Backroads and Breakaways, September 2014
Everyone knows we're in the midst of a drought. We want rain. We need rain. Even cyclists are wishing for rain. Finally, we got some. As is so often the case, the first real rain of the season arrived in the last week of September. (Really...it does this every year.) It didn't rain for days and days, but just for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon (September 26). But what the storm lacked in duration it made up for in intensity. An Amazonian downpour, with hail, brilliant fork lightning--lots of it--and the ear-splitting thunder that follows along, seconds behind the flashes. Even a rainbow against a blue-black sky. It was a lavish if fleeting flourish from Mother Nature.
Fortunately, it did not rain on our club ride. That was scheduled for the following morning. But the storm set the tone for the day: it scrubbed six months' worth of dust off the landscape and made everything look fresh again, and even that little splash of water was enough to wake up the sleepy seeds in the meadows and set them to work on their busy task of greening the hills once again. Overnight--literally--the fields had begun to show a hint of green. All in all, that robust cloudburst on Friday afternoon made Saturday morning feel like the perfect time to head out on a bike ride.
And so we did. Rick Sawyer had suggested a basic 60-mile loop from Cotati out to Tomales and down the bay to Point Reyes Station, then back in through Petaluma and the hen house belt, back to Cotati. I picked up on his basic ride and added a few embellishments to plump it up to 68 miles. I put it on the ride list and waited to see if anyone would rise to the bait.
On a nearly perfect morning, there were close to two dozen riders milling around at the park in Cotati. Some were new faces to me. The club is constantly attracting new people, so that every ride is a chance to make new friends. But there were plenty of familiar faces too, and a good many of those familiar faces belonged to riders we normally associate with CD or D-paced rides. In other words, the fastest riders in our club. Seeing as how I had listed the ride at BC (moderate) pace, this looked to be a bit of a problem: the fast guys would take off like scalded cats and blow the ride apart, leaving a straggle of blown riders in their wake.
So I made a little speech before the ride, addressing that potential problem. I even suggested the fast kids start early and leave the rest of us moderate riders to plug along in peace. But no...no one was buying that. So in the end, we began together. And you know what? Every one of those fast riders honored the BC pace: they hung back, riding at 80%, and kept us all together, through the rolling hills around Two Rock and Fallon. We regrouped in Tomales and watered up, then rolled down to Tomales Bay in a tight bunch. The pace was slower than those guys can go and maybe just a hair faster than some of us would go on our own. But it worked...at least for a while.
Eventually, it made better sense to break up into smaller pods to allow the traffic along Hwy 1 to work around us more comfortably. Better for us, better for the drivers. So we let the large rollers along the bay sort us into groups of half a dozen or so, and in those little clusters, we grooved on down the magnificent shoreline to our main rest stop in Point Reyes Station.
The street in front of Bovine Bakery looked like a rest stop at the GranFondo...cyclists from all over the region--up from Marin and East Bay, down from SoCo--all mingling in bike mecca.
On the way back, we split up again, this time for good. Those of us in the moderate cohort took another break at the Cheese Factory, while the faster folks just steamed on by, already smelling the barn.
The later miles--after Petaluma--dragged a little for some of us. We were a bit tired, the pavement on those roads north of town is dreadful, and we were butting into a mild headwind. But we plugged away at it and got 'er done, and at the finish everyone was effusive in their praise of the day: the route, the weather, the good company and cohesive pace lines... As Matt Wilson would have said: it was another best day ever.
