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Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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I've been considering riding the Buena Vista 300k brevet in Santa Cruz later this month. The route starts in Santa Cruz and heads up the coast to Half Moon Bay before returning to Santa Cruz and continuing south from there. That part of Highway 1 is very familiar to me -- it's part of the Day 1 route of AIDS/LifeCycle. And, like so many other parts of the ALC route, I can find it highly annoying when my mind is not in the right place -- lots of tiny, moderately steep hills coupled with high-speed tourist traffic. Today was one of those days.

This morning, I drove to Santa Cruz, parked in front of the brevet administrator's house, suited up, and began my northward journey. My plan was to head about 35 miles up the coast to Pescadero and then return, and to do it in six hours or less of elapsed time so that I'd be in good shape to beat the 20-hour time limit on the Buena Vista 300k. Even though I got a late start and wasn't on the road until 9:15 a.m., the low clouds were thick and a steady drizzle was falling -- enough to make me wipe my glasses at least once a mile. Temperatures were somewhere in the mid-50s, which isn't really unusual for the coast in August, but it was a real shocker after the 100-plus temperatures that I've been riding in for much of the past month.

As I've written about before, Highway 1 along the coast is anything but flat. In fact, the highway is almost always going up or down in elevation, sometimes gently and sometimes not-so-gently. Whenever there's a river or stream flowing into the ocean, the highway drops all the way down to sea level, crosses the water on a tiny, narrow bridge, and then climbs back up above it all. This happens lots of times.

Today, I just wasn't in the mood. I'd seen it all before, the weather was decidedly inhospitable, and the tourists in their rented motor homes sometimes got just a little too close to me. It's not that I was riding poorly; in fact, my pace was about 15.5 mph, which is far faster than needed to make the time cutoffs of a 300k brevet. But every little climb was really annoying me, and I wasn't having much fun at all. So, about 17 miles north of Santa Cruz at the site of ALC's Rest Stop 3, I turned around.

My mood improved somewhat, because I then knew how long my ride would be. But I also had to contend with every hill of the day again, just this time in reverse. The drizzle had mostly stopped by that point, but I was still in jacket and leg warmers -- in mid-morning in August. I got back to Santa Cruz in one piece and spent a few miles aimlessly cycling along the waterfront before returning to my car and heading home.

What happened? It just wasn't fun anymore. It felt like a job. I wanted to be almost anywhere but there. It almost felt like an ... addiction.

So far this year, I've cycled 4,631 miles, which is my second-highest total for this point in the year and just shy of my all-time mark from 2006. With the glorious exception of my vacation rides, nearly every mile of that total has been in places I've been before -- anywhere from a couple of times to dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

The question before me now: Do I really want to subject myself to nearly 200 miles of cycling in one day up and down and back up the coast, all of it on roads I've done as recently as June? Do I want to spend up to six of those hours riding in the dark on a Saturday night on agricultural backroads and then through party-central downtown Santa Cruz? Do I want to pay the absolutely outrageous prices for a hotel room in Santa Cruz after the ride? (I could be finishing as late as 2 a.m. and almost certainly would be in no shape to drive home.) Do I want to run the risk of being recorded forever online as a "DNF"? (These things don't go away, y'know.) All for what? The chance to buy a medal that says "300k" on it?

More importantly: Do I want to risk illness or even permanent damage? My post-RAIN experience is still very fresh in my mind. I think I was probably in far worse condition that I knew at the time, most likely in some combustible combination of dehydration and exhaustion. I wouldn't get the luxury of a week off after the 300k; I'd need to be back at work and chipper, happy, and active just one day later.

The registration deadline for the 300k is fast approaching, and inertia on my part will cause me to miss the date, and the question will become moot. Where I am tonight, that's probably a good thing. We'll see whether that sentiment changes in the next few days.

Photo: Riders along Highway 1 during ALC8.