Saturday, September 29 in Vacaville, California:
This ride was to be my third double century for 2001 (and my third double century ever, for that matter), the other two being Davis and the Grand Tour, and, if I finished it, completion of the California Triple Crown, and all of the bragging rights that confers 🙂 I was pretty anxious about this ride, as 1) I really wanted to get the triple crown this year, 2) at 200 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing, this would be by far the hardest ride I’ve ever done, and 3) I hadn’t been riding very much at all since the Holstein Hundred on August 19th.
Before the ride:
I took a half day on Friday and drove up to Vacaville at 1. I arrived in Vacaville at about 2:40 and met several other cyclists doing the ride at the Motel 6. After checking in and putting my stuff in my room (a nasty, smelly room – $45/night gets you what you pay for!), I headed to the pre-ride checkin at Pena Adobe Park. It took a couple of tries to find the park (the directions said “veer left” when they meant “turn left”), but I found it quickly enough, signed in, and got my goodie bag, T-shirt (for once, a polo shirt – cool!), and jersey. I went back to town, had a delicious and nutritious dinner at Jack In The Box (yeah right :), then went back to my room filled up my water bottles, prepared a bottle of Spiz, and read for a while. I was up later than I’d intended to be (darn those engrossing books!), and wasn’t in bed until almost midnight. Some *expletive deleted* next door was singing loudly (and verypoorly) off and on for quite some time, and whenever any of the numerous people who asked him to shut up, he’d reply “its a free show – enjoy it!” Grrrrrrrr. My wakeup call never came, but fortunately I’d set the alarm clock in my cellphone as well, so at 3:45, I woke up (rather blearily!). I suited up and drove over to the ride start and got ready.
Since it is fully dark at 4:40am this time of year, I waited around for some other cyclists before starting, as my light, a 2C cell Cateye, isn’t all that bright. Before long, a group of 5 or so folks formed up and we headed out at about 4:50. We headed out at a good pace, with a fellow who had a nice, bright light leading the way 🙂 He was kind enough to pull us along for a good many miles before pulling to the back of the group. The route headed east on a frontage road to I-80 towards Fairfield. We went through Fairfield at a very good clip, as there were enough streetlights to see very clearly, and the roads were good. This was the last urban riding we would do for a very, very long time! We went along Wooden Valley Cross Rd. and Wooden Valley Rd. for 5’ish miles then came to the foot of Mt. George on Highway 121.
I wasn’t having any trouble hanging with the group so far, but now that the road turned upwards, I was struggling to keep up. I decided there was no sense at all in blowing out this early in the ride, so I dropped off the back of the group and rode alone for a while. Unfortunately, my batteries in my headlight were fading and flickering, so I couldn’t keep a very good pace on the descent of Mt. George. It was very beautiful and peaceful riding alone in the darkness with the bright stars above. I haven’t done very much night riding at all previously, but I was really enjoying this! As I descended Mt. George, the sun started to rise over the Napa valley – this was abosultely gorgeous! After descending into the Napa valley and jogging on a couple of streets along the foot of Atlas Peak, I headed northwest on Silverado Trail. 6.7 miles later, I pulled into rest stop #1 at the Napa Valley Ecological Preserve (37 miles). This rest stop was very well-stocked with coffee (which I passed on, wanting to save caffeine kicks for later!), bagels, muffins, and other good eats. I hung for a few, had a muffin, and filled a water bottle with another serving of Spiz.
It was still pretty chilly (low 40s), so I left my kneewarmers and windbreaker on when I headed back out. The route jogged around back to Silverado Trail and continued northwest for a while until I came to the foot of Howell Mountain. The climb up Howell Mountain was gorgeous! I looked back to a lovely view of the sun over the Napa hills, and a bunch of hot air balloons taking slowly rising from the valley floor. I met a nice fellow and rode with him for much of the climb. He’d done the Davis Brevet series (whose culmination is the 1200km Gold Rush brevet – oww!), and we talked of various rides we’d done. He was good company, and we settled into a comfortable (ie. not fast 🙂 pace. A short ways up the climb, I stopped to remove my windbreaker and knee warmers, as it was warming up quickly as the sun rose higher in the sky. Howell Mountain Rd. turned into White Cottage Rd. and continued climbing for another 4 miles, but it wasn’t too steep, and was very scenic. At the end of White Cottage, we rejoined Howell Mountain Rd. and enjoyed a 2 mile, technical descent into Pope Valley. This descent was a lot of fun, with good pavement, and a good mix of fast sweeping turns and tight squirrely turns. From the bottom of Howell Mountain, we went east along Pope Canyon for 10 miles to rest stop #2 at Lake Berryessa (71 miles). Like the first rest stop, this one was well-stocked with V8, PB&Js, bagels, chips, etc. I snacked a bit (OK, quite a bit :), stretched, and crammed my headlight and kneewarmers into my saddle bag.
