Sunday, October 4, 2009

Levi's Gran Fondo

Levi Leipheimer, the US racer, lives and trains in Santa Rosa area and conceived of a Gran Fondo, a tradition in Italy, as a way to enhance further cycling in the area and a way to raise money for a variety of causes, including bring the Tour de California back to Santa Rosa. A Gran Fondo, e.g., the Gran Fondo Campagnolo, is a race, in the sense that it is timed, but open to the masses, and I mean masses. Several thousand riders typically participate in a Gran Fondo, and there were the maximum 3500 signed up for Levi's. A Fondo typically includes rides of several distances, and Levi's had a Piccolo Fondo of 35 miles, a Medio Fondo of 65 miles and the Gran Fondo of 100 miles.

I'd signed up way back in May when it was first announced, not thinking that it would attract so many riders. The only other ride that compares is the Death Ride. The difference being that, whereas Death Riders start pretty much whenever they want, everyone started at the same time in the Fondo. Well, notionally, as obviously you can't just unleash 3500 riders on the street at the same time. The way it worked was that we all lined up in a snake-like formation in the parking lot of the Finley Community Park, supposedly order by riding speed. The snake started rolling at 8:15, but it was a good 10 minutes before our segment rode through the start/finish arch.

I'm used to showing up and riding pretty much straight away, so this a little strange. Particularly as I chose not to spend any more money on hotels for bike rides and so drove up the morning of the event. Registration was from 6:00 to 7:30 and the organizers had been warning of parking problems and long lines at registration on the day. Evidently they scared enough people into arriving Friday evening because the word was that registration Friday was a zoo, whereas it was a breeze on Saturday, as was the parking, as they had lots of office parking lots available close by. But I still had a lot of time to kill after registering. I knew several people who were planning to ride and met up with fellow double century veteran Becky, and several old friends from her previous cycling club in Beverley Hills.

In the snake waiting to start

The organizers certainly had the roads well covered with volunteers and all the junctions out of town had police stopping traffic and waving the riders through.
Overall the standard of route marking was excellent and the rest stops were well stocked and the volunteers were very helpful. I didn't care much for the energy drink they provided, so stuck to water and the Hammer gel I had brought with me.

At first the ride went fine as we traveled on the mostly straight roads heading towards Sebastopol. There were also lots of people out cheering and ringing cowbells, like it was a real race, which continued for most of the day. Unfortunately, as soon as we hit the hills and a few sharp turns, the sheer number of riders caused major bottlenecks, and we came to a stop several times. It thinned out again on the Bohemian Highway on the way to Monte Rio but this was ride where, like the Death Ride, there is never a moment when you can't see a cyclist either ahead or behind you. At Monte Rio, and the first rest stop, the Medio Fondo turned off, so the number of riders thinned out some more, but 1500 were signed up for the Gran Fondo, so not by a huge amount.

The Beverley Hills Gang (and me) at Cazadero rest stop

After riding on 116 by the Russian River for a while we turned right towards Cazadero, and another rest stop, before tackling the climb up to King Ridge, the focus of the ride. I had never ridden this segment before and it is a good as advertized. It's a tough climb up to the ridge, similar to Kings Mountain, and then great views and a steadier climb to the high point. I always like ridge hikes and ridge rides are just as good. There's something special about riding high above everything. I ran into Randy and Chris, also friends met on doubles, on the climb but unfortunately never met up with then at lunch as hoped. Perhaps they stopped at the lemonade stop, which we passed on. After a partial descent we hit the lunch stop which included some nice Italian bread sandwiches to set the Fondo tone.

Lunch Stop

The volunteers were warning newbies about the descent immediately after lunch and it was pretty technical. It looked like one guy had crashed and later we saw an ambulance headed that way. The descent was short and only led to another climb, one that went on way longer than I expected. Not having studied the map carefully I had assumed that we went over the ridge to the coast and then down Hwy 1. In fact, we climbed steadily up to another ridge that paralleled the coast. I finally figured this when I caught sight of the ocean and realized that we were riding parallel to it.

Eventually we had to get down and we rode past two signs warning of 18% grade, only to find ourselves still doing rollers on the ridge. Finally, at the third sign, you could see we were finally going down as the coastline was spread out before us.

Final warning!

It was a truly epic and fun descent and only truly steep at the very top. We came onto Hwy 1 just before the town of Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River. The wind was really blowing on the coast, fortunately from the North West, and provided a great tail wind all the way to the start of the Coleman Valley climb. We were cruising at 20mph just soft pedaling and hitting 30 with nominal effort. The frequent left to right bends around creek entrances on Hwy 1 were great fun, as the full force of the wind was behind you entering the bend.

Coleman Valley is a tough climb from the coast, although not up to Fort Ross standards. It was my third time on it this year and the first time it was not socked in by fog. The views were great but since we were now riding NE, we were constantly buffeted by side winds once we got up onto the ridge.

Looking North from Coleman Valley climb

Eventually we reached the cover of the trees and started the descent and climb out to Occidental. Unlike on the Mt Tam double, this time I managed to stay on the right side of the road on the hairpin on the descent. The warning signs posted by the organizers were a timely reminder and now I think I know what happened on the Mt Tam ride. I remember having real trouble bleeding off speed before the bend. It turns out that the surface just before the bend is incredibly bumpy and I think I just flew into it last time so had reduced braking effect.

After the final rest stop at Occidental it was an easy run in, reversing the morning route, until they routed us onto an unpaved bike path for a couple miles. Not a pleasant experience on a road bike! Eventually we hit paved roads again and then were riding back into the park and through the finish arc, to yet more cheering and cowbells.

After dumping the bike in the van and a quick rub-down and change of clothes it was back to enjoy the post ride meal and a can of beer. Although I never saw Levi on his bike, I did get to see him at the post ride press conference. They are keen to make this an annual event and I think that would be a great thing for cycling in the area. Would I personally do it again? I'm not sure. I've got somewhat spoiled by the low rider numbers at double century rides, and there is no doubt that the accident risk is increased with large numbers of riders, not all of whom ride safely. However, it bears repeating that the ride was extremely well organized, the traffic was very light and it is a great route. So maybe!

Complete photo album on Facebook.

Ride Stats
Total ride time: 8:12
On bike time: 7:16
Distance: 103 miles
Total Climb: 8940'
Avg speed: 14.0 mph

Monday, September 28, 2009

White Mountain Double

This double intrigued me since, like the Alta Alpina 8-pass challenge, it was new to CTC this year and also claimed great views of one of my favorite places, the Sierra Nevada. Plus, one of my new biking friends, Becky, had ridden the test ride last year, and recommended it.

It's a long drive to Bishop from the Bay Area and my memories of June's ill-fated Eastern Sierra double still linger. On that drive, I had to go over 88 instead of Tioga Pass, as the latter was closed for snow. This time the temperatures threatened the other way, with a forecast high of 97F in Bishop on ride day. This could mean triple digits for the desert areas we would be riding through in the heat of the day.

Traffic was light, as the tourist season is winding down, and it was a pleasant drive over the Tioga Pass. I usually like to have a short warm-up ride the day before so, although it was getting late, I stopped off just before Mammoth Lakes and rode around the June Lake loop, a nice 20 miler, with a fun descent down 395 to get back to the car. This meant that it was already dark by the time I got to Bishop and checked in.

This was a timed ride and there were two start times, 4:15 and 5:15, with strong encouragement to take the earlier time for all but the fastest riders. That's not me, so I was ready to go at 4:15. In the pre-ride briefing, the organizers made a big thing about not switch-backing on the White Mountain climb, due to faster riders descending. The suggestion being that the climb was going to be uber-steep.

About two thirds of the riders, who numbered 96 in all, started at 4:15. It was pleasantly cool in Bishop and, knowing how hot it was likely to be later, I was just wearing a sleeveless vest and no arm or leg warmers. I almost regretted this as the temperature dived noticeably as we left the town limits and got progressively colder as we climbed. First, however, we had about 15 miles to go down 395 to Big Pine. There was almost no traffic but at one point a police car came by and told us all to move onto the shoulder. Not legally required, of course, and only a few people complied partly as you had to cross the nasty rumble strip to get onto the shoulder. Of course, in normal traffic, it makes perfect sense to ride on the shoulder but it seemed quite unnecessary at this time.

