Saturday, April 26 in San Ramon, California
See also my photo album from this ride
I was quite apprehensive about this ride, as at 205mi and 20,000′ of climbing, it would be by far the most difficult ride I’ve ever attempted, plus its really early in the season. My fears were not tempered by the fact that I’m familiar with almost all of the climbs on the route, as I know how hard they are! I’d been training diligently for the past number of months, but a prolonged bout of the flu and foul weather caused me to miss much more training than I should have….
I drove over to San Ramon on Friday night and did the pre-ride checkin. The registration packet contained a nice cloth map of the course, E-Caps, and a pamphlet from E-Caps on endurance exercising. I went to bed at 10:00 and slept pretty badly, waking up at 11:50, 1:50, 2:50, and 3:15. With that final wakeup being only 15min before my alarm was set anyways, I got up and slowly got in gear. It poured buckets on me while driving to San Ramon, which was not really how I wanted to start the ride! I got to the hotel, went to the registration room, dropped off my lights (to be sent ahead to the Crothers rest stop), and rolled out at about 5:10.
It was cool, but dry as I rode through still-asleep San Ramon with a couple of other riders. None of us had bright lights, having sent them ahead for the evening, but we all had decent ones, and there was a fair bit of ambient light anyways. We cruised through Blackhawk’s rolling hills. At this point the folks I was riding with were going faster than I wanted to (I prefer to save the hard work for the real hills, not rollers!), so I rode alone in the peaceful darkness for a little ways before turning off on Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard. I met up with a couple of other riders and we rode along the horribly-paved road up to the south gate of Mt. Diablo State Park.
We started the climb in earnest at around 5:45, just 15 minutes after the gates opened. I heard the unmistakable “bang” of a tire exploding – someone apparently hit one of the huge potholes! I found out later it was Tom, a rider I sort of know. I stopped early on in the climb to shed my rain jacket, as I was roasting inside of it! The sun was rising in the east, making for beautiful views of the cloudy hills. I passed the junction and continued climbing on Summit Rd. towards the top. I hadn’t seen any riders descending yet, which surprised me a bit, as I’d have thought the early hammerheads would be descending as I climbed. After a while, folks started coming down the mountain. One of them rode right off of the mountainside just 10 feet in front of me! It was a very surreal sight seeing a cyclist come around a corner, into my lane, onto the gravel shoulder, and off a cliff! I hurried to the edge and peered over. Amazingly, the rider stopped just a dozen feet below the road and was still with his bike – I was fully expecting him to have plunged to his doom, as the mountainside is quite steep! I asked if he was OK or needed help and he said he was fine, so I continued on my way, climbing past a photographer from PhotoCrazy. Before long, I passed Devil’s Thumb and knew it was just a few more turns to the summit. The dreaded 18% wall that caps Mt. Diablo actually felt fine, and I arrived at the top 2 hours after starting the ride in San Ramon. This first rest stop (19.9mi) didn’t close for 2 hours, but I didn’t stay long anyways, as it was cold! I mixed up a bottle of Spiz, had a handful of bread, used the facilities, briefly enjoyed the top-of-the-world views, and headed back down.
The descent was hideously cold, even with me wearing arm warmers, a vest, glove liners, and a jacket, and my fingertips and toes quickly went numb. I descended back past the Photo Crazy photographer trying to smile without my lips falling off. Diablo isn’t an awful descent, but its not a great one either, with many blind and uneven turns, and gravel often in the road. I passed the scene of a very bad looking accident where the cyclist was lying face-down on the pavement and not moving. Fortunately there was already a SAG vehicle there, and the rider regained consciousness as I went by. I found out later that the unlucky rider’s handlebars broke as he descended and he suffered injuries to his neck and back 🙁 I hope he makes a speedy recovery. I continued descending in the cold, although it warmed up a little bit as we headed down Northgate Road into Walnut Creek. I stopped at the north gate to thaw my fingers, shed a layer, and swap lenses in my sunglasses.
From here it was a moderately-paced ride over Ygnacio Valley Rd. into the outskirts of Concord, then south through Clayton on Marsh Creek Rd. There were lovely views of the northeast face of Mt. Diablo (now clear of clouds), and the temperature was just about perfect. There were very, very few riders on the road, which had me worried that I was already towards the tail end of the field.
I turned onto Morgan Territory Rd., one of my favorite east bay roads. I rode with a cheerful rider for a few miles, which was nice, but when the road got a little steeper, I dropped back to keep my heart rate where it belonged. The road is in fair-to-poor shape at the best of times, but recent storms made it even bumpier and muddier than usual. It was still, as always, a peaceful road to ride on, with very, very little traffic and a nice climb along a babbling stream.
After a while, I came to the parking lot for the Morgan Territory Regional Park and rest stop #2 (53.2mi). As I pulled in, 4 other riders arrived behind me, so I guess I wasn’t completely at the back of the pack! I stretched, ate, mixed up some more Spiz, and headed out with 90 minutes to spare.
Altamont & Patterson Passes:
The descent of Morgan Territory is known as “the Plunge” and with good reason – its major fun! It feels as if you’re riding off of the edge of the world as you descend the twisty 1.5-lane road. Near the bottom, I met a nice fellow in a Furnace Creek 508 jersey who said he was having a bad day (no doubt, else he would have dropped me like a stone!). I gave him a double caffeine gel and we rode together until Altamont Rd. where he stopped. I’d never ridden all the way over Altamont before, and it turned out to be basically a non-climb to my pleasant surprise!
The early part of the road was shared with the Wente road race, and there were tons of racers out. It looked like they were warming up or something, as they clearly were not going all-out. Looking at my watch and the map, I realized it was going to be tight making the 1:00 cutoff for the Mines Rd. rest stop. Fortunately the gentle grades on Altamont are what I’m fastest on, and I went along at a good clip until the route turned south on Midway Rd. at the California Aqueduct. It was hillier here, but not too bad, and it was lovely riding along the rolling green hills next to the huge farms of (mostly inactive) windmills.
