By Karen Kefauver
July 24, 2014
Link to Sentinel Article
From left, Chip, Wheeler and Roberta Handley, seen in Scotts Valley on Wednesday, will ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge on Saturday. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Chip Handley set some huge cycling goals for himself before he shifted gears to focus on riding with his family. A few years ago, the Scotts Valley resident rode more than 10 century rides (1,000 miles), completed all five mountain passes of the notorious Death Ride in Markleeville (15,000-plus feet of climbing) and will now top off his lung-busting, leg-burning season by riding the grueling Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge.
“I love cycling. I love the thrill, but I was getting obsessive,” Handley said about building his mileage and training. “My wife Roberta said I started to scare her. She wanted to know how far was I going to push my body. What if I hurt myself? And if I continued to push myself farther and father, when was it going to stop? I was already signed up for a double century ride and ready to go. She asked me to not do it and I agreed.”
That was the turning point for the 53-year-old systems manager for the City of Santa Cruz.
When Handley rides the 16th annual Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge on Saturday, it will not be a punishing, solo endurance endeavor. Instead, he will cycle the shortest route with his son, Wheeler, 13, and wife, Roberta, who is also a recreational athlete. They will be amongst several dozen riders who are testing their legs on a new 35-mile route at this year’s event, which is the primary fundraiser for the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club.
A group of Santa Cruz County Cycling Club volunteers previewed the new 35-mile course of the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge on July 19. The event, with four routes, happens July 26. From left, Bart Coddington, Kathy Ferraro, Jeff Brody, David Hemrick, Allison Garcia, Jim Wheeler, Judy Isvan, Teri Ruegg and Richard Huffman. (Grace Voss — Contributed)
“The 35-mile route is designed to be more inclusive,” explained SCMC race director David Giannini. “There were riders who had friends, family and loved ones who could not participate because it was too tough. This shorter ride is geared more towards the average rider. You don’t have to be a super stud. This route is still difficult. It’s not a walk in the park.”
Giannini estimates approximately 525 riders will attend the event, which is not held as a race. There are four routes to choose from: 35 miles (2,994 feet of climbing), 65 miles (7,402) 100 miles (11,087) and, for the over-the-top types, 200 miles (14,394). Each course has multiple rest stops along the way where some of the 150 volunteers serve the ride’s trademark homemade breads, along with water and snacks. The majority of participants signed up for the 100-mile ride, Giannini said. The course includes an optional 3-mile sprint up Jamison Creek Road, which boasts a wall-like 11-percent pitch at some points.
Wheeler Handley, a student at Baymonte Christian School, admitted that he’s “very nervous” about climbing Mount Charlie during the 35-mile ride. It will mark his debut at the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge.
“I’ve never really climbed to the top of Mount Charlie. It’s very big and steep,” he said. “We’ve driven up it. Then after that, there is another big climb.”
The teen only started cycling in earnest last winter and then became part of the junior high component of the Santa Cruz Mountains Composite Racing Team, which requires its members to race.
“My really big love for cycling kicked into high gear after my dad took me down a singletrack trail on my mountain bike. I found a team, signed up, and did a few races. I really like getting out there and riding. I like the adrenaline rush. I get to do cool stuff with my dad and get out there and have fun.”
That doesn’t mean he always feels motivated to break away from his hobby of computer gaming.
“Starting the ride is the hardest part,” the eighth-grader said. “I feel tired and just want to play a video game. It’s so hard to get out there. I always struggle. But then my dad urges me, um, invites me and all the stuff melts away. I’m always happy I went.”
For Chip Handley, the quest for major cycling mileage is no longer a priority. He plans to continue riding and racing with his son and wife.
“I was gone riding every day, gone many weekends, getting distant from my family instead of growing closer to my family,” Handley recalled. “I really turned it around from cycling solo to spending time with family. It’s much more satisfying and enjoyable watching my family reach their goals.”
Mother and wife Roberta Handley has noticed the differences in her son since he started to race and ride.
The Handley family, Chip, Roberta and their son Wheeler, ride their bikes through Scotts Valley on Wednesday afternoon. The family will compete in the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge this Saturday. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel)
“He has more confidence and self-esteem and it’s really helped his fitness,” she said of her son. “I give a lot of credit to the coaches of Wheeler’s team. They work hard with the kids and are out there three times a week for training.”
Yet she saves the biggest praise for her husband.
“He is the backbone to all of this. He has dedicated so much spare time to working with both of us, training us how to ride. He’s done a lot of coaching research online and in books. His support is what got my body trained to do my first century ride. Now the focus is on Wheeler.”
Wheeler welcomes both his parents along for the ride and says with a chuckle: “My dad is on the quiet side and likes to joke. My mom only wants to go fast!”
“We really wanted Wheeler to do something healthy that he enjoyed,” Roberta said. “He picked cycling. The fact that he found a sport that incorporates both of us was an answer to our prayers. Now we have something we can all support each other in, push each other and be encouraging. It adds that extra element of bonding.”
Karen Kefauver is a freelance writer who is based in Santa Cruz.