Soon we were turning left onto 168 and starting the climb. We quickly passed the turn to Death Valley, where we had gone on the Eastern Sierra ride, and settled in for the long climb of over 6000'. This would be my longest and highest climb on a bike. It's quite hard to tell the grade in the dark, but it didn't seem overly hard anywhere. Mostly I was concerned about how much colder it was going to get! At one point I heard a rider in front of me evidently talking about the Gold Rush Randonnee, and then I realized that he was talking to Kerin Huber, who I have met on several doubles. So I pulled alongside and introduced myself. It turned out to be Chris Hanson, a name I recognized as he is also a friend of Becky. We rode together up to the first rest stop, at a left turn off 168 that heads up to the Schulman Grove, the top of the climb. Chris announced that it was 45F at this point. The good news was that the sun was just starting to touch the hillside ahead so I knew that we would feel its warmth very soon. However, I could have used a hot chocolate at this point rather than iced water! Anticipating hot conditions, I was wearing a Camelbak for the first time ever. Normally, I hate things on my back when I am riding, but the small Camelbak wasn't bothering me so far, and it was a convenient delivery mechanism.

Kerin and Chris had rushed off, so I climbed the second phase solo. The climb certainly had some steep pitches but they tended to level out quickly before picking up again. So it didn't have that relentless grade that makes a climb really tough. There was another rest stop midway, and I loaded up with a few more calories.

Sierra Nevada from White Mountain Climb

The final 1000' was quite tough and it was good to crest over a rise and see that there was a short descent to the grove and rest stop. We were given a bit more weight to carry at this point, by way of a spent CO2 cartridge, with a White Mountain sticker. Supposedly we were to hand this in at the finish as proof of reaching the summit.

Bristlecone Pines at the Schulman Grove

The descent was somewhat technical, with a sharp drop off to the right side at first. The 5:15 starters were coming up the lower section as I descended and many of these would overtake me as the ride progressed. The rest stop at the base was all packed up and ready to move on but they said it was all downhill to next stop in the Deep Springs valley. The ensuing descent down 168 to the valley was really fun, twisty, but clear sight lines and no traffic. It eventually started to flatten out and you could see the road streaking straight as an arrow through the valley floor. We were definitely in a new environment now, extremely dry, flat, valley floor, with alluvial fans flowing from the mountains flanking it. No sign of human habitation anywhere.

Descent to Deep Springs Valley

The rest stop was at the far end of the valley where I met up with Kerin again. The staff were being very hygiene conscious and I almost got my wrists slapped for helping myself to a potato; they insisted on serving us. Kerin and I rode off together towards the short climb through Gilbert Pass, which was followed by a long downhill into another valley called, ironically, Fish Lake. We were going to be in this valley for quite a long time, including the lunch stop outside a bar called Boonies in Dyer. Lunch was at an early 89 miles, as opposed to the more typical 110. Not much choice really, as this was essentially the only habitation on the entire route. On the way to lunch we crossed into Nevada. For a while we rode two abreast but I was having trouble keeping at Kerin's pace, so in the end I drafted her into lunch, which was very agreeable! Fish Lake valley actually has some agriculture, hence the human habitation. They must be pumping water from an underground acquifier.

After lunch it was more of the same. We tried to guess the distance to landmarks, which looked close but were typically five miles away. Eventually we started a gradual climb out of the valley, and reached a welcome water stop, as it was pretty hot by this point. Although the road continued onto Bishop, we had to get our 200 miles in, so we turned right, up a short climb, and then down past some very colorful hills into, yes, you guessed it, another valley, this one even bigger than the previous two. The valleys and ranges just go on and on in Nevada; you can go all the way to Salt Lake City through endless terrain like this.

The Road to Nowhere

This valley was a little more busy with traffic as Hwy 6 runs through it from Bishop and connects with Hwy 95 that heads to Las Vegas. To make the mileage we actually turned right on 6 and continued to the junction with 95 and the famous "smoothie" rest stop. They were good, made with fresh peaches. I was getting concerned about sun exposure at this point and was disappointed to find that there were no public supplies at the rest stop; fortunately I was able to "borrow" some from one of the volunteers.

The Smoothie Rest Stop

It's always good when you reach the turnaround point in a long ride and this was it. All we had left to do was the 78 miles on Hwy 6 back to Bishop. The bad news was that it was now the hottest part of the day and we had a long climb ahead of us. Riding on the flat in the valleys provided a breeze just from the bike speed but as we started to climb that disappeared and it started to get uncomfortable. I had been drafting Kerin on the flats and holding my own on the hills but, as the grade crept up slowly towards the climb, I couldn't hold her pace and had to let her go. The grade increased steadily; since the road is dead straight, you can see it rising, seemingly forever, in front of you, which is mentally tough. On a typical twisty climb, you don't quite know what's coming, which allows for a more optimistic attitude. After all, it could end just around the corner!

There was another welcome water stop midway and then easier going to the real rest stop at a junction just before the final climb to Montgomery Pass. I was tired enough to sit in a chair for a while, eat a PBJ and drink a V8 and a Coke. Then off to tackle the final climb. I mistakenly thought we had to climb to 7800', another 1500', so I was very happy when I saw the summit at 7100'. The descent from here to Benton was memorable, ten miles long, initially a few bends but then a long straight run out.

Boundary Peak on descent from Montgomery Pass

At Benton, now back in California, was the final "soup station" rest stop. Sounds good, but it was only CupNoodles. The home-made Miso soup at the Sunol rest stop on the Devil Mountain Double still takes first prize for cuisine. One very nice touch, however, was the bottles of Starbucks Frappucino. I poured two of these into my water bottle for the final 40 miles.

Forty miles is a long way on a bike. Even if you average 20, it's two more hours in the saddle, and at the end of a double it can seem interminable. It was light when I started, but clearly it was going to be dark by the finish. After a few miles a paceline of four guys came past and invited me to hop on, which I did. This upped the average speed to about 22, with about 2 minute pulls each. Strangely, at the end of my third pull, I looked behind and saw that they had dropped off; odd as I hadn't been pushing the pace. Shortly after that I caught up with the amazing Gerd, who is 76, and still puts in very creditable times. He had drafted me for a while on Mt Tam, so I offered to pull him in to the finish. Not much later the paceline caught us up and we hopped on again. It was dark by now, which makes pacelines even more tricky, so I was watching the wheel in front of me very carefully. And yet again, they dropped off, this time on my second pull. Too bad, now I had to pull on my own for the final ten miles. The temperature was dropping now and the cool air was very refreshing. We could see the lights of Bishop but they seemed to get closer very, very slowly. Eventually the road turned west and I knew we were on the last leg to the junction with 395. A short jog up main street and we rolled in to the Ramada at about 20:15.

Overall a good ride, one that would be impossible without organized rest stops (or towing a trailer with supplies). It would be good to do in a group of 4-6, to be able to paceline or chat through the somewhat boring flat sections.

A more complete set of photos can be be found in my Facebook album.

Ride Stats:
Total time: 16:00
On bike time: 14:06
Distance: 198.3 miles
Climbing: 11808'
Avg Speed: 14.1 mph

"Winning" the Triple Crown

In my previous post on the Knoxville double, I mentioned the California Triple Crown (CTC) Awards breakfast and the fact that first-time winners like me were asked to identify ourselves and enumerate the rides we had done. (A "winner" is anyone who completes three doubles in a single year, although "earn" might be more accurate since you are only competing against yourself). In the interests of time everyone kept it brief, but I'm sure some people would have liked to have said more about their experience. So here is what I would liked to have said.

Hi, my name is Mick Jordan and I've been a bike commuter all my life, but I only started recreational riding a couple of years ago, when my knees told me that it might be a good idea to give up running and playing soccer. On my very first and then longest organized ride of 78 miles in 2007 (The Tour de Cure), I drafted a rider wearing one of these Triple Crown jerseys. To be accurate I was just following him, as I didn't now about drafting then. I remember thinking, wow, 200 miles in one day, how is that possible, he must have been a lot younger when he did that. But looking around this audience I see that I was wrong on that one! In fact the average age of CTC riders is surprisingly high. The next year, when I rode the Death Ride, I saw more of these jerseys and finally had to ask people how they did it. The answers boiled down to riding longer and longer until you get there. So no magic secret.

I was intrigued, but I still had my doubts. In fact. in January of this year, I made a decision not to try for the CTC. At that time I decided that there was something crazy about a bike ride that you couldn't finish in daylight (I didn't know about randonneuring then). But it kept nagging at me until I decided I had to try one, so I signed up for the Solvang double, which is correctly advertised as a good first double. I slowly built up my training mileage until I got close to 200 miles and had a good time at Solvang, meeting and riding with some great people. I also had my first experience of riding in a paceline, which was fun, and I hope not too scary for the people behind me.

Next up was the Devil Mountain Double, from the sublime to the ridiculous! Although I like climbing, I was really quite nervous about the DMD, but I had a great time, discovering how a group of people can help each other conquer adversity. Finishing the DMD in a reasonable time is still the highlight of my year, and it is unquestionably my favorite ride so far, one that I plan to ride every year from here on. By this point I was hooked!

Next came Davis where in the 100 degree weather I had my low point, feeling as tired as I have ever felt on a bike at the top of the Resurrection climb. I was so tired at the end that when I called my wife I told her I was alive but beyond further conversation and I'd call in the morning.

