Flamingo Grande

Words: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | Photography: Brian Vernor | Date:

Twelve uncomfortable hours into a thirteen hour drive and I finally admit to myself, out loud just in case either Greg or Carey are listening, that I will be in no condition to ride 100-miles the next morning. Especially considering tomorrow will be followed by another 100-miles on Saturday and 75-miles on Sunday. For three days now, I’ve had a debilitating case of what I hope is just Rotavirus. Whatever it is, it’s why I now know there are no less than 22 rest stops between Portland, Oregon and the San Francisco International Airport. And it’s why I could write, were anyone to care or pay me for my efforts, a thorough review of each.

The next morning is wet-grey and quiet. Things move by without contact or friction, instead they drift. Ferris wheels, the jobless, vegan meats, taqueria carts, surfers, piers, tech-money and pick-up trucks. All float by, because in Santa Cruz on the nearly Lost Coast, things are constantly a bit foggy.

Flamingo Grande is an Epic wend traversing back and forth, along the Santa Cruz Mountains, a biologically diverse coast range celebrated for its eucalyptus groves, giant Redwoods and illegal marijuana plantations—all three of mythical number and proportion. Stunning views, disorientingly tight switchbacks, Big Basin State Park, majestic undulations, misty two lane back roads, a Tolkien-certified Elvin Forest and a General Store that time but not the It’s-It (a San Francisco ice-cream delicacy) delivery man forgot, all drift by over the course of 107-miles.

I didn’t go on the ride (see Rotavirus) so I can’t tell you what happened. But it’s possible, even likely based on several extensive interviews conducted in the months following the ride, it wouldn’t matter if I had.

All the Continental riders agree on Kelly’s Bakery. Hahn says, the bakery was fabulous with its beautiful fruit tarts and sweet, sweet ladies. Aaron mentions a cream filled pastry he describes as a crumpet. Greg recalls that it was actually called a Crimpy. Ryan describes it as a more than calorically adequate orgy of butter, cream, sugar and flour that fits in your mouth.

It’s still cold and thick with mist outside, so finally leaving the sugary warmth of Kelly’s, it feels like punishment. A residential street heading south and east climbs three miles out of Santa Cruz and the fog, and to the start of an 18-mile climb.

When we started I was freezing but the higher we went the warmer it got, which of course is the opposite of what you’re used to. Around every corner several hundred yards at a time, the street steepened by a degree and ratcheted us into something warm. – Aaron Erbeck

I hung in there for about six or seven turns before loosing all sense of direction. Which, frankly, was fine by me. – Hahn Rossman

I asked Brian (ride host and photographer) about the clouds and he said it would be sunny in 20 minutes. At the time it seemed unlikely but in 20 minutes exactly (how did he do that?), we were all on the side of the road at the top of the climb, blinking and squinting in the California sun, desperately stripping layers off. – Greg Johnson.

It’s clear by all accounts the climb was followed by a long rushing descent punctuated at the bottom by a stop sign. After which they entered a wooded and rolling valley. And that’s it. Until 67-miles later when the ride finds all of them removing their shoes before the entrance of a genuine General Store combination Levi’s Retailer combination Deli. Disguised as a motorcycle hangout.

Exhausted from a day of ninja and vampire movies, I leave Brian’s couch for an industrial park in north Santa Cruz to meet Paul Sadoff, the man behind Rock Lobster. The riders roll-up one by one, each cooked but happy and properly satisfied with their day in the saddle. With the exception of Hahn, they immediately and without solicitation claimed Flamingo Grande was the best ride they had ever done. Ever. They explained that it was not only scenic, but magical too.

Later, when pushed for details about what transpired, or what happened or what was seen to earn Flamingo ‘greatest-ride-ever’ status no details could be provided. Several emails were exchanged, interviews conducted, questionnaires drawn-up, submitted and never returned. At one point hypnotherapy was considered. I have very little experience with collective memory loss or alien abductions but I knew and understood that something peculiar happened that afternoon during the period of time that would come to be known as – The Missing Three Hours Followed By The General Store And A Ride Down HWY-101.

Greg remembers passing on a hill ex-mountain bike pro Julie Furtado. Ryan remembers what can best be described as hours of soothing rolling sensations. Everyone remembers the silver shimmering smell of eucalyptus, busted and rippled roads covered in pine needles, brand new chip seal and potholes. As well as a well-stocked candy store in a campground in the middle of nowhere where they stopped to have their picture taken inside a tree. And the prevailing feeling of unity and ease that nurtured their cycling efforts the entire day. The sound of fog and sun and wind. They remember the absence of complaint and problem. They all say the ride was seamlessly and fluidly executed without need for way-finding or unnecessary stops.

During our interviews in an effort to ‘work through’ events that day, we discussed the General Store where, it sounds like, they were met with both hostility and compassion, as well as various forms of sugar. If their memories were tampered with, it was done with remarkable precision and respect for this portion of the day. If their memories were replaced, I suspect either the Dairy Council working in conjunction with the Frozen Dairy Council, or aliens.

The store had signs with regulations about everything. One of them required us to remove our shoes before entering. Once inside we soft-walked around until one of us discovered the It’s-It ice cream sandwiches. – Hahn Rossman

I was having such a good day that I didn’t care when the motorcycle gang member grunted to grab my attention before pointing with his boot in the direction of sign that read – ‘No Leaning Bikes On The Building’. Normally that kind of aggressive redneck thing would bother me. Later and once inside, my It’s-It ice cream sandwich was the second best thing I’ve ever put in mouth. – Aaron Erbeck

It was like a period correct dry-goods store from the Wild West, only with ice cream sandwiches, Levi’s and margaritas. – Greg Johnson

I sat at the bar in my socks eating an ice cream sandwich and drinking a cold beer. – Cole Maness

It’s-it! – Ryan Thomson

After the store, the ride returned south down the coast where tides and a slight tail wind followed them back to Santa Cruz and a meeting with Paul at Rock Lobster.

I’ve come to the conclusion that they simply and willingly got lost, really lost. Not lost as in without a map or unable to find their way. But lost in their thoughts. They forgot what they were doing and where they were going, they forgot about life and problems and competition and want and need. They just rode for hours and watched as northern California went buy. In a blur, through the mist, among the trees and the hills, north for a bit, south for a bit, up a hill and down a hill, over a hill, down the coast.

We spend so much time and energy on these rides not getting lost that we sometimes forget that for the last five, ten, fifteen years that’s one of the very reasons we all ride. To get lost. Sometimes we ride to check-out, from anxiety, stress, responsibility, from all of it.

Whether it’s exactly true or not, what strikes me about – The Missing Three Hours Followed By The General Store And A Ride Down HWY-101 – is that maybe Aaron, Hahn, Greg, Ryan, and Cole collectively checked-out. In the middle of the near mythologized (for it’s hippies, surfing, marijuana, redwoods and fog) Santa Cruz mountains, among all it’s amazing topography and geography, the Continental Riders simply went for a ride.

Or they were abducted by an Alien in a Julie Furtado suit? Suppose we’ll never really know.

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