Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2008 Devil Mountain Double

"Only insane people ride the DMD" I've always thought, as I read riders' stories of this 206-mile ride with over 18,000 feet of climbing, done sometimes in hailstorms with snow on the ground and at other times in heat waves with temperatures over 90 degrees. In the early years of the ride, I saw DMD course arrows on Pinehurst and Skyline, roads where I ride often, and just shook my head. As years passed and the course changed, the arrows faded and the ride faded from my consciousness.

After riding myself back into shape in 2007, I decided to tackle the California Triple Crown -- 3 double centuries in a calendar year. I looked at the calendar and picked the "easiest" three: Solvang (late March), Davis (late May), Eastern Sierra (early June). Family commitments ruled out Davis, and I was left with an unenviable choice of Central Coast (late May, hilly and windy), Terrible Two (late June, hilly and hot), Mt. Tamalpais (early August, hilly and hot), or Knoxville (early September, not too hilly, possibly hot). Knoxville became the choice by default. The difficult part about doing Solvang, Eastern Sierra, and Knoxville was the rides' timing. I had to be in shape for a 200 miler in March, for another in June, and another in September. I preferred to have them closer together so I could use each double as a training ride for the next. I needed to come up with an alternative.

I had a fabulous time at Solvang. I rode it very fast (for me -- 19.3 mph) and finished feeling fairly fresh. DMD was scheduled for April 26, far enough from Solvang to recover from it, but close enough to use Solvang as training. Thus, the plan was born: Solvang as a training double for the much hillier DMD, the ride for the insane.

Chapter 1: Not the DMD!
"So, what are doing for an encore," asked my friend Gary after I finished regaling him with the tale of my ride at Solvang. I looked at him and smiled enigmatically. He waited a few seconds and repeated the question. I smiled again. "No," he said, "you're not doing the DMD?!" I smiled and nodded.

There were four weeks between Solvang and DMD. I planned on doing 60-80-mile weekend rides and a couple of hilly 130-milers before DMD to get ready. But my daughter got sick, then my wife, then I felt as if I was coming down with something. Between illnesses, work, and family commitments, the only serious training ride I was able to do was a 120-miler over Mt. Diablo and Morgan Territory Road 10 days before DMD. This 8-hour ride left me exhausted and made my knee hurt. The knee problem and apparent lack of fitness left me concerned about my ability to finish the DMD. Concerned enough to consider not starting.

I agonized for the better part of 10 days whether I should ride. Finally, I decided that I am in good shape from Solvang, I would eat and hydrate better than I had on my training ride, I would ride wisely and not go with super fast groups, and I didn't have to finish if my knee started to scream at me. Not finishing was not an honest option -- one does not start epic rides thinking of bailing out.

On Friday, April 25, I drove to ride HQ at San Ramon Marriott to check in and to pick up my number and route sheet. I wanted to have everything on the day before the ride so I wouldn't have to stand in line at 4:30 a.m. to pick up the number and then spent the next 15 bleary minutes cursing, as I poked myself with safety pins trying to attach the number to my jersey. I preferred to do the poking and the cursing in the privacy of my home. I picked up my number and route sheet, went home, pinned the number on my jersey, and set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. I would start riding with the 5:00 a.m. group.

Chapter 2: Good Morning!
I was so anxious about DMD that I couldn't fall asleep. Then, I woke up in the middle of night and couldn't go back to sleep. End result: when the alarm went off I'd slept a grand total of three hours. After a bleary-eyed breakfast of two bananas, a hard-boiled egg, and a bagel with peanut butter and honey, I threw my bike, shoes, helmet and other stuff in the car and drove to San Ramon. En route, I called Jeff to arrange a meeting at the start. Arrived at 4:30 to see people taking bikes out of cars and milling about. I got out my bike, put on my shoes and helmet, and rode to the hotel entrance. Congregating there were over 100 cyclists, many with their lights on, greeting friends and chatting with family members who accompanied some of the riders to the start. There was an excited buzz in the air. I met Jeff and his wife. One of the ride organizers made a few announcements, reminding us to obey traffic laws and not to ride stupid, and at 5:00 sharp we were off!

Chapter 3: And We're Off!
One hundred and twenty single bikes and one tandem sped through dark streets of San Ramon to the foot of Mt. Diablo, a 10.5 mile climb to 3,849 feet. We hit the lower slopes of Diablo in the dark. I told Jeff that I would be vying for lanterne rouge prize and he flew off. In the dark I lost sight of him quickly. Ahead of me -- red tail lights; behind -- a river of white head lights. The peloton snaked up the curves of South Gate Road, as a spectacular dawn began breaking. We hit an inversion layer at around 2,000 feet. Air temperature rose, but almost immediately we were hit with a cold wind. The wind gained strength as we gained elevation. I rode and talked with DMD veterans about what this wind meant for the remaining 190 miles. The consensus was a long day of head winds. Eventually, this social climbing brought us to the last steep pitch -- 150 yards at 16%. We were all still pretty fresh and this section, the steepest of the day, did not present any problems.

