Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ride Across Britain Prelude

The Ride Across Britain is only 10 days away and tomorrow I will do my last, easy, ride on the trainer and then pack the bike into its S+S case. This will be the fourth time; I wonder if it will be easier than last time, which was on the return from Paris-Brest-Paris. Probably not, as I'm sure I've forgotten all the tricks needed to get it safely packed into such a small space. The most annoying thing is having to remove the fork as my custom frame with its long headset won't fit in the case otherwise.

I'm looking forward to the ride; it's been a long, long buildup, and I'll finally get to meet some of the people I have been corresponding with on the rider hub website. To the best of my knowledge there are only four US riders participating, none of whom I have met, unlike PBP where I knew lots of US riders. To be honest, I'm not feeling quite at my best having had a bunch of minor physical problems with the body this year, but I'm confident I'll be ok if I take it easy and pace myself. My diet of 200/300K brevets and the recent Mt Tam double century should make the average 100 miles a day seem relatively easy. By comparison, I know some UK riders who have only just completed their first century. Certainly the fear that I had before PBP isn't there this year. Nine days in a row, however, will be a new experience, and I know that minor niggles can become serious as the days mount up. Also sleeping in a tent might make for some early morning stiffness! I'm prepared for rain and will be sporting fenders and carrying my RUSA Showers Pass jacket, Rain Legs and shoe covers. Of course, I am hoping for a long stretch of dry sunny California-style weather! Growing up in the UK I've experienced vacations with two weeks of sun and also two weeks of rain, so you never can tell what will happen. Because of the almost certainty of rain, the bike will be set up in "brevet" mode, with the rear bag I used on PBP. However, no need to carry food or a change of kit on the bike as that is taken care of by the organizers.

I've got a GoPro HD video camera on the bike, and plan to get as much footage as I can fit on the 500GB portable hard drive I'm taking with me. That's about 5000 minutes of HD video which should be plenty!

I also hope to be posting my progress on Facebook, and will follow up with a ride report on return.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mt Tam Double 2012

This is one of my favourite double centuries, probably because the terrain reminds me so much of the UK where I grew up. Being so close to the cold Pacific it's also rarely hot, and certainly not this year with temperatures struggling to make it out of the 50s; the sun made a very brief appearance on Mt Tam, but that was it for the day.

I've done this ride every year since I started riding doubles in 2009; unfortunately I've been getting slower every year. This year I arrested the slide, being 15 minutes faster on the bike, with the same overall ride time due to a knarly flat early on that took a while to deal with.

Often this is the final leg of the California Triple Crown Stage Race, which always guarantees a big turn out. This year the Stage Race was an all Southern California affair, but still the turn out was decent, well over one hundred riders were lined up at the mass start at 5am.

It's a deceptively difficult ride. There are only two true climbs, Mt Tam early on at 2500', and Coleman Valley at mile 130 with its sustained 15% grade for half a mile, but the rest of the ride is a series of endless rollers and short climbs, many of which are well into double digit grades. There can't be more than 20 miles of flat riding out of 200, and the official total climbing is 15,500'. In my experience rollers sap your strength more than steady climbs because the recovery time is short and there is a tendency to push harder that you would on a sustained climb.

The knarly flat was on a short descent on the Mt Tam climb, caused by the bits of wire that are in modern vehicle tires. It took a lot of work to get the wires out and I had to resort to using my teeth at one point. Fortunately just as I was about to inflate the tire, "Fuzzy" Lee rolled up in his SAG wagon and pumped the tire with the floor pump and gave me a replacement tube as well. Fuzzy has a habit of this; exactly the same thing happened on the Death Valley Double a couple of years back.

The day was relentlessly cloudy. I finally removed the leg and arm warmers on the way back inland to Petaluma as it looked as if the sun was going to make an appearance, but it proved to be a false sign and it quickly closed in again. Hard to believe it was August rolling through the scenic but chilly Chileno Valley, except for the parched brown hills a reminder that it hasn't actually rained for three months.

The Coleman Valley climb is part of a 30 mile loop that starts and returns to main lunch rest stop at Valley Ford. It has a lot of climbing; four huge rollers to start, then the Bay Hill climb to bypass Bodega Bay and finally Coleman Valley. This starts at sea level and goes to about 1000' and is where I get my strongest reminders of Britain. After the very steep initial pitch it flattens to about 6% and looks almost exactly like the moorland in Britain, especially when the mist is blowing across the road as it was yesterday. I even passed a flock of sheep wandering down the road at one point.

The road surface on the way back to main rest stop at Valley Ford leaves a lot to be desired, especially "Joy" road which has a steep grade with a surface that lulls you into a sense of security only to suddenly exhibit a patch of completely broken up pavement that seems like it will shake the bike to bits.

The final 50 miles from Valley Ford is relatively easy. Still plenty more rollers along Hwy 1 by the coast and then a grind up the Marshall Wall, which was again socked in with low cloud. Great rest stop at Marshall Ranch and then a fast run in back to the start and a great post-ride meal with time to reminisce with other riders.

Total ride time 16:11, on bike time 14:52.