Arthritis Foundation’s 2013 California Coast Classic Bicycle Tour

Lynda Huey Athletics, Physical Therapy

CompletePT’s Director of Finance, James Cowan, rode 525 miles for the Arthritis Foundation’s California Coast Classic from Sep 28th – Oct 5th, 2013.  The bike ride follows the coastline from San Francisco to Santa Monica.  James personally raised $4,100, and as a group the riders raised over $1,000,000.

Day 1 – San Francisco to Santa Cruz

It’s great to be back, taking this ride for the second year!

Brad and I arrived late last night as traffic was nothing short of a nightmare coming into San Fran.

It was an early start, too early. Our breakfast reception was 5 miles away from the hotel, so all 300 riders had to suit up and hit the road in pitch dark at 6:00am. Of course, this afforded us a generous sunrise over the bay so we hushed our complaints.

At breakfast we were personally thanked by Mia Brees, a 10 year old girl with Juvenile Arthritis (JA), today’s honoree.  Mia reminded us how important our efforts are and helped us shed a few tears in the process.

Once formalities and group photos were concluded we set out on our first day of riding. Not so quick, 4 of us immediately took a 5 mile detour to hit the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s worth it, I love cruising the bridge.  Once completed, we were solidly in last place, so we picked up the pace and started winding our way out of San Fran and saw our first glimpses of crashing waves.

The ocean views really do hurt your neck after a while, they are mesmerizing, not like the breaks we have in LA.

We took the ride at an easy pace, no showing off today, well just on the climbs, and the descents.  We were blessed with whales at our ocean view halfway point.  Bonus huh?

The freshly tilled farms enveloped us in an earthy atmosphere as we moved out of San Mateo and into Santa Cruz.  The farms are switching gears as fall rapidly approaches, from crops over to pumpkin patches.

We are now resting before dinner at the campground, reminiscing about all the beauty we saw today.

We officially hit the one million dollar mark last night, thank you to each of you.


Day 2: Santa Cruz to Monterey

After a well deserved rest we headed to the campground for breakfast. Sausages were on my mind, and I was in luck. 6 sausages, roasted potatoes and a Starbucks VIA and I was juiced up for the day.

One of my riding buddies from last year, Israel, was here but escorting his nephew, Leon, who had NEVER been on a road bike. Absolutely no training. To my amazement, Leon completed the 1st day, but after sitting in the saddle for just 1 mile today he had to throw in the towel, his rear was in too much pain. Sorry Leon, but now I had my riding buddy back. But first Israel had to take Leon back to camp. I told him I’d  wait for him at the first rest stop.

Today was a short and relatively flat day. The Monterey Bay Academy, nestled in strawberry fields and overlooking the ocean, was our first rest stop. I don’t think any of us actually needed a rest at 20 miles, so we took some photos and chatted with friends.

As we left the rest stop, now with Israel, a new wheel sucker named Scott, Brad, Erin and Richard, we said we’d pick the pace up to 22.  Hmmm, why does 22 seem so slow, as we meandered through lettuce, brussel sprouts, strawberry and cabbage farms we ratcheted the speed up to 28-30. Now we’re having fun. Israel and I finally got to stretch our legs, pushing on the small inclines then powering down the backside. I told Israel the only reason I ride fast is so I can stop and take photos without losing my place, we had a good chuckle at that.

Once we regrouped we hopped on the bike path for the remaining 20 miles. With cruise control set, we pushed hard, very hard, with every curse I heard behind me I went faster. Oh they love it! I led the pack, or what was left, to the outskirts of Monterey.

Approaching Monterey is spectacular. The bluffs over the bay have commanding views and we spent more time off the bike than on for the last 3 miles.

Fish and chips with an IPA for lunch and that was it.

Riding fast makes for a quick day.

We’re showered and ready to explore Monterey now, it’s very hot and sunny with clear blue skies.


Day 3: Monterey to Big Sur

After walking through Cannery Row and experiencing all Monterey has to offer, we headed up to the campground for dinner.  We quickly learned that Roni, a 2nd year rider and friend, had crashed just five miles shy of camp. Roni is banged up with a few stitches, but her spirits are high. She’ll take a day or so off to recover.