Even though it's late in the season and many cyclists are already starting to taper off from the big rides of Spring and Summer, a few hardy SRCC members are still out there, tackling the big rides. Case in point is Joyce Chang, who knocked off the Knoxville Double on Saturday, September 27. She sent in this report about her adventure…Last time I rode a double century was the TT in 1999 (can you say “Has Been?”). Barley Forsman’s stepmom Tina inspired me a few years ago. She told me she started cycling when she turned 50, and then started doing 5 doubles a year after she turned 52! So 2014 appeared to be “the year” for me. The stars of bike training were aligned this past summer when I rode a couple of double metrics and in early September, I rode Allan Reeves’ Pyrenees Tour (1000 mi, 100,000’ climbing in 12 days). On the Mt Tam 200K, I met my new BFF Kris Jones, during which she and I hatched the plan to train and ride the Knoxville DC together.Bill Carroll, a 3-time veteran of the Knoxville, warned me that I should buddy up with someone who knew the course, particularly in the beginning, because the route can be hard to follow in the dark. Kris recruited her friend Don, a tall guy who has ridden a bunch of doubles, PBP, as well as the KDC 4 previous times, so we weren’t going to be directionally challenged. I also printed out and carried the course map along with elevation profile that I had downloaded from the ridewithgps website. To familiarize myself with the course, I drove the final 40 miles along Hwy 128 on my way to Vacaville. Also, given that there’s about 13 hours of daylight in late September, I came fully equipped with handlebar-mounted light (thank you, Bonnie!), helmet light (250 lumens!), and second Garmin (my daughter’s). So I was prepared for this one.The strategy went beautifully. We ripped through the first two rest stops. Cut-off time at Rest Stop #2 (mile 70.5) at Lake Berryessa was 11:30AM, and we got there at 10:00AM. The Knoxville DC gets its moniker for the 37-mile stretch of road that goes from Lake Berryessa to Lower Lake. Along the way, the name morphs from Knoxville Road into Morgan Valley Road, but it’s basically the same road. We rattled along 2 miles of rough road, when a road sign warned “Rough Road Next 10 Miles.” What we were riding on already? However, true to its word, the road did get worse, as if that were even possible. We traversed 3 cement creek crossings that dried up this year; Lou Salz warned me that cyclists fall here during wet years. The canyon broadened as we climbed to the water stop at mile 92.3, affording wide vistas of dried amber hills and scrub oak. We passed a couple of mines along the way, which appeared to be defunct. Along Knoxville Road, I rode a bit with Chuck Bramwell, himself, father of the California Triple Crown. He started riding doubles 24 years ago, and has 112 double centuries under his belt. Dude! That’s a lot of riding, I say. Chuck replies that just means riding 2-3 doubles a year; the man is losing it – I can do the math; it’s more like 4-5 doubles a year, but uncharacteristically I refrained from correcting him. Anyway, he entertained me with his large Camelbak and transistor radio playing 60’s tunes -- definitely not a weight weenie.At Lower Lake (Rest Stop #3), we made sure to eat lunch sparingly because we knew about the Siegler Canyon Climb up to Loch Lomond, having experienced it on an earlier training ride. So it was just one burrito and some cantaloupe for me. I had my second sandwich from lunch properly aging in my pocket to be enjoyed at Rest Stop #4 at the Langtry Winery. By this time we had 3 other women on our train. (Single guy alert: if you’d like to meet women, show up to a double century and offer to pull the ENTIRE time.) We got to Rest Stop #5 at 6:15 PM with 40 miles to go. At that stage my Garmin showed that we had already climbed 10,832 feet, so in theory only about 2000’ of climbing remained. Don and I left the Moore Creek Park Rest Stop, with Kris saying she’d catch up with us. We hung a left at 128 and went up the canyon a mile, waiting there for Kris to catch up. (You get no cell reception here.) We spent 23 precious daylight minutes there waiting for Kris, after which I made Don backtrack to look for Kris. I forged ahead, figuring I’d find a group to ride with on Hwy 128. No such luck. So I rode Hwy 128 in the dark pretty much by myself. Two groups passed me, one going too fast for me even to consider hopping on. The second group of two guys appreciated my headlight, as