Then I DNF'ed by choice at 6500' on the Easter Sierra, not wanting to risk hypothermia in the hail and snow on a re-routed ride that I wasn't mentally enthused about doing. I still don't regret that decision and I had fun climbing Tioga pass in the afternoon instead. The next week was Alta Alpina, where I took (and used) my ski pants and gloves, and just barely made the cut-off for the 8th pass. A great ride destined to be a classic in the CTC series.

I didn't really want to do the Terrible Two so soon after Alta Alpina, but a co-worker was riding it, so we car-pooled and room-shared. I was really, really, unsure I could make the 10pm cut-off for this ride as I hadn't completed a hilly double in less than 18 hours, but cool weather helped me to finish in 15 hours, which I still can't quite believe, the only double I completed in daylight. My co-worker, who's admittedly half my age, came in an impressive 28th!

The year was rounded out with Mt. Tam and Knoxville, with White Mountain to come, and then I'm done. My only regret is missing the Central Coast due to family commitments, which prevented me from completing the Stage Race series. I've had a great time, made some great new friends, and been impressed by everyone I've met. There are some truly awesome people in the CTC. It's a great organization and the volunteers are fantastic. I exceeded my initial goal of the Triple Crown and made it into the Gold Thousand mile club, which will be my annual goal from here on out.

A big thanks to everyone who helped and supported me this year, especially my wife Jenny, who had to put up with a lot of weekend absences!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Knoxville Double

So where is Knoxville you ask? Prior to this ride I had no idea. Well, it's not an actual place, at least not any more. A ghost town perhaps? It is a recreation area managed by the BLM, close to Lake Berryessa, and there are several roads like the Berryessa-Knoxville road suggesting there might have been something more there in the past. Anyway, it is out in the boonies, and is the logical center around which this ride forms a figure of eight.

Knoxville is put on by the Quackcyclists, an informal group of dedicated cycling enthusiasts, who also put on the more famous Devil Mountain Double in the spring. They have a well deserved reputation for very well organized events. There is a also a tradition of holding the California Triple Crown (CTC) Awards Breakfast on the Sunday morning after the ride.

I decided it was time to put something back into the CTC by volunteering at this double. There are many ways to do this including manning rest stops on the day of the ride but, since I wanted to ride, I decided to help out on Friday getting the food for the rest stops and packing it all up ready for the volunteers to collect on Saturday morning. There are six rest stops and about 250 riders to provision for, which makes for a lot of food and drink. I left Palo Alto at 7am and was busy until about 4pm, including a trip to Costco. Now I know what those big flatcarts are for!

It got pretty toasty in the afternoon, about 102F, which had me a bit worried as this ride heads into some pretty hot and dry terrain with not a lot of shade, similar to the Davis Double. Fortunately the forecast was for a small cool off, but clearly the afternoon temperature was going to be in the 90s.

As I'm checking into the hotel where many Knoxville riders are staying, I notice that the woman checking in ahead of me has both a prosthetic leg and a Lance Armstrong bracelet, so I ask her if she is riding tomorrow and she says yes. More on this story later.

This isn't a timed event, and they let you start early so I decided to try to beat the heat on the morning climbs by starting at 4:30. The ride starts and ends in Pena Adobe park in Vacaville and quickly heads west and then north into the back country. I ran into Ken Shoemaker and Kitty Goursolle at the start, who are well known randonneurs, and recently completed the 2009 Gold Rush Randonnee, which covers 750 miles with a 90 hour time limit. They were proudly wearing their recently arrived commemorative jerseys. I'd never actually met either of these two in person but had met Kitty virtually on Facebook through a mutual friend. So it was neat to meet them in the flesh and chat to them as we rode out through the suburbs of Vacaville. It was already warm, about 70F.

We were riding in a small group for a while and then Ken and I ended up pulling away a bit as we climbed up Mount George before a fast descent into the Napa Valley. The temperature took a big dive as we descended into the valley, dropping about 20F, and I almost wished I had a jacket with me. We cruised up the Silverado trail for a few miles into the first rest stop at about 36 miles, which we had covered in just over two hours. The sun was up now, although still hidden by the hills we had just come over.

First light at rest stop #1 in Napa Valley

Ballooning is a popular activity in the Napa Valley and they were getting an early start today

The next segment was easy going with a nice paceline on the remainder of the Silverado trail, then through some pretty countryside in the Pope valley before the first real climb over Mount Howell. A sprightly guy passes me but I catch him at the top and we get chatting. He's about my age and happy to be back in employment after several years of semi-forced retirement. Later in the day I see him walking his bike up a hill with leg cramps. He managed to finish the ride, I'm happy to report. The route sheet warned of the "wicked fast" descent off the ridge and indeed it was like a bob sled run with some nasty increasing radius turns. The road surface was unusually good however. I'm sure racers would reach 50mph here. On the short climb to the west shore of Lake Berryessa, I chatted to a 71 year old ex-racer from England. Will I still be doing doubles in my 70s I wonder? I didn't notice at the time but evidently I lost a water bottle on the bumpy descent down to the rest stop by the lake. Since I did not want have to do the rest of the ride with only one bottle I climbed back up to look for it, but it was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, Mike Deitchman, who was working the rest stop, offered me a spare. Unfortunately, it was only available because he had had to drop out of the ride owing to a fractured bike-frame. Later I would learn that there was more to this story.

At this rest stop I met up with Lego Andy, who I had ridden with at Solvang, when we were both riding our first double, and then on the Waves to Wine ride as he is the team captain for Tivo. Andy was riding this one solo so we teamed up and would ride together almost to the end.

Mick and Andy at Rest Stop #2

Climbing up from Lake Berryessa

The next segment is the one that I wanted to get over before it got hot as it is a long slow climb, with a steep finish, of about 20 miles. Up till now the temperature had been pleasant but the morning clouds were gone and the sun was beginning to bake the earth. Lots of streams crossed the road, which was in a valley, with primitive concrete fords. Generally the road surface was poor; not a much traveled road. Saw people walking along the road carrying shotguns as this is a hunting area. Glad we weren't considered prey. You could see that we had a climb ahead as there was a massive cliff covering the view ahead that we somehow had to get over. Eventually it got steeper and hotter and we saw some people walking their bikes, not something you see much on doubles. We met up with Debra, who I rode for while with at the DMD and Mt Tam. We were glad to see the mini-rest stop at the top, at over 2000', as we our water bottles were nearly empty.

Andy climbing past scorched earth on Knoxville Rd

We still had 15 miles to go to the lunch stop, but there was a great downhill to start. Unfortunately, one one section we both hit a rut in the road and Andy drew the short straw and got a pinch flat. Pretty efficient tube change and Lee Mitchell's SAG wagon arrived on the scene in a timely manner with a foot pump to avoid having to use a CO2 cartridge.

There was a bit more climbing before lunch, and the route markers had exceeded themselves by spray painting "last climb before lunch, honest" on the last (big) hill. Lunch was at a small park in Lower Lake under a great open but roofed area with tables and benches. Nice burrito assembled on the spot and lots of fruit, salty snacks and V8 juice. We're feeling a bit pooped at this point and probably stayed too long.

The toughest climb is after lunch, as often seems to be the case! There were rumors that there was an eight mile flat run in, but this proved to be false and we start climbing, albeit gently, almost straight away. This climb is up Cobb Mountain going to 3000'. We were doing it in the reverse direction from the Davis double. In fact, much of the route back follows the Davis double in reverse. It's probably the hottest part of the day, definitely in the 90s, and much of the climb is in the sun, so it's tough. We stop at one point in some shade for a break; remember it's not a race! The altitude does moderate the temperature a bit, the grade lessens, and the larger pine trees start to provide more shade so the the final section is quite enjoyable. The descent on the back side is fast and long, on mostly good road surface. The sign warning of 11% grade is a hint that it's going to be fast.

It is a long descent all the way down to Middletown, which we pass through quickly - there's not much population in this area - thankfully. Shortly afterwards we come across an SUV being pulled out of a ditch and CHP holding cars in the opposite direction. There were no cars ahead of us and none behind so, as we had been most of the day, we are two abreast. As we passed the officer he said "you can't ride two abreast", which surprised me. Subsequent research shows that this is a somewhat muddy and often misinterpreted area of the law in California, as described here. A close reading of the law, however, makes it clear that the officer was incorrect. Since there was no same direction traffic, the normal "ride as close as practicable to the right" rule does not apply.

