At some point during a long group ride, I find my heroes, and they are not always who I expect. As I mentioned in the first installment of this Eroica series, I got the pleasure of riding alongside one of my heroes, Andy Hampsten, part way into the Coastal Route. In the later stretches, I found some lesser-known riders to admire.
My friend Brent Hulme and I left Cayucos and rode together until we lost touch as the road steepened, eventually turning to dirt up Santa Rita road. The 7-mile climb is longer, but more gradual than the climb up Cypress Mountain. My legs felt good and I settled in.
I gradually reeled in a rider in wool knickers from New York (whose name I can’t recall) on a 1960s era Masi. He had broken some spokes earlier in the ride and been left behind by his group, which included his friend, former pro, Mark Pringle. He was climbing at a good pace now and we rode together for a couple of miles before I noticed he had drifted back. I was alone for the rest of the climb.
The Santa Rita road climb is more exposed, and a bit dustier than Cypress Mountain Road. On the final pitches that hug the ridge in an S-curve, a tall mustard-family weed lined the downhill side of the shoulder acting like a hedge. A couple had driven their car up the road, parked in the weeds, and set up a table and lawn chairs to drink wine, spectate, and ring cowbells. It always surprises me how people you don’t know cheering you on will make you pay attention to your riding, smooth out your pedal stroke, and generally lift your spirits. I love the sound of cowbells.
At the summit rest stop, the volunteers provided piles of tangerines and bananas. As I stuffed my face, two Japanese riders wearing “Brooks 1866” wool jerseys finished the climb. The younger of the two, told me that the elder rider, whose legs bulged with cycling muscles, was 75 years old! I had found a new hero. He was riding a beautiful early 1970s Fuji (Newest?) that said “Fuji Racer” on the downtube. I later learned from Eroica’s Wes Hatakeyama that these two riders brought five bikes with them from Japan, and the the elder rider, Mr. Kato owns a shop–www.katocycle.com–that is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
God willing, I will turn 50 this year, and more and more, my cycling aspirations are turning from speed to longevity. How long will be able to knock off a challenging all-day ride with plentiful and challenging climbs? Seeing this super-fit Japanese gentleman gracefully climbing was an inspiration. Could I be out here for 25 more years? From that perspective, 50 would only be half of my cycling life.
The oldest 2016 Eroica finisher, 83-year-old Brit, John Crump, said it best, “age matters not. It’s your attitude. Cycling has been my life, I know that without it I would have been long gone.”
The finish to Eroica is a diagonal pathway in the center of the town park. After you cross the line, you get your final passport stamp and a bottle of local olive oil. Our friend Greg Reiche was there, next to the olive oil table, waiting for Brent and I to finish. On account of his broken collarbone, Greg’s arm was in a sling. Brent rolled in just a bit behind me. He had battled cramps since about mile 23, but he gutted it out, coming into better form on the last climb and descent into town. His cramps had come on so early and severely that I thought I might see him arriving in the vintage BMW motorcycle support sidecar. The fact that he rallied–came in smiling and on his own power–was heroic in its own right.
At the finish, we got a picture of the three of us. Three bike shop geeks who go way back, who still enjoy pedaling bicycles over mountains all day long. Next year, we all hope to be back. Greg and I want to find Brent a Jack Taylor to ride, Greg wants to heal up and get his Lejeune project finished, and I expect I might be on an orange Motobecane Super Champion.