I saw and talked to Jeff, who started the descent before me. I ate a bit, refilled my bottles, and began descending. As I rode down, I wondered whether I'd see the 6:00 group of fast riders. Sure enough, about 4 miles below the summit I saw about 20 guys/gals racing up the mountain. I hit the inversion layer again and felt warmer, but when I reached lower slopes of North Gate Rd. it became so cold that my feet started shivering.

I rode through Walnut Creek in a small group at a very civilized pace. No one felt a need to hammer with a 4-mile climb up Morgan Territory Road in quickly rising temperatures that lay just ahead and with 154 miles still to go. On Marsh Creek Road, just before Morgan, the tandem caught me, so I jumped into the group it was pulling and enjoyed the draft for a couple of miles. The group broke up as soon as we hit Morgan. I rode at a medium pace on the flat part of Morgan. Then we hit the notoriously horrible stretch of pavement that lasts the entire four miles of the climb. At this point, a couple of faster riders caught up with me and I went with them. The climb has a couple of downhill dips and descending in a group at a high speed, with everyone trying to pick his way around minefields of gaping potholes, was a fairly terrifying experience. At 9:15, we reached the summit of Morgan -- the second rest stop. The leading riders of the 6:00 group arrived 5 minutes after us. More food and drink, sunscreen, and I began the descent.

Though Morgan Territory descent into Livermore area is one of the most exhilarating I've ever ridden, I decided that I would descend conservatively. No reason to crash out of a double century. Whether it was conservative riding or others' superior descending skills, but a couple of people were gaining on me on the lower slopes of the hill. One rider said "Hi" as he went by. I looked at his number and saw "Smith" in big bold letters (numbers had riders' names). Above it was "Sean" in smaller letters. It was Sean Smith from Serotta Forum, with whom I exchanged e-mails after the Solvang Double. "Sean!" I said loudly, "I'm Vlad." He was with the 6:00 group. We rode together and talked for a couple of minutes, but I didn't have the legs to ride with him and told him to go ahead. He said there was a group coming behind us. We waited for them, and the eight of us sped toward Livermore into a headwind. We were cautiously optimistic that this headwind coming from the east would be a tailwind on the westward climb of Patterson Pass, notorious for howling headwinds.

We rode through Livermore together, then Sean pulled ahead. No one was interested in going into the wind after him, so he rode alone. We never lost sight of Sean, but no one in our group was keen on chasing him. So, he was alone off the front about 100 yards ahead. Finally, on a slight downhill, someone took a flier and bridged to Sean, but no one went with this guy either. We rode past green hills, happy California grazing cows and horses, and windmills. Turned south, then west onto Patterson Pass Road. Yes! a tailwind! At the next roller we finally caught Sean. We rode together for a while, but when the road pitched up I found out that my legs weren't so fresh. So, I downshifted into something very small in front and big in the back (36x29) and spun. Sean and other fast and fit guys rode ahead. After 5-10 minutes I reached the "Oh my gosh!" false summit (OMG because when you look up the road from the false summit and see the climbing that remains you say, "OMG!") and water stop. More refueling and re-sunscreening. Felt pretty comfortable climbing the rest of Patterson. Descent into Livermore is pretty unremarkable -- welcome, as are all descents, but straight and the views were not memorable.

Chapter 4: Ugh...
I crested Patterson at 11:30. It was getting hot. I tried to eat and drink well, but rest stop fare was not appetizing and, aside from Gatorade, I hadn't previously tried any of the drink mixes ride organizers offered and was reluctant to experiment on my gastrointestinal system in the middle of a hot and hilly double century. Around mile 85 I began feeling hot and bloated. We were on flat and boring rural roads southeast of Livermore. Light to moderate traffic. Mentally, I was not in a happy place and was riding ever slower. Eventually, I made it to Mines Road rest stop at mile 91. Mines Road (San Antonio Valley Road after the road crosses from Alameda to Santa Clara County) is an amazing, picturesque road that runs from Livermore to San Jose over Mt. Hamilton. It's ~52 miles from Livermore to the top of Mt. Hamilton. At the rest stop, I refilled my gel flask and bottles. Ate a little bit of fruit and set off. After the rest stop, the road starts climbing up the side of a canyon. It's very pretty this time of the year, but the rest stop did not make me feel better and I was not paying attention to the scenery. I was still in that not happy place. It was hotter, I was climbing a 2-mile, 7% hill, feeling bloated, sweating profusely, flies buzzing all around me, and to top it all off, my knee started bugging me. I pulled out my baggy with Advil, took 4 without dismounting (god forbid I should get off the bike), washed it down. I was in 36x29, but no longer spinning. Plodding. Thought that I may be in good century shape, but in lousy double century shape.