A little later, after we turned off and were on a really long straight road with hardly any traffic, again we ride two abreast, but going single when a car approaches. A few cars pass us by pulling into the center of the road, leaving plenty of room, nothing usually coming the other way. Then this truck comes up. I move over in plenty of time but he doesn't pull to the left at all, and passes us with maybe 1-2 ft clearance. We both are a bit spooked and use our arms and voices to indicate he should have moved over. About 30 yards up the road he stops and puts the truck into reverse. We're thinking the guns are coming out next! We probably should have just stayed behind but we overtake him and I can't help mentioning the 3 feet of clearance. He says to "stay off the road" or words to that effect. Now I'm worried he might run us off the road but thankfully he just passes us, this time with reasonable clearance. Reminder to self: must stop engaging with bike-unfriendly motorists!

It's much the same crew from rest stop #2 who've moved to rest stop #4 by Detert Lake, where a slight breeze is blowing, but it's still hot. We have now done two thirds of the distance, which is one of the tough points in a double, much of it mental. At least there isn't a big climb ahead of us as there is on some of the tougher doubles. However, we're both feeling quite tired. I decide I've had enough of flavored energy drinks and switch completely to water with just a squeeze flask of concentrated chocolate and espresso Hammer Gel. It tastes good and washes down well with water. The other virtue of water is that you can pour it on your head when it gets two hot. I put some pieces of ice in the gaps in my helmet as a slow release equivalent. It's great until it runs down onto my sunglasses. Jason, who I met at the same time as Andy at Solvang, comes in complaining about leg cramps. He isn't reduced to walking but can't stand on the pedals or push hard. Evidently the heat is taking it's toll.

Leaving Rest Stop #4

It's twenty five miles to the next rest stop on the south-east corner of Lake Berryessa, mostly easy going with some rollers, then a short climb and twisty descent to the lake. The sun is starting to drop but it is still beating down on the exposed rest stop. Ken and Kitty are there and leave ahead of us. Then mutual friend Becky arrives on her own, wearing her new stage race jersey, just as we are leaving. She's in a good mood as she's coping well with the heat.

There are several short climbs on the next section and I can see that Andy wants to get done, whereas I'm too tired to push the pace, so I tell him to go ahead while I soft pedal the hills. About halfway I get caught by Becky and we ride the remainder of the way together. Here I learn that Mike's frame damage was actually caused by a four bike paceline crash that she was involved in. Fortunately, no-one was hurt.

It's true that as we get closer to the central valley it's getting hotter even though the sun has set behind us by now. By the time we get to the final rest stop it's dark but hotter again. Ken and Kitty are still there, so we must have made good time. We don't dally as the finish is only thirteen miles away and real Italian food awaits us. The run in on Pleasant Valley Rd is fairly traffic free but, oddly, several cars coming the opposite way blows their horns at us when we are riding two abreast. I've read that the new LED lights like mine can seem like main beam car headlights to oncoming drivers, so perhaps that is what they were complaining about. Or maybe we just made them nervous.

The post ride meal is great, really good food, and ice cream bars for dessert. I think I had three. My opinion is that the post-ride meal, although not ubiquitous, is one of the best parts of double centuries, as it is a time to wind down, swap stories and generally bask in the feeling of achievement. Just packing up an driving off after such an adventure doesn't seem quite right.

Some people are driving back home but others like me are staying for the annual CTC Awards Breakfast which takes place at the park at 8am next morning. All us first time CTC "winners" get to identify ourselves and say what doubles we did to get the triple crown. The real purpose of the event though is to induct people who have done 50 doubles into the CTC Hall of Fame. This is done in mystery style as information about the person's history is revealed by the CTC head honcho, Chuck Bramwell, who is apt to get a bit choked up over some of the stories. He does a great job, and keeps things moving along at a good pace. Some of the stories are impressive and Chuck's favorite line is "Is that inspirational or what"! The most emotional story relates to Karen, the woman I met at the hotel check-in. It turns out that she has an incredible athletic history including many IronMan triathlon finishes and double century rides. She was hit by a car a couple of years ago and suffered a badly damaged ankle. After trying for months to rehabilitate it after surgery, she eventually decided to have it amputated and be fitted with the prosthetic leg. She completed her 50th double on Saturday and was duly inducted into the Hall of Fame. Her incredibly positive attitude that came through in her acceptance speech was, indeed, truly inspirational.

Ride Stats

Total Ride Time: 16:24
On Bike Time: 14:07
Distance: 203.5 miles
Total Climb: 13460'
Avg Speed: 14.4 mph

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Waves to Wine 2009

The Sun Team

Finally after the months of build up, the day arrives. We're done fund raising, in a difficult year, so all that remains is the actual ride of 150 miles from San Francisco to Healdsburg over two days. Since I am riding this with Jenny on the tandem, it's equivalent to back to back century rides on my single bike.

On Friday I check the weather forecast and see they are predicting showers for Sunday afternoon. Not what I wanted to hear as it might spoil the the end of ride festivities at Lake Sonoma. What they don't predict is the thunderstorm that wakes me at 4am on Saturday morning. Not a good omen. We're up at 5:30 and on our way to San Francisco just after 6am, to the new starting venue at UCSF Mission Bay campus. We are treated to a fine lightning display as we drive north, which looks nice but is a bit unsettling for the ride prospects. The UCSF campus isn't quite as convenient as last year's AT&T parking lot, as it's a lot more congested and has a parking garage. We are fortunate to have a VIP parking pass due to being in the top 150 fund raisers last year, which allows us to avoid the garage, but the VIP lot is tight and almost full already. We see Mary Jo in the same lot, but it's clearly going to be tricky meeting up with the rest of the team. Cell phones do have their uses! We dump our bags on the truck that will drive up to tent village in Cotati.

The teams get a head start and can leave at 7am but, after finally coalescing as a team, we don't get off until 7:15, riding through a fairly narrow causeway onto the streets. Then it's along the waterfront all the way to the Golden Gate bridge. It's not raining but the road is wet and there are plenty of slippery metal hazards on the roads. There are a lot of cyclists; some 2000 registered for the event, a few probably got put off by the weather.

Already the endless parade of cyclists fixing flats has begun; it's always worse in the wet. With the number of riders out and the wet conditions, the path up to the Golden Gate bridge is pretty tricky, especially for the tandem's long wheelbase. I'm glad to get off the bridge. which is over a mile long, as we are constantly being buzzed by faster single riders and there are tricky, slippery, chicanes at the towers. We enjoy the descent into Sausalito and, as typically happens on the tandem, pass a few singles. It seems they have moved the rest stop this year from the mudflat next to Mike's Bikes to a big parking lot a bit further on. This is much better, there are lots of portaloos (crucial for the first rest stop!) and the food is better than last year (so they did hear my feedback)! We lost everybody on the team on the ride to here but meet up with those not doing the 100 mile option, who have raced ahead. In particular we pickup John Pither whose goal evidently is to draft the tandem for as long as he can, which turns out to be the entire two days.

Thunder is rumbling again and I wonder what the next section over the hills to the coast is going to be like. Fortunately it's early, and the weather is not encouraging for a beach day, so traffic is reasonably light, which is good, as the ascent to Ridgeway is really twisty and narrow. We meet Lego Andy, who I rode with on the Solvang double century (it was the first double for both of us), on the way wearing his Tivo ears. Andy is doing the 100 mile option, of course. I'll probably ride some with him next week at the Knoxville double so we part company today. The climb is long enough to get the heart pumping and as we near the crest the clouds come down and the wind picks up; altogether unpleasant. We stop for me to put my jacket back on and head off down to Mill Valley. Once off the top the conditions improve and the road is actually dry so it's fun. After passing the Pelican Inn, the closest thing to an English country pub that I know of in these parts, we start the steepest climb of the ride up to the coastal ridge. It starts raining again but eases off quickly. This climb has some 10%+ sections of grade and it's longer than I remember and I call the summit too soon, to the chagrin of Jenny and John. Most single riders would pass us on the hills even if they match our speed on the flat, but John elects to stay behind us up the hills also, to avoid going too fast and blowing up.

Once on the ridge, it's rollers for a couple of miles before the descent into Stinson Beach. This is usually fast and a lot of fun but today the road is very wet at this point and my legs get covered in dirty road spray and we have to take it slow on the bends. John is honing his downhill drafting skills. There has evidently been an accident at the stop sign in Stinson, but we can't see what happened. The Stinson Beach rest stop is in the beach parking lot and, unlike last year when they had run out of pretty much everything, they are well stocked. We must have been right at the back of the pack last year because there seem to be a lot more riders around us this year.

