Monday, May 4, 2015

Fearsome Five 2015 - The Mug is Earned!

Fearsome Five Organizer MarC Moons, The Lion of Sonoma County. Don't try to outrun him. The author taking a drink, facing downhill, ready for the descent of Ida Clayton. Photo: Sarah Schroer
“You’ll never catch us. Don’t even bother looking ahead for us. All you will see is empty road.” This is me trash talking MarC Moons, The Lion of Sonoma County, at the Wohler Bridge rest stop, at Wine Country Century.

MarC and I were both working as volunteers for Santa Rosa Cycling Club’s annual Wine Country Century the day before Fearsome Five, with MarC manning the rest stop, while I was driving SAG. MarC’s fellow helpers at the rest stop, knowing his credentials, looked at me in disbelief! Who is this trash talker? Does he know who he is talking to? I do.

MarC Moons' Fearsome Five is a 130 mile jaunt on the rough, steep back roads of Sonoma County, that boasts over 15,000’ of climbing. I’ll be riding with a group leaving one hour ahead of MarC, and the plan is to try to hold him off.

Fearsome Five follows, somewhat, the format of The Death Ride, with 5 big climbs, with some out and backs — and some up, over, and backs. But the similarity ends there — Fearsome Five has much steeper climbs, and much rougher roads, potholes, dirt/gravel, and, methinks, presents a greater challenge. One of the toughest 200K rides imaginable.

I’ve “attempted” FF at lease twice before. In both cases, after completing the Wine Country 200K ride at a brisk pace on the tandem on the previous day. I never intended to finish in those years, just wanted to come out and do 3-4 climbs, and ride socially with friends. But, this year I volunteered for WCC, and hence had rested legs, so it was time to try to earn the coveted Fearsome Five Beer Mug, an award reserved only for the select few who complete the entire ride.

The next day…

My plan is to start at 7:00 AM, and not a minute after, an hour before MarC and the fast boyz, including Miguel Sanchez and Carl Sanders, and try to hold them off as long as possible. Trash talking notwithstanding, I know MarC will catch us, it’s just a matter of when. It’ll be on the 4th or 5th climb of the day, almost certainly, but we’ll hold him off as long as we can. My riding partners for the day will be Sarah Schroer and Scott Duncan.

We roll at 7:02, not a minute after 7:00, but two minutes after! There are many in the 7:00 group, but they are not quite ready to go, and I don’t wait. I even leave before Sarah and Scott, soft pedaling ahead just to get them out of the parking lot and rolling!

We set a nice pace up the Geysers, staying together and making good ground. It’s foggy and cool, but as we rise above the fog, we are treated to spectacular views looking West, fingers of fog in the valleys while sunlight begins to dance on the hills poking through the fog. A perfect day on the bike… so far.

We clear the first major summit after about an hour, then descend to Little Sulfur Creek to begin the second Geysers climb. It's after 8:00 AM now, and Sarah announces, "The hounds have been unleashed!" At this point we are nothing more than rabbits. Knowing our fate, we just roll along and enjoy the ride, before getting swallowed by the hounds, or The Lion as it were.

We figure we are now in sun for good, but when we begin the descent of Geysers toward Pine Mt., we dip back into the fog, and the temperature drops. Sarah has just removed her windbreaker, but then stops to put it back on. I take the opportunity to stop for a photo, and then the three of us forge ahead, picking our way down the bumpy, potholed road, running along the spectacular Geysers Canyon. We’ll take in more views on the way back, as we climb this section, but for now, all senses are occupied keeping the tires running on a line that won’t result in pinch flats, torn sidewalls or worse!

Sarah descends The Geysers, windbreaker back on!
We arrive at the base of Pine Mt., and Rita Mathys is there with water and treats. We roll right by, promising to stop on the return. The out and back climb  of Pine Mtn. goes well, I roll just a bit ahead of Scott and Sarah, and I marvel at the steepness of this road, particularly in the first two miles of the four mile effort. We arrive at the top, and take a short break to eat and drink. We haven’t thought much about MarC and the boyz at this point, but we’ll know soon enough how far back they are, as we return down the climb. We’ll need to be at the bottom with Rita, or better yet, already on our way back up Geysers Canyon, before we see the likes of these fast Hooligans.

We see MarC when we are half way down Pine Mt. I am in disbelief. MarC is out of the saddle, turning a high cadence, literally flying up the hill. He has handily dropped both Carl and Miguel. The pace is unbelievable! MarC is extremely fit this year, riding super strong, the best I have seen him.

Knowing we’re doomed, we have a nice long stop with Rita, before setting a lovely tempo pace up the Geysers. We each do one very long pull, first Sarah, then me, and then Scott bringing us to the base of the steep climb up to the TT rest stop. This long slog goes quickly with the nice pace, cool temps, and great scenery.

I catch Hunt Moore as I crest the first steep part of Geysers return, and we ride together and chat until the TT rest stop, where I regroup with Scott and Sarah and we proceed. Up and over the next hump of the Geysers we go, still taking in great views, fog in the distance, with cool sunny conditions, green grasses, and quiet, spectacular roads.

