I rode the Knoxville double in 2009 and 2010, but pulled out in 2011, as I was so wiped out after Paris-Brest-Paris and had some delayed onset knee pain. However, in 2012, I was feeling really good after the Ride Across Britain (RAB) so, despite having previously decided that RAB would be my last ride before the recumbent conversion, I decided to do one more ride on the trusty Waterford. The previous rides were on the light carbon Trek 5200, so I know I'm likely to be slower, but hopefully somewhat more comfortable.
Vacaville is just a bit too far to drive to for a 5am start, so I drove up on the Friday night and stayed in a motel on the strip. Too late to register on the Friday, so up a bit earlier to get that done. The parking is always a bit random at the start, it being of off-road in a county park in the dark with no parking marshals.
I'm off by 5am, dynamo light showing the way, wearing my RAB jersey. Owing to resurfacing work the outbound is different this year; basically we are going out the way we come back, which means an early climb up the aptly named Cardiac hill to the dam. It's surprisingly misty and cool all the way to the first rest stop on the edge of Lake Berryessa and I'm still sporting arm and leg warmers and a sleeveless wind jacket. The road follows the southern edge of the lake in a westerly direction, and it's new to me. Nice and flat so a good speed into the Napa Valley. We are entering the valley much further north than usual, so it's just a short trip up the Silverado trail before turning off to climb Mount Howell. I missed seeing the usual hot air balloons in the Napa Valley. Fantastic fog in the valley from the top of Mount Howell, then the exciting descent into the Pope valley. Finally, the sun is out and it's warming up, so I stop to lose some clothes and put on my sunglasses. About a mile up the road I have one of those feelings that I've left something behind, in this case my regular glasses. Sure enough, I can't find them anywhere. I'm pretty sure I left them at the stop so I retrace my path, getting strange looks from riders going the right way. Thankfully, there they are on the ground right where I had stopped.
A steady climb up and over the hill and then down to the west side of Lake Berryessa and rest stop #2. Lots of old friends here working the rest stop and I'll see the same crew later in the afternoon at rest stop #4. Next up is perhaps the hardest segment of the ride because it is such a long grind and the temperature is usually getting into the 90s. There's this interesting tunnel towards the top of the steeper segment, just before the water stop, but I always forget that there's a lot more distance to go before the real summit, even if the grade is easier. Then a nice downhill, and one more climb before rolling into the lunch stop at south Clear Lake. Always nice, because there are tables under a big shelter from the sun.
But then, the big one, up to the top of Cobb mountain at 3000', with some serious grade in the main section. I don't usually suffer them, but this time I'm getting quad cramps on the steep section. I'm not alone, this climb is famous for cramps, probably because the long, hot. grind before lunch is very dehydrating, even when you are drinking, and it's easy to lose electrolytes. It's nice on the summit in the pine trees and the descent is one of those that you live for. Recently resurfaced, the road is as smooth as a billiard table, with nice fast bends and, as luck would have it, no cars. It's worth the entrance price on its own and I'd love a trip back up to do it again.
After Middletown at the base, the road flattens out and it's a few miles to rest stop #4 by a small lake, with the same crew from rest stop #2. We're at about mile 135 here, and that's the point where the tiredness usually starts to kick in. Quite a few people crashed out in the deck chairs recuperating. I'm feeling reasonably good although the usual neck and shoulder stress is well set in by this point. Lots of rollers and a few short climbs to get back to the Pope Valley and finally a nice twisting 5-6% descent to the east side of Lake Berryessa and rest stop #5. There's always a good crowd hanging here before the climb up to Cardiac and they have hot dogs and soup. The latter is great, so long as I remember to add some ice to stop burning my mouth in my hurry to drink it. After the initial climb, there is a long flattish section before the final climb to the dam. The light is beginning to fail and it's dark by the time I start the descent, which is a pretty good one. As we are entering the central valley zone, the temperature often rises here, despite the sun going down. One final quick rest stop and then the final 13 miles down Pleasant Valley road into the finish and the always excellent pasta post-ride dinner. I love the post-ride dinners even if I'm often almost too tired to pick up my knife and fork.
The final act is attending the annual California Triple Crown awards breakfast, at the same park as the ride start/finush, sporting my RAB hoodie. Always an emotional affair, but good to finally see Becky Berka accept her award for being on the podium for the Stage Race.