How to Wildflower! Your Complete Guide to this Longstanding, Epic Triathlon

By Alison Freeman

Maybe you’ve signed up for Wildflower (what’s Wildflower? ) and haven’t quite sorted out your logistics for the epic weekend of triathlon, camping, beer, wine, and music. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to sign up for Wildflower, but have been holding back because sorting out the BYO details is just too overwhelming. (Do I have to eat freeze dried camp food for my pre-race dinner? Is there an option besides instant coffee? Where do I shower? No, really. WHERE DO I SHOWER???) No worries, I’ve got all your answers right here.

Jump to: Travel – Shelter & Showers – Food & WaterEverything Else

TRAVEL

Assuming that you’re not driving to the race, Monterey Regional Airport is the closest airport to Lake San Antonio … but doesn’t seem to serve direct flights from Denver. Given that, your best bet is to fly into San Jose Airport, although San Francisco and Oakland are also decent options. You’ll need to rent a car, as the race site is not Uber-able from the airport. Don’t want to deal with flying with your bike and then having to rent an enormous, expensive SUV? ProBike Express, your local bike concierge, will offer bike + bag + tent + anything else you need transport services if there is sufficient interest; TriBike Transport serves the race as well.

Plan for a 2-1/2 to 3 hour drive from the airport down to Lake San Antonio, but make sure to buffer an extra 30-60 minutes to stop for provisions along the way (see “Food & Water” below). Your best bet is to hit up Salinas, which is about halfway from San Jose Airport to Lake San Antonio and serves as a convenient place to stock up on supplies for the weekend. There’s a Costco, a Walmart, a Target, and a Safeway, so between the four you should be able to find pretty much everything you need. There’s also an In-N-Out Burger in Salinas, and if you don’t stop and get a double-double animal style, we’re going to have a serious conversation about your priorities.

If you find yourself 15 minutes south of Salinas and realize you forgot the key ingredient for your famous campfire mac-n-cheese, you can stop at the Safeway in King City, which is about an hour outside of Lake San Antonio. For real this is the last place to find provisions, so check your list twice before driving off.

Finally, you’ll want to plan your trip timing around the road closures within Lake San Antonio Park. All roads in the park are closed on Saturday from 7am-3pm and on Sunday from 8am-3pm. Regardless of what race you’re eyeing, plan to arrive no later than Friday and leave late Sunday afternoon. (Already made travel arrangements that conflict with road closures? You can park at North Shore campground and take a boat shuttle to/from the race site.)

Back to top

SHELTER & SHOWERS

There are a myriad of great lodging options available for Wildflower, as long as you’re not dead set on turn down service and a chocolate on your pillow: there are no hotels to be found anywhere near the race site. Here’s what is available:

Camping is available at a number of campgrounds surrounding the Lake. You can lock in advance reservations HERE. Individual spaces are first-come-first-served, so if you’re picky about locations, plan to arrive at the race site on Thursday rather than Friday. Camping is $25/person/night for everyone over 16.

RV parking is available at the campgrounds as well with the same logistics and pricing as tent camping. (The limited number of RV spots with hookups are, unfortunately, sold out.) You can bring your own RV or you can arrange to have one delivered to the campsite if a two-day drive each way doesn’t fit your schedule.

While sadly the super-cool Tinker Tins are sold out for 2018, there is still limited available for the Bell Tents (think: Glamping), at $950 for the full three nights. If you like the idea of camping but want to add a little civility, or just back support, to the weekend, I’d jump on these quickly – more info HERE.

For all of these lodging options, standard campground bathrooms should typically be no more than a few hundred yards away. Some of these will have showers, some won’t, so get the lay of the land ahead of time and strategize shower timing to avoid the crowds.

If you really can’t get past the idea of a private, hot shower, AirBnB and VRBO are great sources for rentals surrounding Lake San Antonio, and there are hotels in nearby Paso Robles, approximately 35 miles from the Lake. If you do stay outside the park, keep those Saturday and Sunday road closure times in mind, and plan to pay the $10/person/day Festival pass rates upon entering the Park.

Back to top

FOOD & WATER

This is the area where your advance planning skills really get tested. You do want to think through ALL of your food and drink needs prior to heading to Wildflower for the weekend.

• Water – Yes, you need to bring your own water. Maybe a half gallon per day per person? Maybe even a smidge more to account for race day requirements.

• Race Fueling – Breakfast / pre-race nutrition; Race nutrition; Post-race nutrition. If it’s a powder-based product, make sure you’ll have sufficient water AND sufficient clean water bottles. If it’s real food, see next item …

• Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner – How many days? What do you want to eat? How are you going to cook it? How are you going to store it? If you’re going to cook, you’ll need to bring your own skillet, pots, plates and utensils, and be sure to grab a cooler – styrofoam or the real deal – when you stop for provisions. You can grab ice, firewood, and lighter fluid at the small, very basic, general store onsite.

