Surviving the Auburn Century

We started early; not as early as we’d hoped (which was at the crack of dawn) but messing around with bikes and gear in the dark didn’t turn out to be particularly convenient (neither was getting up around 5am, which required some display of enormous willpower). So we hit the road around 7am. The Auburn Century starts rather pleasant, some nice rolling sections, smooth climbs and here and there a steep teaser hill. But soon after that, it rears it true face – read the extended post.

The ‘sunday afternoon leisure ride’ feeling stops abruptly after mile 20; the unsuspecting participants are then first treated on a steep and chilly downhill featuring gravel infested corners, from the town of Colfax into the American River canyon, and subsequently to the infamous and absolutely brutal Iowa Hill climb, on the other side of the river. The organizers call this climb ‘sick’ – so they decided to stage a time trial over the gruesome 1.75 miles that feature an average grade of over 13%. ‘Enjoy the burn’, as was written in white paint on the road; it was total lactic acid hell, but somehow we got over it – I for once was glad that I’m not a serious roadie and am sporting a granny gear on my bike (hey, I’m a mountain biker!) – several riders were zigzagging (San Francisco Grand Prix style) or walking sections. My time was 22 minutes – not sure if that’s supposed to be good or bad but I made it – so did R, and neither of us had to do a hike-a-bike!
After that little ordeal there’s more climbing, not as steep but steady. And then more climbing. A rest stop with food and drinks at China Wall. Then more climbing. And more climbing. The last couple of miles it becomes just ridiculous – this hill refuses to end, end gets even steeper along the way. Only sporadically there are some brief downhill sections, as to make sure we’ll hurt on our way back as well (since we will have to do this part of the route in the other direction coming back). At mile 62, we’re completely delirious when we see the rest stop at the summit (‘Robinson Flat’ – there’s absolutely nothing flat about this place though). Both of us pulled it off, and although it took us longer than anticipated I was quite impressed by our feat.
The joy was only brief, as it occurred to us that we had still about 50 miles left to ride. Yes, by way of pulling another cruel joke on us, the organizers had layed out a century of 111 miles, rather than 100. The first part after our turnaround point features nice rollercaster-style downhills with some short but torturous climbs (remember the brief downhills I mentioned before?). Then there’s the fast and smooth descent into the town of Foresthill (we averaged over 25mph over this). At this point, everything is hurting, and the last ten, rolling miles back home are an ordeal; the idiot SUV and truck drivers that are blazing by along the busy road into Auburn aren’t helping either. Finally, the Foresthill bridge (one of the highest in the world, apparently) marks our arrival into Auburn, and at last we find ourselves crossing the finish line (it is now 6pm). In the company of a local and a 77 year old (!) who amazingly cleared this century as if it wasn’t much more than an afternoon of fishing we enjoyed some well deserved pie and other goodies (the beer had to wait a bit).

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