A damp Jenny and Mick at Stinson Beach Rest Stop

Long ride from here to Point Reyes with lots of rollers and just one significant climb through Dogtown and then past the section where Garland crashed last year. John is still drafting. We nearly get cut up by the tail rider on a fast moving paceline that is too close for my comfort. On the section between Olema and Point Reyes we experience the seemingly obligatory bad interaction with a car. Sadly ironic because Jenny had earlier expressed the hope that we could get through the day without such an incident. We're approaching a slower rider and in my mirror I can see two cars close together behind, then a gap to a third car. I make the judgement that we can pass the slow rider in the gap. As we draw level the rider calls out "Car back"(she is wearing a mirror also). We pull past and in and the car now blows his horn as he overtakes and then the passenger leans out and screams "%^$#*&! ride single file". His tattoos are scary. I foolishly escalate the confrontation by giving the guy the finger. Darn male hormones! Jenny says the slow rider called out "asshole" and was sure that she was referring to me and not the car. We argue about whether the incident was my fault or not all the way to Point Reyes. My opinion is that the car occupants weren't keen on cyclists period and had become increasingly frustrated over the course of several miles passing the endless stream of cyclists some of whom, it must be said, were riding two abreast even when not overtaking.

Although it's still early, I wish the Point Reyes rest stop was the lunch stop as it's over halfway, but we have lots more rollers to deal with before that. The 100 mile route peels off here following the Mt Tam double route inland and onto the Marshall wall. Since it also includes another 2000' of climbing it adds about 3 hours to ther ride, and we are not ready for that, so we stay on the 75 mile route along the coast. Eventually we arrive at the lunch stop, where it was sunny last year and very picturesque on Tomales Bay. Not so today, as it's still overcast. The burrito is a bit dense and uninteresting but real food is welcome.

Only twenty miles to go now as we head inland on the Tomales-Petaluma road which has been paved since last year and is much improved as a result. A couple of steep climbs but we have a tail wind and make great time to the last rest stop. It's almost not worth stopping but Jenny's getting a bit saddle sore so any opportunity to stop is welcome. The final run in seems very fast and we arrive at the tent city in Cotati just before 3pm. The cool weather really helped on the stretch after lunch which would normally be pretty hot. John drafted us the whole way.

Last year we were so tired we just went straight to the hotel but this year we are going to shower in the amazing shower trucks (what a great invention), and enjoy the free food and wine, after parking the bike in the bike corral. Team Sun has again raised enough money to get a shade tent with tables and chairs, but sadly we don't have a banner this year. We are right between Tivo and Google. No sign of the 100 milers yet, so we hang out drinking, eating and chatting. It's partly sunny here and very comfortable.

Mick and Jenny at the Sun tent

Thomas and Shannon show up around 5pm having completed the 100 mile route but by then we are ready for the hotel and some R&R. The hotel shuttle takes forever as our hotel is the last on the loop. Remembering the panic last year for the morning shuttle, I decide to try to extract a ride from John as payment for letting him draft us all day and he agrees to pick us up at 7am.

Ride stats:
Total Ride Time: 7:32
On bike time: 6:09
Distance: 78 miles
Average speed: 12.6mph

Day 2

Knowing that we don't have to worry about the shuttle allows us to have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. On the way back in the car Mary Jo calls to tell us that they are stuck at their hotel sitting in a shuttle that isn't even going to leave for 15 minutes, so they likely will miss the team photo at 7:40. I'm almost embarrassed to tell her that we are in John's car, especially as it turns out that they were staying at the same hotel.

We drop off our bags again and pick up the bike. I'm always a teeny bit nervous that the bike will not be there! Unfortunately, as feared, Mary Jo doesn't quite make it in time for the photo slot. The weather looks promising as we roll out just before 8am, and I predict a sunny day. Ha!

Leaving on Day 2

Day 2 is quite a bit faster than Day 1 as there is less hard climbing. However, there are endless rollers even on the notionally flat sections. John discovers his rear tire is a bit soft and only has time to pump it up a bit before we leave. He's hoping for a foot pump at the first rest stop and possible a tube change, but no luck. The sun comes out for 30 seconds, which turns out to be it for the day.

Thomas, Mary Jo and Marco at Rest Stop #1

Indeed, it starts to drizzle as we leave the rest stop and it's quite chilly. Pretty hilly segment to next rest stop, which is at the bottom of a descent, making for scary bike interactions. John still drafting. As we are leaving, Mary Jo's husband Steve has to avoid a wandering bike and crashes into some bikes laying on the ground. It looks bad for him and the bike but miraculously no damage to either.

Some of the Sun Team at Rest Stop #2

A short uphill and then fast downhill follows the rest stop and we nearly touch 40mph and lose John who then has to work had to keep with us on the fast flat section that follows. Then it's more rollers along the ridge into Sebastopol for lunch on the green. Like the burrito yesterday the lunch sandwich is very plain, quite nostalgic for us English in fact, just bread and meat. I'm converted to the US sandwich by now and miss the extras, finding it quite hard to swallow. The faster riders in our group are still here but take off before we do. John finally gets his rear tube replaced by the mechanic. Since it looks like rain we don't dally and set off towards the Russian River through more pretty countryside and lots more rollers. John is still drafting. The next rest stop is just past the single track bridge over the Russian River where, incredibly, we meet up with a tandem team that we met at exactly the same rest stop last year.

Jenny and Mick at Rest Stop #4

Now it's the final run along Dry Creek Valley, which is covered in vineyards. Although the valley is very flat, the road runs along the edge and as a result has plenty of small rollers to contend with. Some people love these and some people hate them. I'm ok with them provided I can stand and power over the top, but if they start to feel like real hills I'm less enthused. They are definitely more of a nuisance on the tandem than a single. John is still drafting but as we make a left turn almost loses his rear wheel and discovers that the rear tire has flatted again. So we replace the tube, getting pretty grimy in the process. The final rest stop, which is not really necessary as it's only 8 miles from the finish, is off the main road at a winery in the middle of the valley. It's nice enough to make the trip. We discover Rick, who never misses an opportunity to sit, lounging in the Clif Bar chairs and we join him for a while.

Lounging at Rest Stop #5

The Three Musketeers (Mick, Jenny and John) at Rest Stop #5

The final run in is pretty fast but it starts to rain about 2 miles out and doesn't stop this time. This is not just a shower. It's ironic; this is one of the hottest places normally but it has rained two out of the three times I have been here this year and almost rained on the third (the Terrible Two). Note that John is still drafting.

Arriving at the Finish

Ride stats:
Total ride time: 7:06
On bike time: 5:25
Distance: 74 miles
Average speed: 13.7 mph

Immediately on arrival at the finish we load the tandem on the truck for delivery back to San Francisco and hit the shower trucks. Or should I say truck. For some reason there is only one this year, leading to a 20 minute wait for the men but, in a reverse of the normal bathroom situation, no line for the women.

The end of ride festivities are a bit damp, but they have big tents to keep out either the sun or the rain, and the food and beer is good. Then its time to load up on the coaches for the ride back to San Francisco. It rains pretty much the whole way so clearly we were lucky that the rain didn't start earlier. A slight downer on arrival at at UCSF as our bike is still on the truck and we have to wait about 30 minutes. Fortunately there is a coffee bar open that is doing good business. The ride home on 101 isn't fun as it's raining hard and drivers are still driving like it's dry. There's one truly frightening section just after SFO where there are no cat-eyes and I can barely see the white lines and have a really hard time staying in my lane. Then two semi-trucks overtake me, while drifting out of their lane and completely blind us with spray. Mercifully the cat-eyes return and we survive the ride and get home about 8:30.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Final Waves to Wine Training Rides

One week to go to the Waves to Wine ride 2009, so it's time for the final training ride(s). Since we have to ride Saturday and Sunday, we'll emulate that this weekend, however hard it might be to get on the bike on Sunday.

It also happened to be our 27th wedding anniversary on the Friday, so Jenny decided that we should go for a night at Half Moon Bay and then ride the coast on Saturday. We stayed at the Old Thyme Inn, a nice B&B on Main St and had a great dinner at the Crab Landing, a new restaurant up at Princeton, near the site of the famous Mavericks surf break.

We fixed on a 10:00 start, just in case anyone else on the Sun team wanted to come over the hill to join us, but there were no takers. So after a late breakfast of pancakes, we were ready to hit the road. It wasn't especially easy to find a place to park all day in Half Moon Bay, as everywhere seems to be limited to two hours with the threat of being towed. Eventually we fixed on a shopping center parking lot where the only limit was no overnight and no commuter parking. I figured we just about met those conditions.

The weather was still cloudy, as is typical for the time of year, as we warmed up on the easy rollers towards the Tunitas Creek turn-off. Then up the first climb to the junction with Stage Rd where we had a decision to make; to continue on the Hwy 1 down the coast, or go inland. Since it was still cloudy at the coast and would be hotter inland in the afternoon, we chose the latter and headed down Stage Rd to San Gregorio village and the left on 84 towards Old La Honda. We stopped at Sullivan's bar to top up the drink supply (the market has closed) and then retraced our tracks back to the turn off to Pescadero. Stopped to help a rider who had broke her chain, except that it turned out that we were missing a key part of the chain tool. A timely reminder to fix that and also carry some SRAM PowerLink chain links for quick repairs.