• Want to restock mid-weekend? In addition to the small, onsite store, Oak Hill Market is roughly 15 minutes outside the park and is about the best general store there is: quality meats, great produce, wine, barbecue supplies, eggs, and a great deli. (There’s also a gas station here – the nearest one I believe – if you are running low!)

• Don’t want to cook over a fire? – Welcome to my world. Thankfully we won’t be left to starve – there will be a wide variety of food trucks at the festival all weekend, and they will mostly be serving healthy/gourmet food rather than traditional carnival food truck fare. Save for your 5am pre-race meal, the food trucks will have you covered. Pro tip: TriCalifornia is exploring a cashless system for festival vendors, including food trucks. Keep an eye out for more info on their website and Facebook page!

• Must. Have. Pasta. – No duh. There’s a pasta party Friday night. Did you really think they’d leave you hanging? Tickets will be available online starting in Mid-March ($12 adults / $6 under 16) and you can buy tickets onsite if that’s more your style ($14 / $8), but only those who buy tickets in advance get a second serving.

• But what about coffee??? – Yup, they thought of that too. Nate Dressel, former pro triathlete, will be there with his new venture, Frontier Coffee. Just be prepared to stand in a long line if your morning routine involves anything incorporating the word “latte.”

And if reading all that just gave you an enormous headache, there are a limited number of $200 VIP packages remaining that cover breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire weekend. You can add this option to your campground reservation, Bell Tent reservation, or pre-purchased Festival day pass upon checkout through Active.com.

Back to top

So then … Travel: Check. Shelter: Check. Showers: Check. Food & Water: Check. …

NOW WHAT?

You’ve sorted through the headache of a race venue where everything – literally, EVERYTHING – is BYO. So now what? TIME TO PARTY!!! Just kidding. Well, not really. Pretty much the whole point of Wildflower is that it’s not just a race, it’s an entire weekend of awesomeness. And to experience all of this awesomeness properly, it’s going to require just a little more advance preparation.

First off, in the weeks leading into the Wildflower Experience weekend, TriCalifornia is going to release the official Wildflower app. (Yup, there’s an app for that.) Given the very limited cell service at Lake San Antonio – no, I would not anticipate any wifi hotspots – you’ll want to download this app before race weekend. Then, while you still have cell service, make sure the maps and shuttle schedules are loaded, and review the race weekend schedule. Within the app you can reserve spots for activities and services – as in: post-race massages and pedicures – and you’ll want to do this before race weekend.

Minus scheduling your massage, you can take advantage of much of the race weekend awesomeness on a more spontaneous basis. Plan for lots of time hanging around the campsite – pack your Eno hammock, or consider grabbing a cheap-o lawn chair at Walmart to enable this activity. But do wander off from your campsite at some point and check out the Festival: bands will be playing throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday, there will be local artisan tents and helicopter tours (only $99 – if I weren’t terrified of helicopters I’d say this sounds like a steal), there’s an art bar where you can paint and drink wine (this is more my speed), and you can rent paddle boards and kayaks anytime outside of race swim windows. And yes, beer and wine will be flowing all weekend long.

As if all that weren’t enough, there is a 5k run at the Redonda Vista campground on Saturday night (think: pre- or post-race shake out run) that ends with an 80’s dance party, sponsored by Clif Bar. Seriously: AN 80’S DANCE PARTY. I mean, I thought I was excited about the Wildflower Experience when I signed up – now I don’t even care about the race. I just want to go to the 80’s dance party.

Back to top

HOW DO I SIGN UP?

More info about the races (long and short course tri’s – both on-road and off-road, 10k, 5k, trail run, and SUP races) HERE and registration HERE.

Make a reservation for camping or a Bell Tent HERE.

Check out the full weekend schedule HERE.

Let’s do Wildflower! … What’s Wildflower?

By Alison Freeman

As soon as I heard that Wildflower was back for 2018 after a hiatus in 2017 due to drought conditions, I knew I wanted to race it. Except that I truly, honestly, knew nothing about the race. OK, maybe that’s an overstatement: I knew that it includes a challenging bike course, and I knew that it involves camping. But for real that’s all I knew.

Which kinda means that I have a lot in common with Terry Davis, the founder and race director of the Wildflower Festival (now called the Wildflower Experience). Yes, that sounds crazy – so let me explain. Back in ‘80s, Terry was working as the Marketing and Events Director of the Monterrey County Parks Department and they were looking for events that would utilize the Lake San Antonio venue outside of the summer months. Terry and his team were busy developing the Wildflower Bluegrass Festival, that would feature – you guessed it – wildflower exhibits and bluegrass music, when a friend suggested including a triathlon during the festival weekend. “OK, let’s do a triathlon,” said Terry. “What is it?”

