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.