The Beauty of Riding Nowhere (100 Miles of Nowhere Race Report by Jill Homer)

11.16.2015 | 9:39 am

A Note from Fatty: I am such a big fan of Jill Homer. I love her writing. I love her photography. I love the way she approaches life. So it’s a huge honor to have had her ride the 100 Miles of Nowhere this year and write her story in her own blog, and allow me to cross-post it here. 


Each year, Elden the Fat Cyclist — world-famous bike blogger and fundraiser extraordinaire — hosts a charity event called the 100 Miles of Nowhere. He first formulated the idea while riding a virtual 100 miles on his trainer, and now challenges cyclists from all over the world to donate to charity for the privilege of riding a “nowhere” century of their choosing. Creativity is encouraged, and pretty much any crazy century that one could imagine has been done — 100 miles on rollers, 3,000 rotations around a driveway, masochistic hill repeats, you name it.

Although I’ve been a regular reader of Fat Cyclist for a decade, support his causes, and enjoy pondering my own versions of a “nowhere” ride, I hadn’t participated before. This year the event announcement went out just as I was beginning to formulate a plan for winter training. It just clicked. “I’ve been talking about 100 Miles of Montebello Road for three years now. I’m finally going to do it.”


Why Montebello Road? I think any cyclist who lives near hills has a go-to climb, and this is mine. Climbing on a bike is my favorite activity, so I ride here a lot. The name means “beautiful mountain” in Italian, and it’s appropriate. Starting 3.5 miles from my home, Montebello Road snakes up a scenic hillside beside a small creek, shaded by oak and cedar trees, with occasional steep drop-offs that open up big views of the South Bay and Mount Hamilton. It accesses a few homes and vineyards before the pavement ends 5.1 miles and 2,000 vertical feet above Stevens Creek Reservoir. I enjoy this climb and it doesn’t get old for me, even though I’ve ridden it well over 200 times since I moved here in 2011. Because I ride Montebello so much, I know every switchback and driveway. I know where the grade steepens and where it levels off. I know where the pavement becomes especially broken and I have to hang on for dear life. I notice when cracks widen and when new tarmac is laid down. I notice when chunks of the hillside and larger trees come down, even after the debris has been cleared away. I’ve had to slam on my brakes for deer, rabbits, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and even a bobcat. There aren’t many surprises left for me on that well-trodden road.

So why Montebello Road? Because even though I’ve ridden it so many times I know every pothole, it never gets easier. And no, I don’t get faster, because it takes a hearty helping of oomph to push the pace for a five-mile climb that scarcely lets off the resistance. My legs are usually quivering by the final steep pitch. The descent, with all of its hairpin turns, steep grades and broken pavement, hardly provides recovery. I think one Montebello is plenty difficult, and two Montebellos break into mental-game territory. So of course I started to wonder, what would happen after five repeats? How about ten?


A hundred miles of Montebello Road requires ten out-and-backs with more than 20,000 feet of climbing. One participant, Karl, commented that the elevation profile would look like a “sadistic comb,” which was an apt description. In all of my years of cycling, I’ve never climbed that much elevation in a day. Beyond the personal record, a century on one five-mile stretch of pavement requires a whole new set of challenges. There is, of course, the “boring” factor in the repetitions. It’s not only the same road ten times — it’s the same road I see all the time. On a road bike you don’t walk, ever, unless something has gone quite wrong. But the gearing is stiff enough that you always have to pedal hard just to stay upright. Even if your speed is dipping precariously close to three miles per hour, it’s always strenuous. I mentioned the hairy descents. Where would I find my motivation when things started to hurt? When I could only slow down so much? When bailing was always as easy as turning around and bombing downhill to my car? In other words, this would be a great mental training ride for the big, physically draining, often monotonous days on the Iditarod Trail.


When I posted my proposal online, I was surprised to see a lot of initial interest. There were nine “going” and nine “maybes” on my Facebook event page. A couple of ultrarunner friends who almost never ride bikes said they wanted to give it a go. Then Beat came down with pneumonia and Liehann was worried his three-week cough would deteriorate to something worse. One by one, all the others bailed. I can’t say I was surprised, as it wasn’t the most conventionally fun way to spend what turned out to be an absolutely perfect fall day in the Bay Area. I assumed I would be riding alone and failed to show up on time for my proposed 6:15 a.m. start. So I was embarrassed to pull up at 6:19 to find three cyclists who I’d never met geared up and ready to go. Karl, on the right, wanted to try to best his personal record on one lap, and Eric (middle), had time to try for five. Dave (left), said he was in it for the long haul. Great! Let’s get it started.