Next up is the longest climb of the ride, Haskins, which climbs to 1100' and has some 8-10% segments. We are pretty well warmed up and do a pretty good job on it, then we get the bonus of the long downhill into Le Mar. While there were quite a lot of cars on the way up, we are blessed by a complete absence of cars on the descent. Nice cruise into Pescadero, a few rollers, but the usual mild headwind on the final run in. Another decision point; lunch now or after doing the Gazos Creek loop? Since we are halfway in miles and it's 1pm, we opt for lunch now.

The sun's out and its a beautiful day in Pescadero, and there is live music in the garden at the Deli, which is a truly wonderful place to stop. Inside and outside seating, and a brick pizza oven. Today's band is "Saxyman and the Ladds" who, just as we are leaving, start into one of my all-time favorite tracks, The Weight by the Band, so we have to stay a bit longer.

I pulled into Nazareth
Was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place
where I can lay my head
‘Hey, Mister can you tell me
where a man might find a bed?’
He just grinned and shook my hand
And ‘no’ was all he said.

Retracing a bit, we pick up Cloverdale Rd that heads out on the inland route to Gazos Creek passing Butano State Park along the way. It's the hottest segment yet as there is no shade on the first section and the sun is full out. It gets shadier on the final run in to Gazos Creek and you can feel the cool coastal air. Gazos Creek State Beach has nice views with a portable reset room so we usually stop there even it means crossing the road. Now we get the trade off for going inland early as there is now a headwind back to Pescadero on Hwy 1, and we take about a 5mph hit to our usual pace. There's a fair amount of traffic but a decent shoulder. As we reach Pescadero State beach the clouds are advancing south and that coupled with the traffic makes continuing on Hwy 1 less attractive, so we turn inland back to Pescadero village and take Stage Rd to San Gregorio. This route has more climbing but, hey, it's a training ride! On this stretch Jenny suggests we hit the coffee shop then the beach and then Sam's Chowder restaurant to round out the day, which seems like a great idea to me.

We pass the ranch with the iron warrior where, as usual, sheepdogs are being trained in the field adjacent to the road. Several tourists have stopped to watch the show. I guess it's pretty novel to many but having grown up in the UK, not so to us. We stop at San Gregorio store for more Gatorade for the final push, and as usual, there is large crowd enjoying a drink from the bar, including Saxyman himself, but without the Ladds!

One more grind up Stage Rd, where Jenny and I practice standing together, which is quite tricky on a tandem, especially the da Vinci with it's independent coasting, where being in sync is not enforced. Then the fastest descent of the day down to Tunitas Creek where we hit 43mph. A few rollers and we are soon back in Half Moon Bay, where the weather is deteriorating and it is starting to drizzle as we pull into the parking lot. So we decide the beach isn't such a great idea and decide to skip the coffee shop and head straight for chowder after a change of clothes. Unfortunately, Sam's Chowder shop is right on Hwy 1 and thousands of other people seem to have to same idea. So we push onto Princeton to see how busy it is as Barbara's Fish Shack. I'm expecting a zoo but, amazingly, there's no line and we get a table immediately. The fact that you actually have to turn off the highway probably helps, but our timing was good as by the time we are done, the wait is 45 minutes.

It's really drizzling now and the roads are quite wet. Hard to believe that in just a few miles east of here the sun will still be shining, as indeed it is as we crest Hwy 92 and return home via 280.

Saturday ride stats:

Distance: 69 miles
Ride time: 6:49
On bike time: 5:23
Total Climb: 3705'

I'm feeling pretty pooped on Saturday evening and wonder whether I'll be feeling like getting on the bike in the morning. However, an early night seems to do the trick and I'm feeling pretty good, with just a slightly stiff left shoulder, which is not unusual after a tandem ride. The extra force needed to control the front wheel of a tandem puts quite a bit more strain on the upper body.

We decide to do the ride up to Canada Road with a stop at Woodside bakery on the return leg. We hit the road at 9:30 and take the Page Mill/Arastradero option to Portola Valley, past the newly christened Palo Alto University, where our eldest son starts a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology next week. It's a beautiful day and the clouds that were pushing in so strongly last night have all disappeared. Lots of riders are out on the Portola Valley loop as usual. As it's Sunday, the upper section of Canada Rd is closed for Bike Sunday. So no cars, but inline skaters, kindergarteners on bikes with training wheels, etc., make it slightly tricky. Indeed, on the return leg, with the entire road to play with, we see a teenage boy run off the edge of the road and somersault into the ditch. He seems ok, thank goodness and has plenty of help.

We practice our standing some more on the final rollers before the final descent into Woodside. I'm feeling pretty strong now which is a good sign for next week; I guess all the double centuries have helped. Jenny is hanging in there well, but beginning to feel a little saddle sore. The reward is stopping at the Woodside Bakery and sharing a guilt-free Neapolitan slice!

One more climb over Sand Hill and then back through Stanford to home.

Sunday ride stats:

Distance: 36 miles
Ride time: 3:10
On bike time: 2:43
Total Climb: 1697'

So a total of 105 miles and 5400' for the weekend. I think we are in good shape to actually enjoy next weekend's ride!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ebbetts Century (200k)

I found this ride a while back on one of those websites that has a calendar of upcoming centuries. It had the virtue of offering guaranteed entry into the 2010 Death Ride for the first 100 registrants. I had failed to crack the web-based Death Ride registration this year because I just didn't have the patience to keep hitting the reload button for 30 minutes waiting to get a connection. So this seemed a neat way to finesse that issue and get in a tough training ride before the upcoming Waves to Wine ride and the Knoxville double.

Usually I would drive up on the Friday for a ride this distant, but that had to change when Jenny had to reschedule her party to celebrate surviving the six month probationary period in her new job at the Palo Alto library. My tolerance for early morning starts has improved since I started riding double centuries. I figured I needed to leave by 3:00am to be able to start the ride at 7pm. No big deal, after all I started riding the Alta Alpina earlier this year at 3:30am!

The nice thing about an early start is that the roads are mostly empty. However, they are working on just about every freeway it seems, and the 238 ramp to 580 was closed, requiring a detour through the back streets of Hayward. Finally got to an open 580 ramp just before Castro Valley, where the previously uninteresting names, Palomares Canyon and Crown Canyon now resonate with memories of the Devil Mountain Double, especially in the dark.

The temperature is still in the 70s at and hits 84 on the down slope to the Central Valley, no doubt due to the compression of the descending air. In the 60s east of Stockton and reaches a low of 48 at Bear Valley at 7000'. Funny, it feels colder than the start of the Alta Alpina, and I wonder if I have enough warm clothes. Since I arrived in plenty of time, around 6:30, I head off to the lodge to get changed into the bike gear and hit the coffee shop for some breakfast.

This ride is a small affair, put on by a Mom and Pop shop that run outdoor activities out of Bear Valley. Mom and Pop are manning the registration desk and handing out route maps and explaining that you have to get stickers at key points, just like the Death Ride. No stickers, no entry to the Death Ride!

Getting ready to ride

I know it's going to be warm once the sun comes up, so I just wear my lightweight jacket, no leg or arm warmers. The ride is is centered around Bear Valley and so doesn't start out heading for Ebbetts. Instead there is a 20 mile warm-up back down Hwy 4 to Dorrington at 5000' Since this downhill with just a few rollers, this is a fast start and the jacket is welcome. There is some smoke in the air from a fire in Yosemite, but evidently it's much better than Friday. Still I can feel it in the breathing.

Rest stop at Dorrington

However, the sun is coming up and feels warm. Time to shed the jacket for the climb back. Lots of riders, including me, sporting Death Ride jerseys so the lure of the guaranteed entry is clearly a pull. The sicker requires entry to the bar of a saloon, which is full of old outdoor expedition regalia, including an oxygen canister from Everest. And I thought they all got left on the mountain.

It's an steady 5-7% grade on the way back and I don't get passed by too many riders, and at least they are younger than me, well no grey hair anyway. We don't go quite as far as Bear Valley before turning off towards Spicer reservoir. I hadn't studied the elevation profile and thought this might involve a long descent and climb back, but it's mostly level because the reservoir is evidently a major hydro-electric generator with a big dam. The ride reminded me a lot of the Blue Lakes segment on Alta Alpina, except that it was a lot warmer already.

At Spicer Reservoir, smoke haze evident

Back to Bear Valley, a 58 miles, for lunch. I'm there at 11 and with Ebbetts coming up, I didn't feel like loading up on burritos, so I stuck to the usual energy snack food. By now the smoke has dissipated and it is a beautiful sunny day with temps in the 70s. So now the real climbing begins as we head up towards Lake Alpine, where it is very tempting to stop. I imagine a swim on the return leg.