I’d heard that the next stretch, along Knoxville Rd., was 37 miles and 4000′ of climbing – not too bad at all (on paper, assuming an even grade. You know what they say about assuming…). The first 15 or so miles on Knoxville Rd. were lovely, gentle rolling hills. There was a seasonal river along the road, which it frequently crossed on very bumpy ramps. The riverbed itself was the road on these crossings, so the road is impassable during high water as a sign warned. There was virtually no traffic at all on this stretch, and I was making good time, and feeling pretty decent, passing many people. I played leapfrog with several riders, passing them when it was flat’ish, and being passed by them on the larger rollers. Alas, this was not to last, and the road turned sharply upwards as did the temperature (low to mid 90s). This first climb didn’t appear to be all that steep, but it was really putting the hurt on me! I was no longer passing anybody (but not many folks were passing me either!) as I slowly crawled upwards at 4-5mph, baking in the heat, and not at all appreciating the rather brisk headwind that remained with us for the whole climb up Knoxville Rd. After what seemed an eternity, I arrived at a very welcome water stop (94 miles).
I stayed a little while, filling up my water bottles and having some energy drink. Discouragingly, I was getting fairly fatigued by this point – not a good sign as I wasn’t even halfway done! I realized then that there was no way I was going to finish the ride before sunset, so decided to take it easier for the remainder. After coaxing myself to leave the water stop, I continued on Knoxville Rd. to another fairly nasty climb. These climbs were puzzling me, as they didn’t look all that steep, but I was having a tough time getting up them! I appeared to be in good company, though, as nobody was exactly blasting past me up the hills 🙂 Finally, the climb was over, and I was treated to two really fun, fast downhills – woo hoo! This descent, though not too long, was a screamer. If I knew the road at all, no brakes would have been required, and as it was, they were barely needed. I hit 50mph on the first downhill, and most of both of them were spent at well over 40mph – you gotta love that! In no time at all, I pulled into the lunch stop at Lower Lake County Park (108 miles).
The lunch stop was very well-equipped, with delicious tuna sandwiches with apple and grapes in them, turkey sandwiches, chips, soda, etc. I wasn’t feeling great (again, worrysome since there were 90 miles to go!), so I stayed quite a while at lunch, being sure to drink a lot, and eat a lot. I had originally hoped to make the cut-off for the optional 5 mile loop near the end that would bring the mileage to exactly 200, but this was out of my grasp too. “Just as well,” I thought, as it entailed a pretty nasty-sounding climb 180 miles into the ride! At lunch I ran into Galen, whom I’d met on the Grand Tour. I hadn’t yet seen Felix, though, and he hadn’t checked in on the sheet at lunch, so I figured either he didn’t show up, or was behind me. After spending about an hour at the lunch stop, I (somewhat reluctantly) hit the road again. This was proving to be a much harder ride than I had anticipated!
Shortly after leaving lunch, the course went up Seigler Canyon. This climb took a lot out of me (not that there was much left in me to begin with at this point!)! I then went down Big Canyon Rd. I recognized Big Canyon from theDavis Double, which was heartening, as the Davis Double went the opposite direction and I remember the climb being long’ish, which meant we were in for a long’ish descent! Sure enough, before too long (but not quickly enough!), I enjoyed the descent on Big Canyon, which was followed by some gentle rolling hills into Middletown and onto Butts Canyon Rd. This went past Detert Reservoir, again the opposite direction of the Davis Double, but it looked very different this time of year with the hills browning, and the water low. It was still very pretty, though, and I (slowly) enjoyed the next few miles to rest stop #4 at the Guenoc Winery (133 miles). After a short climb up the winery’s gravel driveway, it was again time for some power relaxing 🙂 This was a nice stop, with shaded benches next to the winery’s main building. I thought it was very kind of the winery to let the ride have a rest stop here (especially since there isn’t anything else nearby). I’ll have to check out their wines sometime (and so should you :). Like the others, this stop was well-stocked, and I munched a bunch. I still wasn’t feeling very well, but a bit better than at lunch, and now there were “only” 64 miles to go!