Karl and I rode together for the first lap, and then I stuck with Eric and Dave for the next four. It turned out to be a surprisingly social ride. Dave kept a strong pace and commented on the fourth lap that he was surprised it wasn’t getting much harder. It was then I knew both Dave and I were in this to the dark and chilly end, because neither of us was going to back down as long as the other was still plugging along. Such is the wonder of human sociality, and the reason why races are so much more fun than solo efforts, and why we were so content to grind out Montebellos on Nov. 7, riding in spirit with as many as 500 other “100 MoN” participants all around the world. We’re all striving together.

Around lap six, Beat came out on his mountain bike to join for a couple of rounds of what would be his first real venture outdoors in a month, besides bike commuting. We also saw friends and acquaintances who were out for their own Saturday rides. Jan, who was just finishing up a 17-mile trail ride, and who has been helpful with tips for dealing with my recent breathing problems, just shook his head. I was buzzing with endorphins and could only reply with a goofy grin, “I just love this stuff. I really do. I don’t know why.”

Photo by Dave Thompson. I’m wearing my circa-2007 “original” Fat Cyclist jersey and riding Beat’s wonderful 2011 Specialized S-Works Roubaix. Yes, those are flat pedals. Stiff-soled, fitted shoes pinch my toes and hurt like hell after a few hours. I can’t even wear running shoes that actually fit — these are 1.5 sizes too large. I know this is terribly uncool. I do not  care. If you ever experience frostbite nerve damage and put your feet through 12+ hour rides, you  can give me a recommendation for clipless pedals.
Otherwise, I don’t want to hear it. :P

On lap seven, I hit my wall. All the others had gone home and it was just me and Dave, and the mid-afternoon sunlight dipping low on the horizon. After a summer mostly out of the saddle my “iron butt” had gone soft and chaffing was developing beneath my cheeks. My hands and arms were sore from the descents, and I had to hold one arm behind my back whenever I could to relieve a knot in my shoulder. My quad muscles quivered on the steeper segments. I was certain cramps were coming on, which could only be followed by walks of shame, which could only be followed by bailing altogether. But I’d look ahead toward Dave and kept grinding, because this clearly was not as bad as the simmering anxieties would have me believe.

Dave remained ever stoic. Occasionally, when I could keep up with him, I learned more about his background — he’d lost a lot of weight, and designed and built a special tandem bicycle so he could ride with his adult son who is recovering from a brain injury. At the top, only slightly glazed eyes and flushed cheeks betrayed the appearance that this ride was far too easy for him. We’d stuff down some food — I ate string cheese, squeezable packets of applesauce, Rice Crispy treats, and sandwiches cut into quarters, and realized my diet now completely resembled that of a toddler whose Mom carried just enough snacks to shut her up in public. We’d wipe the sweat from our faces and put on jackets and gloves, because it was always cold on the way down. And then we were off, screaming toward the glistening sprawl of San Jose.

We strapped on lights before lap nine because we’d finally burned all the daylight. The sun set at 5:11 p.m. Climbing the initial steep segments, I thought, “Only two more Montebellos!” which ignited a grumpy backlash because two Montebellos is still a lot. So I looked inward, to a stark white landscape of somewhere in Alaska, perhaps the Yukon River, beneath an unobstructed sky pulsing with emerald light and stars upon stars. Then the wind was howling, and I was hunched over my bike in a whiteout — broken, humbled, and awestruck by the power of it all, by this expansive nothingness on the edge of nowhere. All in my imagination — and perhaps in my future.

We descended in fading light and climbed into the tunnel of our headlights. Dave’s light dimmed to almost nothing, but instead of quitting, he shadowed closely behind me as we ascended the quiet corridor. I was hurting all over. It seemed every muscle had to work for this final climb, and my breathing had become raspy and shallow. In part, I believe shallow breathing has become a habit after months of fighting real obstructions and constriction in my airways. So I consciously focused on taking deeper breaths, thinking about all of my quivering muscles and the reality that they just needed more oxygen. “Breathe, just breathe,” I chanted quietly, and thought that this was probably going to become my new personal mantra.