At dinner, two of our longstanding riders (9 consecutive years each), Dwight and Maria, were celebrating their 29th anniversary and shared their story about how they lost their ten year old girl to arthritis. We were all on the edge of crying into our spaghetti bolognese dinner, when somebody asked why they chose to spend their dinner here with us and not in Monterey. The response “you are our family now” took all 300 riders down like the big hills we face tomorrow.  This is such a great group of people, from all walks of life, and they each say thank you for your donation.

Breakfast was solid, more sausages in the tank.  Today we rode for Livia Telli, age 5, her father Matteo, a fellow rider will tell us her story at dinner tonight.

We rolled out of Monterey under clear blue skies and immediately hit the brakes to take in the majestic views of crashing waves reaching over the jagged rocks of Pebble Beach.  I think we took more photos than pedal strokes. The beach and bike route was sunny, but just inland was a captivating fog layer that created a dramatic effect over one of the world’s top golf courses.

Pebble Beach rolled into Carmel where the trees curled over the streets casting dramatic shadows. Ooops, more photos :)

Before I even cracked a sweat we were at the halfway checkpoint.  Hmm, nobody fast around, Israel was stuck with Leon who was now back in the saddle, so that left me and my shadow. Off we went, embracing a tail wind and pushed well into the 30′s.  There’s nothing quite like riding very fast along quiet roads surrounded by the country we live in. It takes you back a notch and you can truly relax and embrace the moment (lots of training helps too).

The redwoods of Big Sur announce your arrival, throwing you from bright sunny ocean views into almost complete darkness, not to mention the overwhelming cool alpine aroma.  The essential guide to the CCC says the post-ride place to be is in the river at the River Inn, sitting in an adirondack chair, feet dipped in the river with a craft beer.  Sign me up! Done!

We’re about to go for dinner tonight with the promise of some big riding tomorrow.


Day 4: Big Sur to San Simeon

After a great buffet dinner at the Big Sur Lodge I retreated to rest my legs in preparation for Day 4. Last year I  had heard about this guy named Troy, who did the 2 big climbs twice on Day 4…. Was it folk lore or did he really double back for more punishment?

I woke from a deep log cabin sleep under a starry sky at 4:15, heart racing and ready to ride, to ride the double.

Typically I’d want to eat everything in sight before a big ride, but as a 2nd year rider I knew there was a 1,000 foot climb immediately leaving the start point. I had to limit myself to ten strips of bacon, two sausage patties and home fries.

It was a relatively cold start, around 45 degrees, I was probably the only person to not wear arm or leg warmers, I planned on starting my own little fire, plus I knew we had clear blue skies and 75 degrees ahead of us. Off we went, Brad, Joe and myself.  Crushing the climb out of Big Sur and leaving the redwoods behind, we were once again riding along pristine roads hugging the cliffs overlooking crashing waves.  Too many photos, but who can resist.

At around 20 miles I ran into Troy. He was real. In fact, he tells me, he actually did the 2 big climbs 3 times a few years back. Damn, should have had more bacon!  Anyway, not on the cards this year is what he said.

I rode with Troy and Joe for a while, then dropped my head, picked up the pace and moved into ‘attack’ position.

In reality the 2 big climbs are more scenic than challenging, again training helps.  I cruised through the climbs and relished the long downhill into Ragged Point, our checkpoint for the day.  After loading up on liquids I pulled out of the rest stop and started backtracking, Joe in tow, Troy not present.

What a rush passing all of your fellow riders going the wrong way. Every rider had the same look, no matter if it was my uphill or their uphill: what’s he doing, he’s mad, wait… is he doing a double?… and then the all knowing smile of admiration.  Yup, doing the double may have tacked on another 4,000 feet of climbing, but it felt great.  I did pass Troy on my 2nd run, so I knew he was going for the double.

I enjoyed a chili cheeseburger with fries overlooking the bluffs at Ragged Point before heading back to the bike. Just as I was clipping in Joe tells me that Troy had just set of for a third run! No! Luckily I was able to use burger as a genuine excuse to avoid the challenge, but it was close.

So, as Brad, Erin, Jason and me, we pulled out of Ragged Point and headed off to San Simeon, 20 miles away, with the promise of taking it easy.  We rounded the first corner and felt a whoosh as a friendly 20mph tail wind boosted us well into the mid 30′s.  I could here Brad asking me to slow it down, which I did try at first, but I just ended up going faster. Jason was on for the chase and so we slogged it out in one giant hammerfest for 20 miles straight. It felt great.

