I’ve ridden a ton of dirt in SoCal, but Catalina has always been on my bucket list. On clear days in the Santa Monica Mountains you can see it looming out over the mist and marine layer 30 miles off the coast. A remote island hardly touched by humans hands. Where the buffalo roam. Begging to be explored. Ok, so it’s not that remote. People live there- about 4000 to be more precise. But, at 30 miles long and with most of the population concentrated in the few square miles of Avalon, that equates to a pretty desolate landscape.
Dave and I were in San Marcos getting ready for BWR when the phone rang. Eric wanted to know if we’d join him the following weekend in Catalina. My answer was an immediate yes, but….I’d have to check with the wife. Two long race weekends in a row, two small kids at home, could be a source of tension in some households. Fortunately Ali is awesome and said “sure, go do it.” Dave had a similar response, and fortunately Randi is awesome too. It was game on.
A few days went by and we started to talk logistics. Ferry tickets? Apparently you need those. I called three days before the race and not a moment too soon. There were a few seats left on the 8:15am from Long Beach and just enough room for our bikes. I was assured the ride was a little under an hour so we’d have enough time to get to the starting line. No big deal.
Six-fifteen came quickly on Saturday morning and Dave and I met in the carpool parking lot in Agoura Hills. Eric picked us up and we hit the road. Dawn on the weekend is the only decent time to drive in LA. Despite a think marine layer and rain in Long Beach we made it to the ferry with time to spare, loaded our bikes, and marched up to the VIP Commodore Lounge. For an extra $15 you get priority boarding and a free drink. Since they were the only tickets left we didn’t really have an option. Irish Whisky shots at 8am? Down the hatch.
Eight foot swells had the boozers seriously regretting their decisions. Barf bags were handed out. Every other person in the room was yaking into a bag. It was a floating vomitorium. I’ve never started a race seasick before. Some nautical advice? Go stand outside on the back of the boat.
By the time we docked and got our bikes it was 9:50 and we still had our bags and were a mile away from the start. We weaved in and out of pedestrians until we hit the registration tent, grabbed our numbers, ditched our bags, and rolled to the line as they were counting down the last two minutes. Some racing advice? Don’t take the 8:15 ferry.
The start was quick. Baghouse appeared to have brought their whole team and Brian Gordon and Daniel Munoz took sprinted off the front. The first climb is about 3 miles and 1500 feet of elevation. Gordon was a rabbit and peeled off a mile in and Eric, Dave and I tried to chase down Munoz who just kept on getting farther away. By the time we reached the top we were gassed, but apparently so was Daniel, who was parked at the aid station waiting for us. “Hey guys, I don’t want to ride this alone” he said and jumped on our wheel. We were joined by Ryan Casey as well and hit the single track with a comfortable lead. Turns out Baghouse wanted Daniel doing the 40 mile route so we we’d only be together for a bit.
Daniel left us off at the 40 mile turnoff…and then there were four. We rode together, chatting and keeping the pace up until the Two Harbors aid station where we hit a massive climb. I was feeling good, and, knowing there was a technical descent afterward decided to give myself a little space. On a good day I might be able to out climb Eric but I always lose a ton of time on descents. The strategy worked and Eric and Ryan caught me on the loose and rocky section. I was off the bike and got in the way like an idiot. Whoops. I hopped back on their wheel and we kept descending all the way back to the short ride turn around where we looped back. Dave was having some trouble on the loose rocks and was a few minutes back but I had a feeling we’d see him again.
Eric, Ryan and I stopped to fill our bottles then commenced flying along the fire road until we took a lard left turn in the road. Pfshhhhhh. Ryan immediately lost all the air in his rear tire and was flat. Bummer. He was riding so strong. After a quick “you got everything you need?” Eric and I kept rolling. “Must have been running Schwalbes” we said in unison. Turns out we were spot on. We were happy to still be in the front but bummed DZ wasn’t with us. We’d had big plans of finishing together.
The next section was a long fire road, gradual at first and then endlessly tedious. We had a tailwind but still took a few turns pulling to save our energy. At one point we noticed a large leather object under the shade of a tall pine tree next to the road. “That’s an odd place for a couch” I said to Eric. Nope, not a couch. Just a buffalo keeping cool. A few moments later, toward the top of the climb, we turned around. In the distance was Zabriskie’s neon green helmet bobbing back toward us. We relaxed a bit. Only a bit. He’d gone full TT mode and hitched back up to us. Breathlessly he puffed “this is how we do it Tour de France style.” Good to see you again Dave.
We rode together the rest of the way, joking about who was going to attack on the last climb and how Eboz would take the win since it’s a downhill finish into town. Turns out we are all gentleman. In the Gran Fondo spirit we were all for one and one for all. A three way tie for first.
We cruised through town, dodging pedestrians once again. Feigning attacks on the tarmac toward the casino and cruised down to the line dead even. Tom Spiegel draped us with leis and we stood on the beach, tropical smoothies in hand. It was the most picturesque finish to the most spectacular “race” I’ve ever done. The stuff of dirt dreams. An epic end to an even more epic day. Buffalo burgers, fries, and margaritas followed, a few beers, calm seas, and a sunset from the stern of the boat. Spectacular.