My First Ultra — the 2003 Grand Tour Highland Triple

So as I was digging through some old stuff I found this little gem.  It is from my first ever Ultra, The Grand Tour Highland Triple back in 2003.  Pictured are some of my favorite Ultra friends, Lynn Katano, Francis Ignacio and Roehl Caragao.  This picture was taken at Gaviota State Beach, CA at approximately mile 193 of the total distance of 300 miles.  The back story to this picture is one of my favorite cycling stories to tell people.  Lynn has often introduced me to her friends with the story that follows– an abbreviated version of course.

I had been off the bike for two years. People who know me probably find this incredible to believe.  Why was I off the bike so long?  I had had a “violent crash” as my friend, Tom called it.  I broke a finger on my left hand and jammed my neck really bad.  I destroyed my steel frame as well.  Add to that a new career, a new home and cycling took a back seat to other priorities.  I kept telling myself I’ll get back on next month and next month came and went.   Finally, I was just disgusted with how looked when I looked in the mirror one morning and decided to get back on the bike and back in shape.

I bought a 2001 Colnago C40 frameset in March of 2003 and started to build it up component by component.  At the time, the Colnago C40 was all the rage.  Once the bike was built I began riding in May.  I knew I had gained a lot of weight (35 pounds) in the two years but once I started riding I really noticed how much those 35 lbs effected my performance on the bike.  I needed a goal …something to train for, something to keep me focused.  I remembered hearing about double centuries and those crazy people that did 200 miles in a day.  I thought that was nuts but at least it would keep me motivated to train…even if I only did a century.

I found the California Triple Crown site which listed the double centuries for the year.  I found the Grand Tour which was at the end of June.  It’s description stated it was a great beginner double century.  Even though I had never done a double century I didn’t want to be in the “beginner” anything category so I signed up for the Highland Double which had more climbing.  The event was June 24, 2003 which meant I had almost 8 weeks to prepare for a double century.  I didn’t get a chance to do a century before the event but I felt if I just took my time, ate and drank a lot, I would at least finish the double century.

I started the event with the early departures at 3:30am.  I think back now at what a rookie I was and how crappy my gear was then.  I had this really dim headlight that barely lit the road.  I found myself in a paceline straightaway just so I could actually see the road.  I would never go out on a night ride now without a proper headlight and taillight.  About 65 miles into the ride I was teased and taunted by Roehl and his daughter Maureen, 15 years old (on their tandem) that I really should do the Triple Century with them.  First I told them they were crazy then I explained to them that I had never ridden more than 110 miles.  And since I had been off the bike for two years it had been AT LEAST 2 years since the last time I had done a century.

Well to make a long story short (23 hours worth) they convinced me to do the 300 mile option.  I had no idea what I was in for. Roehl, Lynn and Dave Evans taught me a lot on that day– my first day of Ultra cycling.  I owe them so much for the experience and knowledge they imparted on me— a complete stranger.  I had lots of food and lots to drink at every rest stop.  The pace was tolerable.  Once I committed to doing the 300 mile event I was not going to DNF (did not finish).  Even though I didn’t have the base miles on my legs or the right riding gear (my shorts chafed me soooo bad) I didn’t quit.  I was on the bike for 23 hours.  I suffered and got ‘er done!! The mind is a very powerful thing.

I still remember calling Shelley, my girlfriend at the time, when I arrived at Gaviota State Beach.  She asked where I was and how I was feeling.  I told her I was at mile 193 and she said “Wow you’re almost done!”  I then had to tell her that  I still had over a 100 miles to go 🙂

Yes my first Ultra was a Triple Century!  I signed up for the double and did the Highland Triple.  I realized then that my body and my mind were made for doing “the long stuff”.  Since that first triple I have gone back and done the Grand Tour Highland Triple Century two other times and my PR is sub 20 hours.  I have done at least 25 double centuries and the Furnace Creek 508 six consecutive times as a solo racer.  I just love the long stuff!

5 thoughts on “My First Ultra — the 2003 Grand Tour Highland Triple

  1. Cool story George. My first Double was the Highland Double this past June. I just finished Death Valley Fall Double and am looking for the next victim. Thanks for inspiring me to do the “long” ones.

  2. Hi George,
    Nice picture, Correction, Maureen was only 14 years old (retired at 15, only completed 9 doubles, CTC finisher once at the age of 10 yrs old (slacker), 2 triples, 1st solo double at 12yrs old, 1st century @ 10, crew/crew chief for 8 of my F508’s & 1 RAAM).

    Maureen & I couldn’t believe that you were going for it. But glad you did. Maureen & I use to play around like that on shorter rides, but never to the extent of 100 additonal miles and someone we didn’t. We thought you were nuts when you came up and told us you were coming along. I think you decided to tag along after beating us up most of the climbs. You rode beside us and said, ” I’ll do it. ” I remenber a big grin on your face and than a worried look right after. It’s been nice to watch you grow to be an awesome ultra cyclist. Thanks for bringing back good memories.

    Happy Trails,


  3. Pingback: 2012 The Grand Tour Highland Double Century TANDEM-Race Report | George's Epic Adventures

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