with it you can see well ahead, particularly important on the fast descents. They slowed a bit so I could hang with them. However, I still couldn’t keep pace with them up Cardiac Hill, and so from there to the final rest stop, I rode alone. Before this double, I vowed never to ride a double that I didn’t think I could complete within the daylight hours. I changed my mind. It is SO MUCH FUN! It’s like being a kid again, without a care in the world (other than being creamed by a car). In any case, I arrived at the final rest stop at 8:30PM. No Don, no Kris. Half an hour later, Don rolled in alone, still no Kris. Finally at 9:03 PM, I got a text from Kris: “We’re lost.” Phew, now I knew she wasn’t alone. So Don and I waited. Hold on: another text came in at 9:23PM. It’s from Liz Sinna; she’s asking me how it went. I tell her we’re still riding. Don’t use the past tense! Finally, Kris and Francisco showed up, having gone 10 bonus miles back to the Silverado Trail. WTF! They went south on 121, not north on 128 towards Winters. Despite the wrong turn, Kris was in good spirits, and she was ready to finish. We left the final rest stop around 9:45 with only 13 miles to go and 700’ of climbing. Considering it was dark, we rode in a pretty fast paceline with Don leading and picked up a couple of stragglers. We rolled into the finish at the Pena Adobe gazebo by 10:30, and basked in the glory of having finished a double, Kris’s first. Despite the pathetically late time we arrived, my Garmin showed an average speed of 14.3 mph with only 14 hours of ride time. Obviously, we were off the bike a LOOONNG time.At the post-ride dinner, we sat with some of the other finishers, many of whom knew each other. Among them, Dzung and Francisco flattered us by saying they saw us earlier on Knoxville Road and complimented our climbing. They casually mentioned that, by the way, there’s still the Powerhouse double, which is in two weeks, and then the Solvang Autumn for the Triple Crown. Hmmmm… I’ve got to buy a light; I can’t keep borrowing Bonnie’s. Kris and I have a new plan.
The White Mountain Double Century was run this year on Saturday, September 13. It stages out of Bishop, over on Hwy 395 on the far side of the Sierra. SRCC member Rico Boccia did the ride and filed this report…The desert is strange. Some call it "empty," but I don't find that helpful. It's a huge canvas that one can fill with all manner of things, both wonderful and frightening, depending on one's state of mind.This year, the White Mountain Double Century started and finished at the La Quinta hotel in the center of beautiful Bishop, California. It was reassuring to see cyclists milling about the neighborhood the day before the ride, and to chat with several at the Friday evening pasta feed in the park. You start to recognize the same faces from previous rides, which is also nice. Among those faces were two members of the Adobo Velo Phllipino-American Cycling Club (of Southern California) who pulled me for most of the Grand Tour out of Malibu in June. I greet them with fist bumps and tell them I'm glad to see them, but it's not clear they remember me. (We all look alike in helmets, shades, and bike kit, right?)Because the ride is small (about 135 riders, versus 650 for Davis in May and maybe 350 at the Grand Tour) and the desire is to minimize the necessary time window for each rest stop, riders are asked to start at either 4:00 a.m., if you'll take over 14 hours to do the ride, or 5:30 a.m. if not. My computer's thermometer said 64 degrees when 30-40 of us rolled out together at 4:00. Riding down a desert highway in the dark in a big group is a lot of fun, what with all the bike lights behind you lighting the way as if you had team cars and their headlights back there. As soon as we got two miles out of town and away from all the heat-trapping buildings, the temperature dropped noticeably, which was pleasant. For a while I sat behind two large gentlemen at the front of the group, but after maybe 20 minutes the rest of the pack got antsy and suddenly accelerated. I choose to stick with my two big windbreaks as the rest quickly leave us behind, telling myself I'll see them again before too long. (Fantasies are helpful in the dark, with the huge unknown hanging out there in front of you.) Fifteen miles to Big Pine and we turn left on highway 168 and head for the hills. My two droogies take a break and suddenly I'm alone in the dark with a pack of receding red taillights blinking up ahead. So this is how it's gonna be.Another fantasy: