By CJ Covarrubias
One rarely considers the consequences of a 100-mile bike ride 3 months in advance, but then again the Rock Cobbler is not your standard century. It’s been a couple days now since I rolled across the finish line. My core and upper body aren’t nearly as sore, but my legs still hate me as I type this up. Registration opened up back in early November and my buddy in Bakersfield who raced the first one told me I better get on it before it sold out. Never mind the fact that I didn’t even own a CX bike at the time, which is the type of bike this 100 mile adventure was designed for by the ride’s organizer Sam Ames. It was no secret that a road bike would not be a wise choice as registrants were emailed advice on gear and what to expect, though the course was not unveiled until one week prior to the event.
The morning started off pretty early with breakfast before heading down to the start line at Lengthwise Brewing Co. It was one of those chilly foggy mornings in Bakersfield and the 175 rider field was meandering about preparing for what lay ahead. After grabbing a few pieces of bacon from the pre-ride breakfast that was on offer and a brief rider meeting, in which Sam basically laid down the most important details, it was time to go. We rolled out shortly after 8am for the neutral 15 mile lead out that consisted of mainly bike path but had a little bit of dirt horse trail, including a few horses to boot.
Then the real ride started as we headed into the first dirt climb that lead us into a local MTB park with a whole series of different trails. It was on. Go time. The pace picked up and I started to try and make some moves to advance. It wasn’t easy as the trail was a little more than a single track, once at the top it leveled off and I couldn’t resist the urge to catch a little air off of a little bump in my path, only to hear from behind, “CAMERA!!!…YOUR GOPRO!!!” Yeah, they were talking to me. My GoPro had flown out of my pocket mid air. Frustrated I turned around to retrieve it and then tried to jam back up to the position I was in just before that.
Rain the day before made the dirt tacky and just a bit slick in spots and as we headed into a pretty steep, muddy descent that lead into some rolling whoop-de-doos. I decided to hike for the first time that day. Crashing at mile 20 was not on my agenda. This is also about the time I started to see the first of many riders flatting and moving out of the way to deal with their misfortune. We then made our way in and out of some neighborhoods that were either still being developed, or were never finished. You could see the concrete curbs that were almost buried in dirt and new growth that would have lined the streets and driveways.
After a short stint on some paved road we headed into the first of many sections of citrus orchards. Living in the Santa Barbara area we ride past similar orchards pretty frequently and the temptation to fire through them is always there. So having permission and doing it at full gas was pretty damn awesome. The first aid station/checkpoint was actually within the orchard. Riders slowed and stopped waiting to receive the first of four punches in our check-point cards. As I rolled up to the rather attractive lady volunteer, I saw that she had a small paper cup in hand, “here, you have to take a shot”. “No way?! I’m not doing a shot right now?!?” were my exact words, only to hear, “well you have to if you want your card punched…”. It looked like bourbon, which I like when I don’t have 70 more miles of bicycle riding ahead of me. I slugged it and then laughed out loud as it turned out to be apple juice. Filled a bottle, ate some food and was off to make my way through more orchards, on and off of the farm’s dirt service roads finally spitting back out on to the asphalt.
At this point we began the first of two long climbs that day, Breckenridge Rd. We rode up an actual asphalt road for about 7 miles, in which there were a couple of short descents to offer temporary relief. Then a sharp left took us back onto private land for the last mile of steep uphill on a narrow, rocky, rutted dirt road. After which about 7 miles of down hill descent that we were warned about, for it’s potential danger, began. It was steep, really steep in sections, and of course it was rutted and rocky and had a couple spots that went back up hill. It would have been really easy to get yourself in trouble if you weren’t careful. I will say that I was really happy to have good disc brakes! Easily the most demanding off road descent I’ve ever done, practically sitting on my rear wheel in a few spots and definitely dismounting a couple times as well. Once at the base of the of the descent a handful of short and punchy climbs within the orchards at the base kept hitting us and at this point they were starting to take their toll.
After a quick re-supply at the mile 54 aid station we headed onto the 2nd long climb of the day, about 8 miles long of which the top 4 miles were, for the most part, pretty perfectly groomed dirt containing several cattle guards. It was a pretty mellow average grade of 5% except for the last tenth of a mile before the turnaround that jacked up to 11% avg gradient. As I got my second card punch the dude handed me a “gold coin”, the kind frequently given to the kids around the holidays, gold foil barely covering a chocolate “coin”. Dude handed it to me and says, “Sam wants you to put this in your chamois…”, to which I said, “WHAT??!!”. “yeah he wants them good and warm”, I reassured the guy that in pocket this thing would be good and warm, to which he basically made me feel like somehow I wouldn’t get credit for the ride if I didn’t shove the thing down my shorts. I went with the back pocket and headed downhill. At this point my body decided it wasn’t ready to go down hill and/or I may have drank a little too much fluid while talking to the chocolate coin man. I proceeded to upchuck my last couple swigs of fluid over my shoulder at about 40 mph, at which point I have to remind myself I did this voluntarily and I am having fun, right?!?! That done, my body settled down and I flew down the road to the next refueling spot.
My friend Paul and his teammate caught up to me at this point, they would have been up the road if Paul’s teammate hadn’t dealt with a problematic flat repair in the neutral section of the ride. Once into more orchards it was all I could do to hold their wheel, they were on a mission. This lead us into a river park with super narrow, bumpy, rocky, uneven single track. It felt as close to riding actual cobbles as anything I’ve ever ridden. At times I was bouncing around down the trail right next to barbed wire fence. I was doing everything in power not to do my best Hoogerland impersonation.
Then came my breaking point in the form of a quarter mile goat trail that everyone ahead of me was pushing their bike up. The temps were maxing out in the high 80’s and its February?! We were in direct sun and with gradients of about 30% at times my legs started to protest. Stopping numerous times to stretch, drink, and doing everything I could to keep my legs from total seizure. Finally reaching the top we received our 3rd punch in the card.
Our reward for the previous torture came in the form of “Mr. Toads” descent. It was like a snowboarding banked slalom course made of dirt instead of snow. Barely more than a single track wide at the bottom, each turn snaked its’ way down the hill and you could pretty much get sideways on most every perfectly banked section. A definite no photo zone as it was narrow and there were sure to be more riders barreling their way down. The course then spit us back onto some asphalt as we approached the final checkpoint of the ride. They had cold Coca Cola! It was so good I drank two of them, while removing my socks to receive the fourth and final punch of the day.
We got closer to town and things started to look familiar. Although the bike path was in sight most of the time, our route was anything but smooth. More dirt, gravel and even a couple of narrow dam crossings with the finale of 2 different deep sand sections about 100 ft long each. They were particularly painful after such a long day, the first one took me out and I ran (I use that term loosely) across pushing my bike. Then jumped back on for the last mile or so of dirt trail to the finish.
Although we were technically finished the brewery was still just over 4 miles away. What a slog… Beer and food in our future a bit of chatter about the amazingly torturous, good old fashioned suffer we had just endured were shared. Once back at the brewery new friends and old shared stories of the day as riders continued to roll in, we replenished our bodies with caloric goodness and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment.
Sam Ames, I like your style. You almost broke me, almost. I already look forward to the Rock Cobbler 3.0 in 2016, keep your eyes peeled folks and sign up quick because it is likely to sell out just as quick as it did this year.
More event coverage by Rock Cobbler 2.0 winner, Neil Shirley. Click HERE