So that’s how one of the most iconic races in the triathlon world was born – spearheaded by a wonderful fellow who didn’t know what a triathlon was, and who to this day has never participated in one. The race has grown from 82 participants in 1983 to 7,500 participants at its peak. But the Wildflower Experience is more than just a single race – the weekend includes triathlons on both Saturday and Sunday of various distances, live music, food trucks, wine tasting, retail vendors, and family events including a Friday night kids’ fun run.

While a two-day, multi-faceted weekend of activities already sets the Wildflower Experience apart from other race experiences, what makes Wildflower truly unique is the venue itself. Lake San Antonio is thirty-five miles from the nearest city. Thirty. Five. Miles. Thirty-five miles from the nearest Motel 6. Thirty-five miles from the nearest Target or Walmart or major grocery chain or anywhere that sells gel blocks. Which raises the question of how on earth does Wildflower host tens of thousands of participants and spectators for this incredible weekend?

Turns out, Terry and his crew spend months creating a temporary city at Lake San Antonio solely for the Wildflower Experience weekend. They build out infrastructure including restrooms, parking, medical facilities, and transportation to move bikes and people from camping and RV sites to the expo and race venue. They bring in water and massive tents for the pasta party and temporary housing for the 1000 students from nearby California Polytechnic State University who comprise the majority of their volunteer staff.

What Terry’s crew doesn’t build, however, are temporary four-star hotels. Instead, 80-85% of the participants, along with their friends and families, are camping or RV-ing it up in the area surrounding Lake San Antonio, creating a sprawling make-shift city comprised mostly of triathletes. This is why the Wildflower Experience is often referred to as the “Woodstock of Triathlon” or the “Burning Man of Triathlon” and this is why I am SO EXCITED to head to the Wildflower Experience this May.

Just picture it: thousands upon thousands of triathletes and their sherpa crews, hanging out and listening to music and discussing how much time they spend in zone 2 and whether they train by heart rate or pace or power or feel and the weekly workout that increased their FTP by 10% and the swim drill that instantly shaved five seconds off their 100m pace and the merits of living solely off of gel blocks versus a strict keto diet. I mean if this doesn’t sound like heaven to you (and sheer hell to my husband) then you have a much more balanced approach to triathlon than I do.

So, maybe this Triathlete City is heaven and maybe it’s more like an asylum for uber-fit individuals. Either way, it’s also temporary home to the pros who take part in the Wildflower Experience – pros like defending champs Jesse Thomas and Liz Lyles, who could conceivably be in the camping spot right next to yours. You could give Jesse some suggestions for new Picky Bars flavors, and ask Liz some advice on the best way to handle “Beach Hill” while you cook your pre-race breakfast over a shared campfire. I mean, if that’s not a unique racing experience, I don’t know what is.

Great Things To Know About the Wildflower Experience

DATES
Saturday, May 5th, 2018
• Long-course (70.3) triathlon
• Off-road sprint distance triathlon

Sunday, May 6th, 2018
• Olympic distance triathlon
• Sprint distance triathlon

THE LONG-COURSE RACE
• 1.2 mile swim; 56 mile bike; 13.1 mile run.
• The bike course has 3600 feet of elevation gain, including the climb up “Beach Hill” right out of the gate and “Nasty Grade” at mile 42.
• The run is partially on roads and partially on trails, including some nice, challenging hills.

THE OLYMPIC DISTANCE RACE
• 1.5k swim (0.9 miles); 40k bike (24.8 miles); 6.2 mile run.
• The bike course is challenging, including “Lynch Hill” and “Heartrate Hill.”
• Like the long-course route, the run is partially on roads and partially on trails. And, you know, hills.

THE OFF-ROAD RACE
• 0.25 mile swim; 8.5 mile bike; 2 mile run. And, you guessed it, hills.

THE SPRINT DISTANCE RACE
• 0.25 mile swim; 20k bike (12.4 miles); 3 mile run.
• The Sprint is new for 2018 and course details are not yet available. I’m assuming there are hills.

SPECIAL BRAGGING RIGHTS
• Wildflower Squared: Long-course on Saturday + Olympic distance on Sunday!

LOGISTICS
Keep your eyes out for a future 303 Triathlon article with a “How To Wildflower” primer. For now:
• If you want to book flights, the closest major airport is San Jose; San Francisco and Oakland are also decent options.
• Pro Bike Express is offering bike transport plus will bring your tent and sleeping bag for you. Sign up here to reserve your spot!

REGISTER FOR THE WILDFLOWER EXPERIENCE HERE!