It's good that the biggest climb on the ride comes in the first 27 miles. (It hadn't occurred to me that one could spend the next 170 miles trying to recover.) Nine miles and 3200' of vertical don't make for a brutal climb (6.7% average grade), but in the dark I couldn't judge where I was in that stretch, and didn't want to keep lighting up the computer to check. Around 6 a.m., daylight starts to come up, I'm over halfway up the hill, and the world starts becoming a much friendlier place. I pass a dozen people in the last 2 miles of the climb and praise myself for my earlier restraint. At 7100' the high desert rocks and brush are quite a sight in the pre-dawn light. It's also 45 degrees up there, which will wake a guy up. At the rest stop at the corner of Route 168 and White Mountain Road, the roasted red potatoes dripping in rosemary, butter, garlic, and salt make for a most excellent breakfast. While the real riders then head up White Mountain Road (for another 10 miles and 2,600' of vertical), we riders of the "lowland route" (a.k.a. wannabes) stay on 168 and head downhill toward Nevada. No one should leave this mortal plane without at least once rolling down a mountain road in the high desert with the sun coming up in your face and the folds of brown hills stretching out to infinity in front. Maybe this is going to be a good day.The second rest stop is 46 miles in, with over 4,600' of vertical done. (Dahlstet Climbing Factor: 18.9. Hoo boy.) There I overhear a conversation between a woman rider and a volunteer about the woman's upcoming "induction." Apparently she has already completed 100 double centuries and was going to get honored for them. ("This will be one hundred one," she says. "If I finish." Her humility alone makes me proud to be out here.)With all that space, there's time to review mentally the status of each bike and body system, to calculate one's ounces of water drunk per minute as well as one's average speed to the fourth decimal, and to remember fondly every girl one ever dated. Also, it seems the high temperature in Dyer, Nevada, (the lunch spot at 92 miles) on Saturday was 91. The fact that it wasn't instead 101 made, in hindsight, all the difference. Then again, arriving at the end of Route 773 (since when do numbers go that high?), having to turn right on Nevada 6, and knowing you were going six miles further out into nowhere before turning around and heading for home (and a quick 75 miles back to town) took some combination of determination and obliviousness. Please balance them as appropriate.The final climb of 2,400' over 16.5 miles (average grade: about 2.75%) didn't announce itself as anything difficult, but what with it coming over miles 133 to 150 in the hottest part of the day, it made sense that there were *two* rest stops on the way up. Now the human insides can only absorb so much water and nutrition per hour, and it's not hard for a recreational cyclist to burn calories and perspire faster than those calories and that water can be replaced. I've been told this is the reason for muscle cramps in the legs despite having a belly continually full of liquid laced with carbs. Your mileage probably varies. That stretch of Nevada 6 also happens to be a two-lane road with no shoulder (or, where it exists, a shoulder full of unrideable rumble stripping), a 70-mph speed limit, and every type of oversized truck that can legally be driven on public roads without pilot cars. A bit nerve-wracking, all in all. I spent the last 34 miles, from rest stop 9 to the end, half in twilight and half in the dark, the first time I both started and finished a ride in the dark. That will bend the mind a bit, too. The weak half moon that had been overhead at 5 a.m. wasn't going to come up again for a long while, and the battery in my headlamp was fading (one more thing, along with the need for more frequent applications of Chamois Butt'r(r), for which a smarter rider would have been prepared), so that last hour and a quarter was an exercise in trying to avoid the now-invisible rumble strips. But there's a point about eight miles from Bishop where one comes over a low rise and can see the lights of the town, a truly beautiful sight.I can report that at 8:42 p.m. in Bishop, California, on Saturday night, September 13, 2014, there was a handful of young people in front of the La Quinta hotel on Main Street applauding arriving cyclists and ringing a cow bell. Their enthusiasm was enough to make an old guy cry.
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