I went back down the gravel driveway of the winery and continued south on Butts Canyon Rd for another 11 miles. Much like the previous 6 miles on Butts Canyon, this was very scenic, with mostly gentle rolling hills (not that the “gentle” uphill rollers didn’t hurt, mind you!). Butts Canyon Rd. turned into Pope Valley Rd and went through Pope Valley again (we’d been here before in the morning), continuing on Pope Valley Rd for a number more miles, then turned on Highway 128, 7 miles from the second-to-last rest stop. By now, my primary concern was to get to the 5th rest stop before sundown so I could change the batteries in my headlight and find a group of riders to ride with. The sun was falling quickly, but I made it to the old Lakeside Market (mile 166) at around 7, before full darkness arrived. This stop was really well-stocked, with hot dogs, instant potato soup, and cup-o-noodles! I had 2 hot dogs, a cup of potato soup, 2 bags of chips, and a Mountain Dew here to ensure that my energy levels stayed high enough to finish the ride (though this far into it there was no way I was not going to finish!). A group of 3 other riders were preparing to leave, so I joined them (the ride (wisely) wouldn’t allow riders to leave rest stops alone after dark).
The riders I left the rest stop with were a good match speed-wise, and we motored along Highway 128 at a pretty decent clip for the next 16 miles. One of the riders, who has done a number of other double centuries remarked on how difficult he was finding this one (I certainly didn’t argue!). There were some climbs on Hwy 128, mostly not _too_ bad, but very painful nonetheless (anything but downhill was painful at this point!). It was fully dark, with a bright moon and a clear view of the stars, as we did the last couple of larger climbs, including the reverse side of “Cardiac Hill”, which wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined it would be. It was bright enough that we could have seen without our headlights (though other vehicles would have had a hard time seeing us!). A nice thing I discovered about climbing hills at night is you can’t see very far up them at all, so you don’t get psyched out by them 🙂 In short order, we arrived at the final rest stop at the Pardesha Store (mile 182). I was very happy that they put the last couple of rest stops relatively close together! They had really tasty chili, more instant soup, and various other eats, and we rested for a few before heading out for the final 13 mile leg of the ride. I was going to make it!
We rode along Pleasant’s Valley Rd., enjoying the moonlit hills and almost total lack of cars. As we rode, my headlight started bouncing insanely around on my handlebars, and before I could do much about it, it ended its agony by jumping off of my bars, smashing into the road, and rolling into the bushes. Good thing it was a cheap light! I didn’t bother stopping, as it sounded like it broke rather un-fixably when it hit the road, and we were so close to the finish now. Of course this meant I couldn’t lead our group if I’d wanted to (and I didn’t, really 🙂 since I had no headlight, but we rode along at a good clip, energized by how close we were to the finish. After a couple of small rolling hills, we could see Highway 80 and knew it was only a matter of yards until we were done! We pulled into the finish at 10:15, signed in (apparently there were ~35 riders still on the course when we finished), and feasted on delicious bowtie pasta salad, rigatoni w/marinara sauce, salad, and BBQ chicken breasts. I’d completed my goal of finishing the California Triple Crown for 2001!
I headed back to my hotel at around 10:45 and saw a recumbent pulling in. I wondered if it was my friend Felix (it was, as I’d later find out). I called my folks from the hotel and promptly passed out 🙂
The Knoxville website said this was a good course for beginners. What are they smoking!?!? I found this ride to be aLOT tougher than either the Davis or Grand Tour double centuries, and everybody I talked to thought it was quite difficult as well (though everybody also said they had a really good time – I surely did!). The website lists the ride at 12,000′ of climbing, Felix talked to one of the staffers who said it was 13,000′ of climbing, and my Cateye altimeter (which isn’t known for its accuracy) claimed it was 15,800′ of climbing. It sure felt like more than 12,000 to me, that’s for sure!
This ride was great overall! It was by far the hardest ride I’ve ever done, but also one of the most beautiful, and the almost complete lack of car traffic on most of the route only made it that much more enjoyable. The support was superb, the people friendly – what else can I say?
|Total Time:||17h 25m|
|On-bike Time:||13h 58m|
|Total Climbing:||~12,000 ft|
|Overall:||5 – tough, but sweet!|