“We did it!” I proclaimed at the top. Dave smiled quietly; his lips were quivering. It was 45 degrees and a cold wind whisked along the ridge, heralding an oncoming storm. We both sucked down the last of our water — even in the cold darkness, one bottle was no longer enough. I descended behind Dave with my high-beam on, but he seemed to manage just fine with his flickering commuter light. We rolled back to the cars after 105 miles in 13 hours and 5 minutes, including breaks, and about 11:45 of moving time. You can say that’s a long damn time for a century, but I think it’s pretty good for ten Montebellos, which are actually nothing like a century.

As I drove away, I realized that while the 20,000 feet of climbing was quite hard, I barely noticed the repetition. Each climb and descent was its own journey, with different light, different conversations, different thoughts, different challenges.

Still, a repetitive ride does provide beneficial numbers for comparisons. These are the times recorded for each 5.1-mile climb up Montebello Road. It’s interesting to see the consistency when I was feeling good, and also how it started to break down on the later laps. My “personal best” on Montebello is 39:08, but I generally ride in the 45- to 50-minute range.

Lap 1: 59:18
Lap 2: 52:05
Lap 3: 50:51
Lap 4: 50:21
Lap 5: 50:24
Lap 6: 50:19
Lap 7: 56:01
Lap 8: 54:43
Lap 9: 58:53
Lap 10: 57:26

Maybe it really doesn’t get that much harder as you go. I just have to get out of my head once in a while. And remember to breathe.


  1. Comment by Don | 11.16.2015 | 9:56 am

    O-M-G what a ride Jill. HUGE kudos to you.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Comment by BostonCarlos | 11.16.2015 | 9:58 am

    Bravo Jill, Dave, and friends. I’ve ridden Montebello. This literally sounds impossible to me.

  3. Comment by Jim Tolar | 11.16.2015 | 9:59 am

    Sweet first 100MoN Jill. Great write-up.


  4. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 11.16.2015 | 9:59 am

    Awesome ride Jill, and serious Kudos for venturing out with Dave. He’s not called ‘The Beast’ for nothing. Hope to see you at a Fatty Roundup one day. Of course there will be pie.

  5. Comment by Hedgid | 11.16.2015 | 10:17 am

    You are a superhero!

  6. Comment by New Zealand Ev | 11.16.2015 | 10:19 am

    Congratulations on an awesome ride!! Amazing accomplishment!!

  7. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 11.16.2015 | 10:29 am

    Nice consistent laps. Well done.

  8. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 11.16.2015 | 10:41 am

    And with flat pedals! Excellent!

  9. Comment by Flying Ute | 11.16.2015 | 11:11 am

    Great writing! Loved it.

  10. Comment by leroy | 11.16.2015 | 11:18 am


  11. Comment by Rob L | 11.16.2015 | 11:20 am

    Crazy! That hill is wicked after 2x! Great write-up Jill.

  12. Comment by Brian in VA | 11.16.2015 | 11:27 am

    Huge props Jill! What a ride!

  13. Comment by AKChick | 11.16.2015 | 11:59 am

    LOVE Jill Homer!!! I follow her on Twitter and love reading about Beat’s adventures on the Iditarod trail. :)

    LOVED this ride report and especially loved that one of the surprise guests was Dave Thompson!!! :) How freaking awesome is that!?! I am always amazed at the creative and crazy courses that 100 MoN participants devise. I’m still trying to figure out my course. I suspect I will probably ride mine over the Christmas break, but am not certain yet. In any case, I was really inspired, as I always am, by yet another insightful and beautifully written report. Thank you again to Fatty for posting these. As much as I love his reports, there is a pretty wonderful feeling reading about other people who have done the same event you will do and how they went about it – whether it was silly or a bit more serious. I love them all!

    Jill – If you do the Iditarod via bike this year, let me know if you need any local support. I’m happy to help in any way that I can, all you need to do is ask!

