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


  1. Awesame, MJJ! Now I know what I will want to do next year at this time (if they organize it again and it doesn't conflict with anything major or other constraints). But I doubt I would extend it with Ebbetts East as you did ...

  2. Good deal going all the way down Ebbetts--when I did self supported Death Ride I covered much of the course you did--Spicer-Pacific Grade--Hermit Valley and beyond.
    Silver Creek campground, at least in 2003, did have running water available--and that was the only place on "Hwy 4." I also though the legendary Pacific Grade was much easier than hyped up to be (and Ebbetts #1 was a ball buster in those days.) Good report and see you at Knoxville.-j