Sunday, June 21, 2009

Terrible Two - Not So Terrible This Year 6/20/09

Ride time: 15:05
On bike time: 14:06
Distance: 200
Climbing: 18044'
Avg Speed: 14.1

The unseasonably cool weather stuck around for one more weekend despite warming up sharply on Thu/Fri. Whereas the cool was a problem in the Sierras it was a boon in Sonoma County keeping the maximum temperatures on the Terrible Two way below average, which frequently top 100.

Josh Beisel, Sun's Fitness Center manager joined me for this ride. Well, he rode in the van and we shared a room, but that was about the extent of our interaction as he was off with the lead pack for the actual ride. He was well rested by the time I rolled in to the finish at 8:35pm having finished two and a half hours faster in 12:32. Awesome!

I was actually quite worried about finishing this ride in the official time limit of 16:30 (17:30 for triple crown credit) as I hadn't previously done any hilly double in less than 18 hours. The cutoff for leaving the lunch rest stop seemed particularly tight for 11o miles by 1:45pm.

The ride started in Sebastopol at Analy High School which required a short drive from our hotel in Santa Rosa. Analy HS must have one of the smallest parking lots of any high school in the US and and by the time we arrived it was jammed. Luckily we managed to squeeze into possibly the last remaining space else we likely would have missed the mass start at 5:30am. This ride is much more like a race than other doubles; they have a big digital clock counting down to zero for the start and the same clock showing your ride time when you arrive at the finish.

Mass starts freak me out a little as they are always a bit crazy, everyone is excited, so the chance of a crash is quite high. Fortunately, this one went off safely and the riders quickly separated into two main groups, the racers (including Josh) and the rest. The course starts by traversing Santa Rosa with a scout car that supposedly can trip the many traffic lights. This was partially successful but the group was split a couple of times by the light going red. After Santa Rosa it was out towards Glenn Ellen and then up over the Trinity Grade into Napa Valley. Trinity Grade was quite steep but nothing I hadn't encountered before (unlike later on) with a fast descent into Napa Valley. Although I descended by myself (hills always break groups of riders up) a big group of riders eventually joined me waiting to cross onto highway 29. This was good because we formed a paceline that ran all the way to the first rest stop in Calistoga on the Silverado trail at a good clip. It's got to be one of the longest first segments of any double at 55 miles. Worried about making the lunch time cut-off, I am in and out of the rest stop quickly, initially solo, but quickly caught up by a smaller group of riders from the earlier paceline. So we motor fast up through the Alexander Valley to the turn off for the Geysers. I recognize some of the route from the rainy Wine Country 200K back in May.

The paceline breaks up as we start the climb into the Geysers. This is where is usually starts to get hot, but not today, its cloudy and still quite cool. The Geysers is an active geothermal area and the road has about six patches where it is there is no tarmac, just hard pack with some gravel. I'd told these exist because the ground is unstable and prone to washouts but the first two of these on the ascent look fine to me - it just looked as if they forgot to pave it. The Geysers has a double summit but the grade is fine and there is a rest stop at the top of the second summit. Some of the guys from the paceline had got away from on the hill but efficient rest stop management means I'm on my way before they are. Of course they catch me on the descent and now the non-tarmac sections are much more hairy. I'm amazed how fast these guys go through these sections as I feel very unstable. One guy says he is also a mountain biker so it doesn't faze him. But my wheels just feel very unstable. The descent seems to go on for ever and road surface is pretty bad and I feel like the bike (and me) is being shaken to bits. This is a continuing theme for most of the ride. Eventually we get down and cross the valley back to Warm Springs dam for lunch. The pacelines have really worked wonders for the first half ride time of 7 hours, which is I figure is the fastest 110 miles I've every done with any hill climbing involved. So, so far so good.

Its completely clouded over the the lunch stop and almost looks like it might rain. The last time I was here on the Wine Century it was pouring. The time before that was the finish of the MS Waves to Wine ride last September, when it was a little warmer. Everyone at the rest stop is incredibly helpful, making me a sandwich to order, filling my water bottles with the magic juice (I've now fixed on Perpetuem Caffe Latte as my favorite endurance ride drink). As I'm standing eating my sandwich, a couple of guys (see photo below courtesy of Bo Crane) who evidently were just out riding and happened on the rest stop, are curious about the crazy people who do these double centuries and ask me lots of questions. Fame at last!

Eventually I escape and start off alone, 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff, where, traditionally, the TT gets truly terrible; Skaggs Springs, the road built by the Army Corps of Engineers to replace the road flooded under dammed Lake Sonoma. This is two steep climbs to 2000' with a 1000' drop in between, almost all of it exposed to the sun where temperatures are often 90-110. Thankfully it's a lot cooler today but it's still hard enough to make me wonder that would be like. Remembering how I struggled at the Davis Double in 100 heat on modest grades, I do wonder if I could handle these grades of 10-12% in those temperatures. Early on in the first section my chain jams on a front chainring shift. Usually this is fixed by a quick back-pedal but not this time. At first I'm worried that the rear derailleur is broken but I eventually realize that the chain is actually jammed between the large and medium front chain rings. I manage to free it and breathe a huge sigh of relief as everything seems to be working ok again. There's a water stop at the top of the first summit and I grab a bag of peanut M&Ms and reward myself with two and a shot of drink every 100' up the second climb, where the sun has come out and it's getting a bit more uncomfortable. Fortunately the road gets shadier half way up and its easy going to the summit and then down the long descent and runout to Camp Gualala and the next rest stop. That was a long 25 miles, but everyone at the rest stop is exulting about how easy it is this year compared to the usual torture. One guys lectures me quite seriously that in a normal year this section pushes you to your absolute limits.