A turn on Patterson Pass continued the pretty scenery but at a bit more of a grade. I’d heard the last bit of Patterson Pass was pretty difficult, so I didn’t ride too hard on the first few miles. Sure enough, the road got steeper, then I arrived at a checkpoint that on the route sheet said “B4 steep hill.” In the distance, to my dismay, the road climbed quite steeply to the true summit, and the words “Oh My God” were chalked on the road in front of me!
After topping off my bottles, I continued on my way. The climb actually wasn’t as bad as it looked, but it wasn’t a walk in the park either, but afterwards, I got to enjoy a fun descent to Cross Rd. The route again intersected the Wente race course, and several of the women’s groups were on the road while I was. They blew past me at a fast pace, naturally 🙂 A motorcycle official for the race pulled up next to me and asked me if I knew that aero bars are banned in road races – apparently he didn’t know that there was another event on the same road that day. After I explained that I was riding the DMD he said “oh, that’s supposed to be really hard – good luck!” and went on his way. A rider I talked to later said that one official warned him against letting the women draft off of him, which gave him a laugh, as he said it would have been entirely the other way around! I cruised down Tesla Rd, soon leaving the race course, then turned onto Mines Road, just 3.5 miles from the rest stop and 1:00 cutoff. I pulled into the Mines rest stop (91mi) at 12:54, with a whopping 6 minutes to spare. I thought it was odd that I had 90 min to spare upon leaving Morgan Territory, but just a few minutes at Mines – I didn’t feel like I was riding *that* slowly! It had taken me 2 hrs 57min from when I arrived at the Morgan Territory stop until I pulled into the Mines stop, which I didn’t think was overly slow for nearly 40 hilly miles. The staff asked me and a few other arriving riders if we *really* wanted to continue on the double century course, as this stop is the split point for the 200km route. All of us, of course, said we wanted to continue. After a quick stretch and refuelling, I headed out shortly after 1:00.
I’d ridden down Mines Rd. before on a self-supported ride, but never up it. On paper it didn’t look like too difficult of a climb, but in reality I was not feeling strong on it at all. Two riders who I’d briefly spoken with at the Mines rest stop came back down saying they’d reconsidered and were going to do the 200k route instead. I rode alone for a loooong time, my spirits and strength fading with every reluctant pedal stroke. I was pretty sure I was the last person on the double century course, as I’d left after the cutoff at Mines, and there was still a whole lot of climbing and riding ahead of me. I wasn’t so much worried about Mines, but the east side of Hamilton is tough, Sierra is tougher, and from there it was another 40+ miles of moderate hills to the finish! A SAG vehicle passed me, asking if I needed anything, but I waved them on. Dark clouds were looming in the sky and in my brain. I started to question why exactly I was doing this to myself (beyond, of course, the opportunity to purchase a cool jersey!). The climb evened out to a gentle grade, but my attitude didn’t improve until just 6 or so miles from the lunch stop when I met up with a nice couple, the first riders I’d seen in nearly 2 hours! They asked me about the upcoming hills and I tried to be honest without being too negative, but I’m not sure I succeeded. Another SAG vehicle went by and I told the driver that I was done, but intended to ride to lunch under my own steam before bagging it. Having made that decision, I enjoyed the final few miles to the Junction.
I arrived at “the Junction” rest stop (116mi) 2h 33m after arriving at the Mines rest stop, and had over an hour left before the rest stop closed, reinforcing my opinion that the cutoff at Mines Rd. is a bit on the early side. Don’t get me wrong here, though – the Quackcyclists do an unimpeachable job of support! While there is a suggested 1:00 cutoff, its not rigidly enforced so long as continuing riders look like they can stay on the road, and everyone was encouraging, helpful, and friendly. I had a tasty sandwich and some other snacks while I waited for a ride back to the start. There were three of us waiting for a ride, and the volunteers thoughtfully gave us blankets and plenty of food to keep us warm and happy while we waited for the final riders to come in so the lunch stop could close. After not too long, I got a ride back with Don (I think), a nice gentleman who shared my love of hiking, so we had plenty to talk about during the slow’ish drive down Mines Road. When I got back to the hotel in San Ramon, I hunted down the ride director Scott to inquire about getting my lights back, since they were still waiting for me at the foot of Mt. Hamilton. He said I could 1) drive there and get them (not appealing at the time, since its a non-short drive from San Ramon to east San Jose!), 2) wait for the stop to close and the gear to be brought back (probably 7-9 hours from then – no thanks!), 3) come back tomorrow (I had plans to be sitting on the beach drinking beer), or 4) leave a little cash and have them shipped back to me. Needless to say I opted for option #4, then drove back home.
I was, of course, disappointed to DNF, only my second time SAG’ing in on a ride (the other being on the 2000 Lodi Sunrise Century when I was ill-prepared for the 105°+ temperatures), but so it goes. I was pleased with how I felt on the earlier climbs, and am glad I didn’t push myself to injury trying to complete this ride. And on an up note, I no longer feel any desire to ride the Heartbreak Double this year, since I’ll not be finishing the Triple Crown Stage race anyways, thus saving me a long drive down south ;-). The Quack’s support was first-rate, as it has been on the two other rides I’ve done that they hosted (the ’01 Knoxville Double and ’02 Knoxville Double).
Adam: 0, Devil: 1
|Total Time:||10h 22m|
|On-bike Time:||9h 18m|
|Food:||4 – well-stocked for ultra-cyclists’ needs|
|Route:||4 – mostly familiar, but lovely|