into COTKU at 4:27pm, I had 325 miles under my belt.
It was nothing short of epic. From the planning, the caliber of the racers, to the camaraderie out on the battlefield.
If you’re lucky enough to get invited next year, RSVP 😊
By the numbers:
335 miles with 13,862 feet in 16hrs 16 min
Downtown Santa Barbara to Temescal – 83 miles in 3h 19m averaging 24.9mph