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

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