Let the climbing begin

Lake Alpine

After Lake Alpine the road climbs up to a ridge at just under 8000' and there are a few rollers until the highest point is reached at the Pacific Grade summit. The descent to come promises to be fast as this is the stretch with the infamous 24% grade. I can see the road way, way down in the valley. I manage to snag a photo from another rider who then flats on the start of the descent. It's 1000' down to Hermit Valley, where the Death Ride and Alta Alpina have a rest stop and so does this ride.

At the top of Pacific Grade

At this point I realise that I am going to be at the top of Ebbetts at 1pm and that is the turn around point. Evidently, having the ride proceed down the east side of Ebbetts rather than do the Dorrington leg is beyond the logistical capabilities of the organizers which is a shame. So I decide to do it unsupported as the only descent of Ebbetts this year was the wet and, therefore, slow descent on Alta Alpina. I ask the rest stop staff what time they are there until and they say 5pm, which surprises me as I can't imagine anyone taking that long for the century. I tell them that I am going down the east side and to call out the cavalry if I'm not back by 5pm.

At the top of Ebbetts

It's fairly warm going up Ebbetts west, but at least it's not raining! I grab a sticker from the bag on the pine tree and start the descent. There's been very little traffic so far and I meet just a couple of cars on the way down, which is a fun descent, especially the run-out which seems to go on for ever. Finally I get to Wolf Creek where the exposed part alongside Silver Creek begins, past the Monitor Pass turn off, and down towards Markleeville. There's quite a head wind here, but I console myself with the thought that it will help climbing back. I don't really want to go the whole way to town but I have to get some more liquid, so I pull into the Carson River campground store a couple of miles out and I'm happy to see they have a well stocked cold drinks cabinet and ice cream, which I have been thinking about for a while now as my reward. I can't wait while the cashier rings up some fishermen's beer supplies, so rip the wrapper off and have at it.

Another warning

It's a lot hotter down at 5700', probably 90, and I load up with three bottle of Gatorade for the 3000' ascent back to the top. The now tail wind does indeed help and I'm back a Wolf Creek in no time, and starting the long gradual ascent to the real start of the climb, past the cabin where the loose ladies serenade the Death Riders. It's all very quiet today. I snap a shot of my Garmin as I hit 100 miles on this section.

100 miles!

The start of the climb, with about 2200' to go is indicated by a cattle grid followed a short wall to get your attention. But it's cooled down a bit and there is plenty of shade on this section. I spot the 7000' sign which is totally misplaced as it's at 6700'. Eventually the trees thin out and there is a tough, exposed, section that grinds on and on until the lake at 8300. During this climb I'm wondering how I managed to finish the Alta Alpina as I'm feeling pretty tired and on that ride I had well over 100 miles on my legs, loads more climbing and 3 passes still to do. It is (a lot) hotter than on that ride, which definitely has an effect, but I think it's more a case of the quote from Greg Lemond that "it doesn't get easier, you just get faster". Well, the first part is certainly correct. I'm not getting much faster but I can go a lot further now. Each climb is hard, but there's something left in the tank at the end. I take a bunch of photos on the climb and it's notable how much just that short rest helps to recharge the legs.

11000 ft Silver Peak from Ebbetts

I am definitely hot and tired by the time I reach the lake, so I decide it's time for the "head dunking" that I discovered when hiking in the Sierra. A couple of tourists are amused by this so I get them to take a photo. Unfortunately I don't have enough hair now to make the point!

Cooling off at the lake just below Ebbetts summit

Only another mile and 500' to the summit, but there are a couple of steep pitches which are hard. But finally, I'm there and for the first time ever don't stop as there is no rest stop. It's a great traffic free descent back to Hermit Valley and I roll into the rest stop at 4:10, just shy of four hours round trip. The staff are suitably impressed! To my amazement there are a bunch of riders at the rest stop; remember I just added 30 miles and 3 hours to the official ride. So either these folks started very late of they are very slow. But one of them is wearing a Triple Crown jersey and the other an Alta Alpina jersey (although not a finisher jersey), so I don't think it's the latter. Another woman says she did start late and also had two flats and has had better days. Whatever, she drops me pretty quickly on the start of the Pacific Grade climb!

I take one bottle of water this time so that I can pour it on my head on the upcoming legendary grade. I'm looking for the 24% as I ascend, but my Garmin never gets above 20 and is mostly in the 10-15 range. So I think it's got to be on the inside of one of the hairpins. Anyway the executive summary is that it's over-hyped and I never even feel my front wheel get loose, which is a good sign of serious steepness. Certainly, this climb in no way compares with either the Gualala wall or Fort Ross on the Terrible Two.

Once at the top, it's along the ridge and, after what seems a long time on the rollers, down to Alpine Lake. I'm running way too late for a swim and the the water on the head has worked well on the way. By now I'm at that mental stage where I'd really be happy if there were no more hills, but there is a short climb out of Lake Apline and then the rides ends by visiting the Bear Valley Ski Area, which is another 500' up a side road. The woman who dropped me on Pacific Grade is coming down as I grind up. Eventually I arrive at the parking lot to be greeted by the staff from the Hermit Valley rest stop, who are once again enthusiastic about my efforts. But to get the sticker you have to descend to the ski lodge, find the bag on the pole and then climb back up! But then it's a great descent back down a very nice road surface all the way to the start of the ride, where they have a welcome post-ride dinner.

View of the Dardanelles and Sonora Pass from the ridge

So now it's past six and I have the drive back to Palo Alto ahead of me. The store with the restroom where I was going to towel off and change has just closed but, the organizers offer me a shower in the hostel at the back of the building. Luxury and major brownie points for them!

The temperature is 72 at Bear Valley and climbs steadily as I descend until it reaches 94 at Angels Camp, where I stop to call Jenny, and lay in a Mocha with an extra shot to stave off sleepiness. Dusk is starting as I traverse the twisty but beautiful section of Hwy 4 between Angels Camp and Copperopolis. I just love the band of oak tree studded grassland that runs all the way down the Sierra foothills just above the Central valley. Just before the descent to the the valley floor, perfect timing reveals a truly fantastic sunset, with a broad band or orange across the sky. I'm not quite oriented at first, but then I realize that the mountain outlined sharply against the orange is Mt Diablo. The glow seems to last forever until I finally drop too low to see it.

The total trip time as about the same as the Mt Tam double, with 4 hours of on bike time replaced by 4 hours extra driving. I think I'd do it again. I think it would be better if the 100 mile option replaced the Dorrington leg with the east side of Ebbetts, but the unsupported 200K variant worked pretty well.

Distance: 130 miles
Total ride time: 10:45
On bike time: 9:50
Total Climb: 13718'
Average speed: 13.3mph

Saturday, August 8, 2009

W2W Training Ride: Kings Mountain Rd

Fresh from our success climbing Old La Honda a few weeks ago, I suggested we try Kings Mountain this week. We did this last year, but I was on the single bike. It's officially a tougher climb than anything on the Waves to Wine Ride. Well, the climb up Hwy 1 from Mill Valley has a steeper sustained grade but it is much shorter. Kings is about 1540' of climbing in 4.3 miles, as shown here. I've ridden it countless times on my single, and it's one of the "passes" on my Pensinsula Death Ride. However, never before on the tandem.

We started at Gunn High School, which is just behind our house, and the meeting place for many Western Wheelers rides. There was one lone cyclist waiting for a WW ride; it turned out he was 30 minutes early. The group consisted of Garland, Dave, Josh and Sue and us. Jenny and I rolled out at 9:25, 5 minutes ahead of the others, en route to Woodside by way of Foothill, Alpine Road, Portola Valley and Mountain Home Rd. It's a familiar ride by now and a nice warm-up on modest grades. At Woodside we met up with John who had come all the way from the Dublin in the East Bay. Josh, who had to be back early, had elected to do a timed ascent of Old La Honda and meet us coming down Kings.

While climbing on the tandem is definitely harder than on a single, I'm always pleasantly reminded that we have very low gearing available so, although we may go slowly, we do not blow up and can spin at a comfortable rate. The Da Vinci has four front chain rings, 24, 36, 48 and 60 and we climb steeps in the 24. The cassette is an 11-32, so we can get well below 1-1. And, yes, we can pedal downhill in the 60-11 if we are so inclined - not usually! We see Josh on the first third. He's not entirely happy with his 19 minute time on Old La Honda - I'd be ecstatic - and slightly pissed that he didn't really pay attention to my warning that there was a lot more climbing between Old La Honda and Kings!

We stop halfway for a break as we haven't really mastered the art of standing often enough to relieve the stress on the glutes on long climbs. John is keeping us company - it's his toughest climb to date - but the others are way head. Jenny is in need of food and the captain is remiss in not having brought any supplies. Fortunately, John has plenty. I had suggested to the others that they ride back down and pull/push us up but there is no sign of them as we head up the steepest section towards the summit. Eventually we see the "stop sign ahead" and its a sprint finish to the top - not! About 55 minutes, which is respectable. The others are waiting patiently for us!

