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Stage 4: Flying Lessons
It started with just a few and it was hard to tell where they were coming from or what gender we were dealing with. As the sky clouded over we took one wrong turn, then another, turned around and found that we would be facing the full brunt of the 2011 Cinderella 60.
Let me tell you. If you find yourself struggling to make it out of bed after 156 miles in the saddle, find an organized ride with 1,000 plus women and face it head on. Wear your best riding clothes and pair it with a smile. At that point you should be ready to take on the hills surrounding Livermore, California. But, before you even leave town, you should check out the donut shop neatly positioned at the start line for the ToC.
The previous day had put some long miles on our legs and that was obvious from the start. For some, myself included, this had been the longest day that we had ever experienced on a bike. We left a little later than planned (not unusual) and when Tim spotted the donut shop about four minutes from the start of our ride it seemed that people were more eager than usual to leave their bikes behind to stand in the fragrant warmth that was this tiny little space.
And once again it was hard to get moving.
The steady stream of ladies became a trickle, and with the taste of maple bars and sprinkles fading away we were faced with a road that was quickly winding up into the hills of the Livermore Valley.
And these hills do go up. The two main features of the day are the 4,196 ft Mt. Hamilton and the equally difficult Sierra Road. In concert with one another, these two climbs will make for much excitement in the Tour. For the six of us, it was excitement of a much slower, much more grueling nature.
There was one big stop to be made at the motorcycle haven called The Junction. Here, moto riders and cyclists alike stop to refuel and generally eye each other and their respective steeds before continuing on their way. We saw the only bit of negativity aimed in our direction by a sports-car owning gentleman who thought we were taking up too much road and told us so by claiming that we were lucky he was holding his foot back off the gas pedal. So, beware fellow cyclists and countrymen, that the man in the awful Rock-Republic jeans and bright blue Subaru Impreza (complete with rear spoiler) is out to get you. Otherwise, this climbing and winding San Antonio Valley Road is as beautiful and enchanting a ride as you'll find anywhere, made bespoke for riders on two wheels.
We hit the road again aimed in the general direction of Mt. Hamilton, and it was markedly steeper. Causing questions: "Is this Mt. Hamilton?" "Are we there yet?" echoing children stuffed in the back of parents' minivans. But it was not and we weren't, and we still had one more stop to make.
When you see Cole slam on his brakes and jump a fence you would do best to stick around and see what is happening. Most likely he is going for some roadside attraction that has caught his eye. A delicate spinning globe, something shiny like a knife or a well made screwdriver that has fallen from some unwitting truck driver's tool chest. Or perhaps a feather. This man, Cole Maness, has stopped and gathered more roadside feathers than everyone else I have ever met put together. Standing there on the roadside watching as Cole plucked a few feathers from a completely intact wing of a rather large vulture, his ethos unfurled.
Cole can descend like a motherfucker. Can I say that? Probably not, probably a little crass. But the man can fly and there's no better expression for it that we've found.
As the natural adventurer of the group, Cole is always up to something. Whether it be hiking through the Swiss Alps with friends, or riding through Nepal blowing peoples minds with the width of a road bike tire, he is always up to something. He needs these feathers because they are the ultimate symbol of freedom. And when he's on a downward slope on his bike, he harnesses the energy of the birds from which they came.
Cole gives me a feather and sticks the other two in the leather strap holding his saddle bag to the underside of his seat, cinching them down at the same time he tells me to: "Stick it in something and lets get a move on." The only way I could see to attach it to my bike was by jamming it into the spot where the rear derailleur cable makes a loop and rests next to the frame. A surprisingly tight fit yet my feather only lasted for a few miles. When we finally stopped at the top of Mt. Hamilton, near the Lick Observatory, it had gone. Cole was disappointed by this fact and that I could be so flippant about a feather. I told him that I took it as a sign that I should take it easy on the upcoming descent, and he considered that before taking it as an acceptable answer.
Rightly, much of the talk of Stage 4 is about the climbs of Hamilton and Sierra. However, people should be talking about the descent from Mt. Hamilton. Amazing. Almost impossible to believe that a road that twists, curls, dips and drops like that exists and people want to talk about the climbs?
I am not sure if descending is something that can be learned by anything other than doing and to put Cole and Tim Johnson in your immediate line-of-sight on a descent is something to behold. If you can keep them in your line-of-sight. It is really scary actually, at least at first, how fast these two drop, Cole in front of Tim, then me, trying to pick the lines that they pick and mimicking their position and actions with each quickly approaching bend. A right leg hung over a corner, then back across to swing the left out in the same fashion. Pushing myself to and past the point of fear while trying to keep in this group, I become aware of my improving abilities as a descender. As my confidence builds, my effort to remain on Tim's wheel becomes more and more easy.
With another long descent into the foothills of San Jose, smiles and whoops of excitement have finally erased the pain of the Hamilton climb. That is until it becomes apparent that we are just a mile or so from a right turn come express elevator that is Sierra Road. We are 80 miles into a hard day and about to start another painful slog upwards. People ask me all the time why I have to go so hard up every hill. Well, no one actually asks me that, but this is what I would tell them if they did: "I just want to get to the top as quick as possible so that the pain stops for just a little bit." That must be what the pros think too.
We make it to the top and the group is more than a little shelled, but instead of stopping where the stage ends on the hill, we agree that the best way to finish the day is downhill and to regroup at the bottom. Before we really have a chance to contemplate how tired we are and how descending on empty brains might not be the best idea, Cole clicks into his pedals and points that famous mustache of his downhill.