Tales from the Tarmac is the weekly home of the stories, insights, opinions and occasional rants of Art’s Web Content Editor, Kevin Rouse. Read at your own risk, and please don’t ever take him seriously—it might just go to his head.
The white whale. For those of you who skipped your American Lit class the day they discussed Moby Dick, (don’t worry, no judgment here, I was known to play hooky too when the saddle beckoned) the white whale, Captain Ahab’s nemesis, has become a metaphor for one’s quest conquer an exceedingly difficult goal—whatever that may be.
For most, their white whales take the form of a hope lost, a dream unrealized, an aspiration unmet, but mine, however—much more in the vein of Melville’s Captain Ahab’s—is best described as a nightmare unfulfilled.
In fact, to clarify, it’s not just any nightmare, it’s Mr. Bill’s Nightmare. It’s also a bike ride. And not just any bike ride at that.
Long defunct, Mr. Bill’s Nightmare Ride was last organized long before I even graduated past my training wheels. Now remembered only in the minds of a select few, it’s recalled only through a patina of pain and suffering, its existence only proven by a cryptic cue sheet on a long-forgotten website.
How did this ride ever come about? I couldn’t tell you. How did it come to haunt my psyche? That, I can tell you.
It started with a phone call from the very friend who got me into the wide wonderful world of riding bikes. A proposition was placed on the table; assurances were given.
Not knowing the true, utter brutality of such a route, I blindly signed on for what was to be much more along the lines of a fool’s errand than a bike ride.
113.6 miles. 15,570 feet of climbing.
Both imposing numbers to be sure, ultimately they don’t tell the entire story. Comprising the climbing is an all-star list of the hardest (Read:steepest) climbs in the Santa Cruz Mountains and surrounding foothills.With very few climbs averaging below 7-percent, and plenty well over, the route has it out for even the most seasoned legs right from the gun.
A 7 a.m. start with a healthy dose of Leg Salsa to fend of the January chill and we were off, of course starting with a 7-mile climb.
A brief foray on some dirt roads led down into the hamlet of Saratoga, home of the dreaded Bohlman-On Orbit route, a leg buster of extreme proportions matched by very few others. After buttering up the legs with a few meandering miles of 9-percent misery, we swung off Bohlman Rd. to On Orbit, a road which seemingly wishes to take the most direct route to the stars, topping out at 23-percent for a soul-crushing football-field stretch.
The odometer so far? 42 miles. Feet climbed? A cool 7,000.
Nearly blown already, the day was looking longer and longer with every foot climbed.
A missed turn and a bone-rattling dirt descent meant a hot lunch was needed to raise morale—and turn our legs over the additional mileage we’d made for ourselves.
With the sand in the hourglass speeding up, it was if we were pedaling through the ever deepening pile, moving slower and slower, yet working harder and harder.
The future was looking grim, with legs aching and darkness approaching, but with both of us refusing to do the sensible thing and throw in the towel we soldiered on. There are few rides I can look back on with such a vivid recollection of the suffering undertaken, but I can still feel the profound disappointment imparted by my unyielding shift paddle as I habitually reached for a gear I didn’t have on every searing switchback up Jamison Creek Rd.
Finally, experiencing a brief respite from upward gradients, we were granted an escape route from our stubbornness in the form of a broken derailleur cable.
With equal parts relief and regret, we cut the line, begrudgingly letting Mr. Bill’s Nightmare swim off into the whitecaps to fight another day.
But, fight another day we will—this time with sharper legs and stronger cables.
Kevin Rouse may have been a bit late to the bike-riding party, but he’s certainly making up for lost miles. Having discovered cycling while studying journalism at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, he enjoys long days in the saddle whenever—and however—he can get them. You can usually find him on two wheels, but if not, you’d be well served to check the nearest coffee shop.