On both the Coastal and the Long Eroica routes, Cypress Mountain, or rather the climb up the dirt road to the top of Cypress Mountain, looms large physically and psychologically. It is not the longest climb on the course, but it is the steepest. Because the route I did in 2015 did not include the mountain, it was all new to me. The official Eroica Coastal route description calls Cypress Mountain road “a challenging, stair stepping, gravel road that will have participants longing for the summit. The last section the climb approaches a gradient of 20%.”
My friend Greg Reiche ascended it last year as part of the long route on his Peugeot with 42 x 26 hard-man gearing. I do remember him speaking about the climb in reverential and somewhat frightening terms. Whereas I had struggled and walked part of Kiler Canyon in 2015, Greg remarked that the Kiler climb was just a warm up for Cypress Mountain.
There are indeed cypress trees on Cypress Mountain, as well as roadside lupine and California poppies, oaks, some massive sycamore, and of host of other native plants. Unlike the Kiler Canyon climb, which is mostly surrounded by vineyards, Cypress Mountain feels untamed, wild. At the beginning of the climb, you parallel a gurgling brook. It is as picturesque as any road I’ve pointed my tires down.
The suffering began early on the climb, and my riding companion Brent’s legs began to cramp so badly that he had to dismount for a moment. I had a few Carborocket electrolyte pills (courtesy of Brad Keyes) with ginger in my jersey pocket and gave one to Brent. He urged me to go on without him and we agreed to meet up at the summit.
I only had one goal for my 2016 Eroica ride: ride (rather than walk) the entire route. In preparation for Eroica climbing, I had been riding my vintage bikes with racing gearing up challenging Tucson climbs for a few months. In anticipation of the Cypress Mountain climb, I considered changing out my crankset to get lower gearing. I emailed Greg Reiche about spindle taper compatibility—could I put a Stronglight crankset on a Campy spindle? In the end, I decided to stick with my full-French 42 x 26 gearing, which, antithetically, was steeper than the gearing that I unsuccessfully (in regards to not walking) used in 2015!
In emails exchanged with Greg about lowering my gearing, he would often end with, “or you could just HTFU.” Greg’s advice, Velominati Rule #5, and the words of Eroica founder Giancarlo Brocci informed my decision: “Using a vintage bike these days shows us how difficult cycling was, remember the gears they had and the roads they cycled on!” This is how I ended up with gearing that I hadn’t used since my 20s.
Up Cypress Mountain I went, hands on the flats, hunched low to clean the 12-19 percent grade sections, finding my rhythm and trying to keep within my limits–remembering that the the summit of Cypress Mountain was only 26.6 miles into our 87 mile day. I thought about Greg climbing this on his pearl Peugeot last year. This year, Greg had fractured his clavicle on his mountain bike two weeks before Eroica; regardless, Greg drove up from San Diego with his girlfriend to cheer Brent and I on. HTFU.
There was a little handmade cardboard sign that said “½ mile to the summit” that was a great encouragement. A bit further up the climb, I heard cowbells, and a friendly spectator ran up behind me and pushed me for a few feet. I was almost there. I was going to make it. My legs were burning, but I felt good. I rose up out of the saddle on the flatter sections, and then I saw the blue support tent at the top of the climb. I had HTFU for the climb.
At the summit I downed a cold American coffee (Coca-Cola), bananas with peanut butter, and enjoyed the panoramic views of the switchback dirt road we would descend next. A good-sized group of riders had gathered at the top and everyone was in high spirits after making the summit. I chatted with Leigh West about a Peugeot he was selling, and then a tall bearded rider pulled out his phone and announced that 37 year old Aussie, Mathew Hayman, had just won the 2016 Paris-Roubaix race on his 15th try! The whole group cheered.
Brent shortly appeared and we headed down the backside of Cypress Mountain. My 27c Challenge Paris Roubaix tires gripped the dirt well, the new salmon Koolstop pads on my Mafac Racers modulated great, and I moved down the mountain confidently. Brent’s rear Modolo brake was squawking goose-like and I could hear him all the way down. The twisting descent reminded me of roads I had seen in the Pyrenees. We hit the pavement and rode side by side again smiling. So. Much. Fun. We were headed to the ocean now, and when we reached Cambria, we leaned up against a car bumper, ate burritos with guacamole, and chatted with Portland rider Ben Ngan, who was riding a lovely silver Bruce Gordon.
Leaving Cambria with burrito bellies, an abrupt steep hill greeted us before hitting the coast. Brent waved me ahead and I was soon riding solo toward Cayucos. The whole way to Cayucos, I couldn’t get the song Cayucos out of my head:
Past Morro Bay
Shelly Shelly Shelly
Nu-uh no way
C’mon big fat wave
Come crashing through
Back behind the rocks
Paddle from the dunes…
Singing to myself, ocean on my right, pushed by a tail wind, I was in my own world until a group of riders flew by on my left. These were long-route soldiers, riding nearly flat out, and I couldn’t help but try to jump on. With effort, I caught up with the last rider in the group, a red-haired woman on a Peugeot PX-10. I had to sit on the back to recover for awhile. Somebody on a Teledyne Titan went off the front with another rider, and then there were four of us, all on French bikes: my LeJeune, Stephen Bryne on his Vitus, Rita (who works for Specialized and was the first woman finisher) on the PX-10, and a guy named Will on a Motobecane. We were taking turns at the front, admiring each other’s French machines, and enjoying views of lapis blue water, weird light, and Morro rock. A photographer was flying a drone right over our group at this point. I would love to see those images, if for no other reason than to remind myself that is wasn’t just a dream.
Soon we were in Cayucos, hanging out on the pier, drinking Coca-Cola again. Brent rolled in and we admired the cool BMW support motorcycle, complete with sidecar and spare wheels, before turning east to climb back over the coastal range toward Paso Robles.
Read the first installment of this report here.