Lots of rollers initially on the way to 92, past the Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Station and the Buena Vista restaurant, then a long, long, runout at a modest grade to 92. Our turn to leave the singles in the dust as we hit 40 on this section. Then onto 92, which is good practice for Hwy 1 as there is no bike lane and quite a bit of traffic usually. Today, there are long lines coming the other way heading to the coast.

Then a rather bizarre experience. We're doing 35 and a group of cars are staying well back, matching our speed, which I appreciate. I've learn't that staying close to the right on a road like this is an invitation for a bad driver to try to pass too close and since there is a ton of traffic coming the other way, it's not safe today, so I'm in the middle of the road. And we're doing 35 anyway. They do get to pass on the final flat section across the reservoir and the fourth car back blows his horn and shouts something out of the window. As luck would have it, they stop at the light and I ask them what their problem is. The answer is "you have all that f^%&!$^g room, why don't you move over". Remember, this is the fourth car back! And, of course, there isn't room. Some people! You sometimes forget that, while most of the people in the Bay Area are entirely well behaved, there are still some crazies out there.

Nice ride back along Canada Road, initially past the very scenic reservoir, aka Hetch Hetchy water holding tank, and then by the not so scenic 280 down to Woodside. We stop for some food - love the fruit tarts at the bakery - and then head back down Whiskey Hill and up Sand Hill, through Stanford, to Palo Alto.

In the end, it's 47 miles, 3100' climbing, 3:40 on bike at average speed of 12.8. Good training ride! Nearly two-thirds of the first day's W2W distance and 75% of the first day's climbing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

(Not) Mt Tam Double Century

At Goat Rock before final descent

Ride time: 15:03
One bike time: 13:50
Distance: 200
Climbing: 16700'
Avg speed: 14.3

Let's get the title out of the way. This year, Mt Tam state park would not provide use permits for any organized event, due to state budget cutbacks, so the ride could not follow it's normal route that includes the summit of Mt Tam. Too bad but maybe they got some people's attention. This being America it will no doubt be solved next year by a new "user fee" (not a tax!).

As part of my budget cutbacks, I decided that it was possible to drive up and back to the start/finish in San Rafael from Palo Alto, so saving on hotel costs. The downside was having to get up at 2:45am and drive for over an hour before riding and, perhaps worse, drive back afterwards when dog-tired.

Big turn out for this double, the parking lot was pretty full already by the time I arrived at 4:15. Long line to check-in so I guess lots of people had the same idea of driving up on ride day. Several people, including me, wearing the Alpine Challenge finisher jersey. Didn't see hardly any at the Terrible Two. It's still somewhat of a rarity as only 42 finished the inaugural ride this year.

Since this was the final leg of the Triple Crown Stage Race the ride was being timed and there was a mass start at 5pm. You could leave earlier provided you handled the playing card with your number on to a volunteer when you started - I wonder if anyone had the Ace of Spades? I waited for the mass start looking for people I knew. Spotted Jay of Pumpkin Cycle fame looking very motivated. Introduced myself to friend of a friend, Joan Grant, who was fresh off the Race Across Oregon.

Dropped off the main pack shortly after the start as hit two red lights in succession (with traffic) but reeled a few people in on the climb up to Goat rock. Riding in the dark outside city lights is very weird as you have absolutely no reference points except the lights of the bikes in front. We finished the ride on the same road in the light but I didn't recognize any of it. A left turn and a run down to San Geronimo to Francis Drake, a road I've driven many times on the way to Point Reyes, but never ridden on the bike. Into Fairfax and onto the Bolinas-Fairfax road that climbs and descends to Alpine Lake before beginning the climb that would reach Mt Tam normally. Meet up with Debra who I rode some of the DMD with on this stretch and she tells me about her travels on the bike in Italy - much envy. See a tandem team I also recognize from then DMD making a pit stop on a hairpin, and climbing out a car comes down a bit too fast and then obviously pisses off the stoker who lets forth with a tremendous stream of invective! At the Ridgecrest junction to Mt Tam we continue on and descend to Bolinas and the first rest stop. Thankfully the road is dry and the descent is easy.

Lee "Fuzzy" Mitchell's SAG van climbing Bolinas-Fairfax Rd

An old guy I guess is in his 70's,but wearing a triple crown jersey, politely asks me if he can draft on the flat section past the lagoon into Stinson Beach. Then we turn up the Panoramic Highway and climb back to the ridge. Some way up it turns foggy and my glasses fog up on the descent down to Mill Valley. On the way up I met up with a guy who was about my pace, but whose name I somehow never learned, who I ride with all the way up to Point Reyes and beyond. There was a small rest stop on the coast ridge above Stinson and so we skip the Bolinas rest stop this time, as it requires turning off highway 1. With hindsight that was a mistake as the next rest is a long way and I really needed more food. After Point Reyes we turn inland heading towards Petaluma. This is a nostalgic section for me as it is where Jenny and I first rode a hired tandem, and ancient 1970's Schwinn with shifters on the down frame. As I recall we managed to drop the chain on this section downshifting the front chain ring. A short climb took us up to the Nicasio reservoir followed by a longer climb and then a left turn into the next rest stop at a local school in the middle of nowhere on Hicks Valley Rd.

I was seriously hungry by this stage and loaded up but keeping with my new plan of not wasting time at rest stops didn't hang around and left riding solo towards Marshall. Nice valley ride followed by a long climb before dropping back to Hwy 1 at Marshall. Somewhere on this climb I get passed by a group that includes the old guy who drafted me earlier!

Now back on familiar territory, riding the small rollers on 1, one of which my Garmin showed at 12%, past the Waves to Wine lunch stop and then turning inland to Tomales. I hadn't studied the route and though we just continued onto Valley Ford on 1, but no, a detour via Dillon Beach, involving more climbing. Good signage! Valley Ford was a familiar and welcome sight and the rest stop was at the school where we had met for the tandem rally ride the previous week. Coincidentally met one of the organizes, Nancy Wu, who was riding the 200K. Grabbed a quick lunch and as I'm leaving see Joan Grant coming in, not happy as her back is causing her grief. I must have passed her at the rest stop I skipped as she was definitely ahead of me at the start.

Lunch at Valley Ford

Fuzzy Mitchell at Valley Ford

Now we do the Coleman Valley loop which starts out with a series of big rollers on Hwy 1. After the last one I'm looking for the nice descent into Bodega Bay when there is a route turn onto Bay Hill, which climbs even higher but does skip the traffic in Bodega Bay. Back on Hwy 1 it's a short run to the right turn on Coleman Valley. Last time I rode this was in reverse on the very wet Wine Country 200K in May. Coleman Valley is the steepest climb on the ride, 14% by Garmin for a mile or so. A mini rest stop and checkpoint at the top and then a fast descent. Scariest moment of the ride as I can't bleed enough speed off for a sharp right turn and drift completely over to the wrong side of the road. Fortunately nothing coming, but shortly after four cars appear. Could have been nasty. Really should have been on the drops as I think part of the problem was that my tired hands couldn't apply enough brake pressure from the hoods. Another climb out from the base of the descent then onto Joy Road and then via Freestone back into Valley Ford. Picked up a paceline on the final stretch that was to stay together all the way to Petaluma. Kind of quiet at Valley Ford this time as the Century riders are mostly all long gone. Stuff my pockets with cherries! Great ride into Petaluma, tail wind for a lot of the ride, and a real pelaton, riding two abreast, due to the lack of traffic. Everyone is too tired to ride hard though, so it's mostly a social experience.

The pelaton riding towards Petaluma

No-one wants to spend too long at the Petaluma rest stop as the finish beckons. After the initial climb out of Petaluma, it's really an easy ride in. One more rest stop in Nicasio that a lot of people skip but I pull in for one final fuel up, not knowing quite what lies ahead. Easy climb up to Goat Rock, were signs and a volunteer are warning about the descent, where my friend Sue crashed and broke her collar bone last year. Fairly long flat section into San Rafael arriving just at 8pm, a little slower than I had hope for but still respectable. What is surprising to me is that my time is the same as for the Terrible Two which is considered a lot harder. Embarrassing moment as I fail to recognize Jay of PumpkinCycle in his street clothes so completely that I actually say "Do I know you?"! Decent meal and even better ice cream. Bad news is that the showers are being dismantled, so it's a sweaty drive home in the car. Good news is that I'm not so shattered that the drive will be a grind. Stop in at Starbucks for a Mocha with extra shot to help me stay awake.

Overall it's been a great ride through yet more spectacular scenery in this incredible state. No truly tough climbs but all those rollers certainly add up.