Tonight is wine tasting night, which was super fun last year.

Today I racked up 90 miles with 8,000 feet of climbing, I’m looking forward to hearing how Troy did…. Maybe 12,000 feet?

Today we rode for Lilly Trautwein, age 4, who has Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.


Day 5: San Simeon to Pismo Beach

After wine tasting last night we were introduced to a very joyful Lilly Trautwein, age 3, our Day 4 honoree. Lilly’s father hoisted her onto his shoulders and explained how 10 months ago he and his wife noticed her swollen knees.  After seeing a few doctors to no avail, her eyes started swelling too. Drs raced to find the right Arthritis cocktail to limit the progression which results in blindness. Arthritis is the number one cause of blindness in children.  Lilly’s condition is now improving and we welcome her father as a first year rider.

After a solid nights sleep, a well deserved sleep I might add, I hit the road to breakfast. The fog was so dense and so heavy it clung to me as droplets, yup, this was going to be the cold and windy day I feared.

We left breakfast as: Brad, Jason, Joe, and Erin. Israel was still minding Leon, and their other teammate Esteban was cruising with them. Off we went, into the chill. We stopped in Cambria, got a coffee, and took in the 300 creative scarecrows on display throughout town.

Leaving Cambria we decided on 22mph, and put our heads down and formed a train with me pulling the crew. The wind was brutal, the visibility was brutal, it was tough going, but we managed to arrive at the first rest stop with big grins on our faces.  Esteban and Israel saw our cheeky smiles and pawned Leon off on some slower riders.

Off we went, now 6 in the train and so I started upping it as we wound our way along the coast, not that we could see it through the fog. After 20 miles we headed inland, and into clear blue skies. Moving quickly through bone dry rolling hills on quiet backcountry roads, with San Louis Obispo as our next stop. The last drag into SLO is a 10 mile straight road, and today’s headwind was a feeble attempt to keep us out. Driving at a constant 23 was especially rewarding when Israel offered to take the lead, held 21.5 for about 100 yards and then quit, saying: “You’re crazy man!” Yup, being out front in a strong headwind is something left to the smaller guys who can cut through the wind. We all had so much fun on that section, just grinding away, pushing the limits and achieving something as a team.  Smiles abound :)

We pulled into SLO and enjoyed a gourmet burger at Eureka! Burger.   Once back on the road we tamed it back and cruised the last 20 or so miles as the ocean fog stole back the sun and pushed the temperature way back down.

Today we rode for Macy Toad, age 6, who has Oligo-Articular Juvenile Arthritis and Uveitis. Her uncle, Bill, is riding for the first time this year.


Day 6: Pismo Beach to Buellton

Crackling campfires warmed us as we shared stories from Day 5. The temperature started dropping and we all hit the hay.

We knew it would be a cold start, but 40 degrees is always a shocker, especially in the get-up this sport has you in.  We rolled out at 8:00am, and were thankful the sun was out.  I lost sensation in my toes and fingers within minutes, but as we entered the first climb I warmed up.

Leaving Oceano behind and moving into farmland, we picked up the pace. The roads were so peaceful, with maybe the occasional windmill or farm tractor, as the crops changed from cabbages to strawberries, and then finally to grapes, yup, we were now in wine country.

Jason, Brad, and myself put the train together and set the wheels in motion through some of the most epic scenery a road biker can happen upon.

Our rest stop was surrounded by dry rolling hills, and the temperature was now well into the 80′s with clear blue skies.  We loaded up on fuel, grabbed Doug to join the train and set off into the hills.  Grapes to your left, trees to your right and friends in tow… This is the time to turn it up, and so we did.

It would be disrespectful to skip all the vineyards, so with 52 miles already completed, we snuck into Fess Parker Winery, only to discover 20 or so fellow riders.  After tasting the offerings and sharing stories, we headed off to picturesque Los Olivos for lunch, just 10 miles up the road. The wind was picking up and we started to get blown around. But before long we we found ourselves at Sides Hardware and Shoes in Los Olivos and shared fried brussels sprouts with sherry vinegar & capers and some gourmet bacon burgers.  Lovely!

Little did we know the last 15 miles was drumming up an absolute monster of a headwind.  Jason and Brad tucked in behind me, and I set the cruise control at 23, revelling in the power the bacon burger was throwing out.  Yup, here I was pulling again… Wait! Where did they go, I guess they fell off the train at some point. Shortly thereafter they caught me at a light, and we all rolled into Buellton together.