  14. Comment by AKChick | 11.16.2015 | 12:00 pm

    DavidH – where is the Fatty roundup this year – the one for roadies? :) I have a super old mountain bike that weighs about 30 pounds without anything added to it. Plus, I’m not very good at it. I miss meeting and seeing my fellow FoFs!

  15. Comment by Corrine | 11.16.2015 | 12:04 pm

    Great ride, Jill. you are awesome. And for those that don’t know, she is riding the Iditarod Trail Invitational all the way to Nome this spring. That’s 1000 miles of riding in the middle of nowhere! GO JILL! And if you haven’t read her books, you should, they are all GREAT!!!

  16. Comment by Eric | 11.16.2015 | 12:39 pm

    When Jill first suggested doing 10 Montebellos for 100MoN in a comment on one of the 100MoN kickoff posts here, I thought she was daft. But I asked to get put on the list, and was excited to try for it. I unfortunately had another afternoon commitment that I couldn’t move, so I could only stick around for 5 laps, but it was a great experience to ride with Jill. I cracked on lap 5, though, and am in awe of Dave and Jill for persevering to finish all 10.

  17. Comment by Karl | 11.16.2015 | 2:44 pm

    I was the slowest of the group, but I enjoyed my “10 miles of nowhere” with Jill, Dave and Eric!

  18. Comment by Jim B | 11.16.2015 | 2:59 pm

    For strava-ites:

  19. Comment by Jenni | 11.16.2015 | 3:42 pm

    My palms started sweating from the very beginning of this post. Wow.

    What a tremendous effort. That hill profile needs to be framed, absolute craziness, I love it!!
    Congratulations on an incredible ride, to you and anyone who hung for even one of those hills.

  20. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 11.16.2015 | 3:47 pm

    As impressive as the climbing was, the fact that the descending offered no real relaxing makes the feat all the more impressive.

  21. Comment by MattC | 11.16.2015 | 7:41 pm

    WAY TO GO JILL AND DAVE!!! Jill…to echo what davidh said…staying w/ Dave on ANY RIDE is an accomplishment…he IS INDEED an animal (I watch his Strava rides/times/power output and I know that I’m not even close to his level). Not that we didn’t already know it, but you are also OBVIOUSLY an animal. I am in complete and utter AWE, and I bow in your general direction(s)…that’s for you too Dave! Just WOW.

  22. Comment by Jill Homer (@AlaskaJill) | 11.16.2015 | 7:46 pm

    Thanks everyone! It was an honor to participate in the 100 Miles of Nowhere this year. I look forward to the upcoming reports!

  23. Comment by BamaJim | 11.16.2015 | 7:50 pm

    Awesome ride!

  24. Comment by DaveT | 11.16.2015 | 10:43 pm

    Jill thanks for dreaming up this ride. I’m glad I decided to join you. You were a constant source of inspiration and I don’t think I could have made it without you. I know I couldn’t have written a better write up of it. Thanks for all the kind words.

  25. Comment by AnonRider | 11.17.2015 | 9:10 am

    If you follow Google Streetview to the top of Montebello Rd, you’ll see a bicyclist wearing a HAMMER jersey.

  26. Comment by wharton_crew | 11.17.2015 | 5:24 pm

    Hey Dave, are you our new paragon for weight loss? I’m getting ready to put on my ‘winter layer’ and debating whether it’s worth it to ride rollers in my basement for the next 5 months. If you tell me that cycling is your secret weight loss weapon, then I’d be more inclined to suit up my fat ass and roll on!

    But, if you tell me that the secret of your weight loss is couch surfing while taste testing frozen Hostess products, then I might elevate you even more to ‘hero’ status.

    Choose wisely….

  27. Comment by old guy who likes to ride | 11.17.2015 | 6:53 pm

    Ahh Montebello Road:used to live at intersection of SCB & Foothill Cupertino.
    Many, many times rode mtn bike up paved Montebello and down the trails behind.
    thanks for write up and memories.
    These days it’s the American River Parkway and points up and east…

  28. Comment by Bike Chick | 11.18.2015 | 12:28 pm

    “my “iron butt” had gone soft” – love your description.

  29. Comment by GTM | 11.18.2015 | 8:08 pm

    I have very large and wide feet 15 EEE+ and also have had a terrible time with shoes and foot pain. Finally found the Giro Code shoes and they have been the only shoes that i can wear comfortably.


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