The bad news is the next section, while shaded, is known as the Gualala "wall". And indeed, this is the steepest climb I've ever done (so far). It's only a mile long and 900' of elevation but the grade is a sustained 16-18%. I actually switchback across the road in a few places. But my 28-27 low gearing gets me up without too much pain and it's on to the coast and Stewart's Point. At one place I encounter a fallen tree that, while not big enough to bother cars, requires me to dismount and carry the bike over it. Fortunately, this was not on a steep downhill section! I'm dismayed that there is another short climb before reaching the coast but eventually I arrive at highway 1. It's beautiful at the coast, no fog and a nice tailwind. I haven't seen many bikes lately but eventually a couple catch me up and I catch their draft for a while. One guy I recognize from last week's Alpine Challenge, who I overtook on my frantic race for the Monitor pass cutoff. This time he has the better of me as eventually I can't match his pace and he pulls away. I never see him again until the post-ride dinner.

Eighteen miles later at the Fort Ross rest stop is where I pick up my lights and battery extender for the Garmin Edge 305 bike computer. Ironically I'm not going to need the lights today as it's still only 5pm with just 37 miles to go on the longest day of the year. I'm beginning to get that manic thirst and down a cup of noodle soup, a V8 and half a Mountain Dew and a bunch of melon and (very good) strawberries. Like Gualala, there is a reluctance to leave the rest stop as up next is the dreaded Fort Ross climb, that is considered by many to be the toughest of the ride. This turns out to be just as bad as the Gualala wall except that it lasts for 1500' and twice as long. As I look up and see people on the hill I begin to question whether the eclectic mix I just put in my stomach was such a good idea. My speed is barely 3mph on most of it and midway I pass a tandem that had actually overtook me on Skaggs, walking up. Later I saw them being sagged in; a shame to have got so far and not finish. The climb is shaded by redwoods until the final section which is now in bright sunshine. The hills look beautiful. Fort Ross is another double summit and we drop down to 900' before climbing back to 1500' before the final descent into Cazadero. The road surface is really bad again on this section.

On this section I meet up with a guy who I get talking to and he mentions the Eastern Sierra double. Some if what he says sounds familiar and eventually, seeing that his bike and apparel are orange, I realize that he must be Jay from the Pumpkin Cycle blog who wrote the excellent post on the recent Eastern Sierra fiasco. Amazing coincidence. We rant for a while about that and other double-related stuff.

Once we get back on highway 128 the surface improves and magically we find another paceline that gets us into the last rest stop at Monte Rio in short order. Only 17 miles to go now. I head out alone and reach a T-junction that I can't find on the route map. I'm pretty sure I should go left but then I see Jay coming up the road to the right. He claims that getting lost is one of his things, but that we are definitely on the right road. There are no other riders to confirm that but we press on. We climb steadily up to Occidental and then turn left towards Sebastopol. I'm very glad when we start descending and I ask Jay, who rode this section yesterday, if we are done with the climbing. He says yes, but it's a lie and there's still a couple more short hills. Finally we hit a flat section and then turn onto High School Road for the last mile. Great reception at the finish, the digital clock showing my (personal) record for a hilly double and lots of people clapping and cheering. Josh is waiting patiently and seems (pleasantly) surprised to see me this early!

In another extraordinary coincidence I meet another old friend, Bo Crane, from Palo Alto at the finish, who used run the Palo Alto AYSO youth soccer program during my tenure as head coach a few years back. He's also a biker but he's here cheering on a friend who came down from Oregon to do the ride. He snapped this picture of me.

Great post-ride meal and then Josh and I decide to head back rather than stay an extra night as we are done so much earlier than (I) expected. He graciously offers to drive as I'm not sure I would be safe. I'm feeling pretty beat up; my arms in particular are aching from all the bumpy descents.

So now I've done the top three "radically difficult" doubles, Devil Mountain (DMD), Alpine 8-pass Challenge (A8) and the Terrible Two (TT), in one year. Ironically, I did my best time by far on the TT, which I was most worried about. Obviously I'm in better shape than when I did the DMD back in April, but it's still interesting to try to rank them. The TT had a lot more fast flat riding than I had expected, which helps get the average speed up, but the after-lunch climbs are monsters. The DMD and the A8 basically have no paceline riding at all, it's either up or down all the time. I'm sure the TT would be much, much harder in normal, hot, temperatures, so I think it definitely deserves its title. My personal enjoyment ranking is: DMD, A8 and TT. I score the TT last because the road surface is truly awful for long periods, whereas the A8 roads (and views) are fantastic. The DMD is somewhere in between but overall gave me the biggest sense of achievement and the still-green countryside is truly magnificent in April. All three rides are incredibly well supported with fantastic volunteers.

So, given that the TT is only a week after the A8 I'm not sure I'd do it again. It would almost certainly be hotter and tougher and I'm no fan of heat. Check back next year!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Mick
    Fun reading your recaps of the doubles this year and they bring back (now good) memories--as we were on many of the same rides, and a pleasure to come in with you in the TT.

    One doubles guru from our club said "on each double, at one point you're spent and wondering why your doing the ride, and then near the end you can't wait for the next one."

    Drop me a line re the handlebar bag you had on AA8. Luckily I had a rack bag on the Eastern Sierra but seems like a handlebar bag would be better for quickly digging out clothes.

    Congrats again on the AA8 finish, and based on talking w/ you, it seems like good alternative to the Death Ride and the whims of the ever changing lottery. NOW is the fun part of the year with DR, Mt Tam Double and Knoxville.

    Best-Jay (Gruppo Pumpkincycle/ Diablo Cyclists)