A fast descent followed by an easy roll on the flats brings us back to the school on Hwy 128 where we have supplies in the car. We snap a photo and upload to Facebook, for any who might be following The Plight of the Rabbits, to stay ahead of The Lion. Specifically, Paul Stimson, as we know Paul is thinking of this group today.  He would love to be with us, and we reckon he’s watching and cheering, doing what he can. Sarah taps out a message on her Smart Phone, which takes some time. We then receive several replies. They all say the same thing, which is basically, “Quit standing around taking photos, writing Facebook posts, and get back on your bikes and pedal!!!”

Get on those bikes and pedal! You're going to get caught! Photo: Rita Mathys
After about 20 minutes of lollygagging, we head out toward Ida Clayton. We’re all a bit tired now, and I pull our group the entire way at a modest pace, maybe 18 mph. Once on the climb, Scott seems to have the best legs, and drifts off the front. I ride with Sarah, and as we approach the 4 mile point, I’ve rolled ahead a few meters. I hear Sarah say something, and I turn around. There he is! MarC has caught us already, making up a full hour in six and a half hours riding time. Oh dear!

MarC eases off the pace and the three of us ride together to the end of the pavement. On the way down a slow truck is in the way up ahead of us. Scott, a few minutes ahead of us, overheats his rims braking for the truck and flats. I eject a bottle and go back for it, while MarC and Sarah catch up with the truck and Scott fixing his flat. Scott insists they keep going, and gives me the same suggestion as I pass. I catch MarC and Sarah, and MarC is doing what I usually do in this situation — hang around on the left corner of the truck and hope the driver sees me in the mirror and gives some room to pass. Well, he doesn’t. But an opportunity to pass presents itself, and all three of us quickly slip by and continue down the hill.

At the bottom, Jady Palko is waiting. He’s doing his own thing, just trying to get 100 miles in today. He appears to be out of food, and queries MarC about the subject. MarC has food in his truck, but decides Jady will have to earn it. We start rolling North on Hwy 128 at Ida Clayton, back the eight miles of flat/rolling terrain to the school. MarC doesn’t say a word. He looks Jady in the eye, points at his front wheel, gesturing Jady to get out front and push the wind. You’ve got to earn your lunch, Jady!

Jady complies, and all I can think is, Uh-Oh. I’m gong to be dropped. First little rise, and I’m gone. The first 20 seconds are brutal, but Sarah and I are still hanging on. It then gets a bit easier. Jady is pretty smooth at the front, if a bit fast! Any little rise and I am doing 370W. I can’t keep this up with tired legs, but the rollers are modest and short. At the last roller before the school, Jady digs a bit deeper. My meter barks out 622W, which was the max for the day. Bottom line, Jady got us back to the school, eight miles, in 19 minutes with an average speed of 24.6 mph!

We stop again at the School for refreshments. Next is the last climb, Pine Flat. Probably the hardest climb of the day, with very tired legs. This is the climb that puts the Fearsome in the Five.

We roll out from the school, MarC and Jady still with Sarah and me, Scott still playing catch up, with Miguel, Carl, and others a bit back. Tony Lee, having left at 6:30 AM, is still ahead. Jady joins us for the first five miles of Pine Flat. It’s a nice, social pace. But MarC is glancing down the hill, and after a long period of “slower” riding with Sarah and me, we see Miguel down the hill and gaining.

Bang, Bang, you shot me down, Bang, Bang, I hit the ground... The hunt is over. Jady, Sarah, MarC, heading for the final climb up Pine Flat. 
Time to go. MarC floats away, effortlessly up the climb, heading for the summit to meet Rita, while Sarah and I forge slowly on, knowing the doom ahead, the long 20%+ section toward the top.

Pine Flat. Gorgeous. Calm before the storm. MarC is about to bolt ahead. Jady is about to turn back. Sarah and I are about to go into full suffer mode.
Miguel reels us in and is looking strong. Sarah and I trudge up the steep section, going so slowly we almost topple, but we know we’ll make it. At the top we are greeted by cheers from Rita, MarC, Miguel, and Tony Lee. Tony had started at 6:30 and we never caught him until the end. We arrive at the summit at 4:20 P.M. leaving time for a nice, long, celebration at the top, cheering for other riders as they arrive. This is my first complete Fearsome Five, and I’ve been told my accomplishment will be MarC’d with earning the coveted Fearsome Five Beer Mug.

The Early Crew at the top (l to r) Scott Duncan, Paul McKenzie, MarC Moons, Sarah Schroer, Miguel Sanchez, Tony Lee. Photo: Rita Mathys
Meanwhile, down the hill, many riders work their way up. Hunt Moore, at 64 years, amazing! We had two young men from Napa, I think 17 and 19 years old, who make it, even doing some “extra credit” on Pine Mt. Troy and Karen on their TANDEM! They’ve done it many times now. Luke, Brad, Don, etc.

As is the custom, MarC waits for riders at the top and makes sure all riders return safely to the finish. This is truly an epic event, and has gained much respect and popularity, thanks to the efforts of the Lion of Sonoma County, MarC Moons. Thank you, MarC… and Rita too!

Incredible honor to finally earn this Mug. Beer will be consumed to commemorate this special day! Photo: Sarah Schroer