I’m showered up and heading to dinner. What a day, what beauty, wow, I love riding through wine country. Tomorrow is our biggest day, I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Today we rode for Caitlin Ryan, daughter of fellow rider Dave Ryan.


Day 7: Buellton to Ventura

After beer and wine tasting we were introduced to Caitlin, our Day 6 honoree. Caitlin has had both hips replaced and whilst she appears to be a typical fifteen year-old, she’s just started experiencing swelling and extreme pain at her joints. Her mother was in tears sharing her story and a beautiful poem: Dreaming of a Cure, she wrote for Caitlin. The poem can be read on Caitlin’s blog:

We all took an early night knowing we had 90 miles and 3,500 feet of climbing on the cards for Day 7.

Another very cold start, albeit sunny with the promise of a hot day. We left camp as Joe, Brad, Jason and me. We left via Solvang, an awkward Danish enclave nestled in wine country. Soon we found ourselves on quiet country roads and pushed hard on towards Santa Barbara.

At the first rest stop we caught Israel and Esteban as they were leaving, not so fast! Back of the train. We grabbed our chosen energy drinks, snapped a few photos and headed out. Mitch (on the same bike as me) and George have been eyeing our group and hopped on the train. Now we were 8 in the train. Whistling along the 101 highway at 26-28, we progressively pushed harder and harder towards our destiny: Eureka! Burger in Santa Barbara.

Today’s coal for the fire was a marmalade fig bacon burger, onion rings, truffle fries, and a Green Flash IPA. Ok, fire is stoked, Stew hopped on and we set off for the last 20 miles to Ventura.

After 8 miles, the passenger cars each presented their complaints, requesting a slower pace, which I shrugged off and pushed myself into the sweet-spot: 31-33mph along the 101. Esteban hung in there for a few miles, but then fell off the train, just me and my shadow once again. Wow, that’s a rush, ocean to the right, home of my mountain biking on the left, and cruising at speeds worthy of a few trophies. After 6 miles of max speed, I left the 101, waited for my team and ratcheted down the speed for the balance of the day.

What a day of riding, seeing the faces of our group, especially when they realized we had averaged 20.4mph over 90 miles!

Tonight is Margarita night! Must say no, must say no…..


Day 8: Ventura to Santa Monica

The last day was supposed to be easy, a simple flat 60 miles into Santa Monica.  But the Santa Ana winds, gusting upwards of 40mph made for a miserable and dangerous day of riding.

We set off from camp at the very back, I guess everybody was worried about the wind, there was no possibility of drafting, so it was each man to himself.

I started working my way from the back, passing rider after rider who seemed to be barely moving forward.  Less than ten miles in I started seeing riders on their cell phones calling for support. Yup, this was going to be the day that broke the riders.

As I moved into the open farmland of Ventura, there was nowhere to hide from the wind. Five of us tried to form a diagonal line, maxing out at 17mph, and burning through any energy left after the last week of riding.

As we approached Point Magu, the question of which way the wind was blowing was on everybody’s mind. The rest stop just before Point Magu introduced us to what was ahead. As we attempted to hydrate a gust of wind came through, picking up sand along the way and then barreled through the rest stop like a freight train, knocking over every bike, the food stand, the chocolate drink I was holding, and anything else that wasn’t bolted down. Not sure what to do, or where to hide, I reluctantly got on my bike and headed off to round Point Magu and face the challenge.

The challenge was absurd. 40mph side winds, head winds, swirling winds. Winds that picked fellow riders off the ground and then threw them down. Cuts, scrapes, people lying on the ground hugging the tarmac for dear life, this was carnage.

I pushed on, and finally after about 15 miles of absolute fear, moved into some calmer, albeit still windy conditions.  Once again though, it was just me and my shadow out there.

After 55 miles of the most treacherous riding I arrived at Gladstone’s, the designated meeting point. I looked like I’d been mountain biking.  Covered in a sweaty dust, face black, with a chocolate drink stained jersey, it finally looked like I was beaten.

Over the next few hours more and more riders arrived, until we were all ready to make our final approach to the finish line together.

220 riders shared that final mile together, stories abound, and blood to back it up.

Thanks for all the support, I believe we finished at $1.1m, not too shabby, and for a great cause.