Eventually, the road levelled off. I was able to ride faster. Faster speed brought relief from the heat from air movement. Advil took effect and my knee felt better. My mood improved. I noticed many cyclists were going in the opposite direction. Dozens and dozens of them. Couldn't figure out who they were -- no numbers or wrist bands indicating they were part of an organized event -- but it was good for the brain to see so many people on bikes on this very remote road. So, now feeling fairly chipper, I pulled up to the water stop at mile 103. Water stop crew said the riders going the other way were doing the Mt. Hamilton Challenge, a 118-mile ride that starts and ends in Santa Clara. I thought if I were doing that ride I'd be done in 15 miles. I was just half-way through. The steep back side of Mt. Hamilton and Sierra Road (y'all have heard of Sierra Rd.?) lay ahead. Dumped cold water over my head, which was wonderful, took on more liquid and gel, and pressed on.

With flatter terrain and feeling cooler, I picked up the pace and rode as aggressively as my legs allowed -- my brain no longer hindered me and the bloatiness abated. I reached the rest stop at Junction Cafe at mile 115 before 2:00.

Chapter 5: Ahh, the Scenery!
Jeff was at the rest stop, looking pale. He was having GI problems. I ate a bit of a turkey and ham sandwich, which I didn't find appetizing. There were two massage tables set up for any rider wishing to take advantage of a free massage. But I was afraid I'd pass out or cramp or wouldn't want to leave the rest stop if I had a massage so I opted not to have one. The tandem pulled into the rest stop a few minutes after me. I heard the captain declare that if they made it up Hamilton they would finish the ride. He was willing to push the tandem up Sierra Rd. I also overheard that Hamilton climb started at around 6-mile marker and lasted, relentlessly, for 5 miles. The sixth mile would be flattish. I decided to take some Perpetuem drink in one bottle, water in the other, and filled my gel flask with a mix of vanilla and espresso flavored goos. Jeff's stomach seemed to settle and we left together. We rode together until the first significant roller, where I had to let him go. Knowing what lay ahead I needed to ration my energy. Riding through San Antonio valley alone was really nice. This time of the year, it is an especially beautiful and serene place. The surrounding hills are still green, there are numerous streams running through the valley. Wildflowers are in bloom. More happy California cows and horses grazing peacefully. Very little motor traffic. A happy place.

The road turned uphill at mile 6.5 marker. Mindful of what I'd heard at the rest stop, I knew that this wasn't yet Hamilton. But the climb went on and on. After climbing for better part of a mile at 7% now I felt pretty miserable and thought that maybe this was it, The Climb. And the farther I climbed the more I thought, this was it. As I was coming up to a left turn, I saw a SAG car approaching from the other direction. Just about to ask the driver whether this was Hamilton, I looked around the bend and saw that I was cresting and that I'd be going downhill. Not Hamilton yet. Drat.

A too-short descent, followed by a quarter mile of flat and the road reared up again. I saw Jeff unclipping and heard him asking a SAG driver for water. He said he was OK. Certain that he'd catch me in a few minutes, I told him I'd plod on and shifted into the now familiar 36x29. Official line is Hamilton is 5.5 miles at 8%. I think the actual climb is a bit shorter, unless you count the long roller I had just ridden. I settled into an unpleasant, but tolerable cadence of 60-65 rpm. The grade felt about how you'd expect an 8% hill to feel after 128 miles. I stood up occasionally on hairpins and steeper stretches, but mostly I sat and pushed. My speedometer read 5.2, 5.8, 5.4, 5.7... Fairly quickly I figured out that at this speed 5.5 miles would take me an hour. "OK," I thought, "I feel all right, I'll just keep plodding at this speed and if it takes an hour, it takes an hour." I realized that my choice was either to stare at the road for an hour or take in the scenery and enjoy this climb. I chose the scenery. It was spectacular. Since you gain elevation quickly at 8%, almost immediately I saw amazing views of surrounding hills and valleys, soaring birds, running streams, grazing cattle, wildflowers, and ponds. If a place can be described as inspirational at a point two-thirds through a double century, I was there, in a happy place. The road snaked behind me and below. I kept looking over my shoulder and down the hill for Jeff, but did not see him. On the way up I passed a few riders on bikes and others resting in the shade by the side of the road. This inspired me to keep going and vow not to dismount. I kept climbing higher and higher, feeling as if this were an epic Tour de France stage, but where were the fans lining the road, screaming encouragement, running next to me and pouring water over my head -- and, more importantly, pushing me up the mountain?

The grade relented around mile 2 marker and I shifted into my 36x26 -- woohoo -- and sped up to 8.5 mph. In half a mile I reached a water stop, where I was greeted by a volunteer energetically ringing a cow bell. I smiled broadly as I pulled in and said, "MOOOO!" More cold water over the head, more drink and gel, and off I went. Though the road seemed steeper out of the water stop, I felt cooler and climbing seemed easier. I felt as if a load had been lifted. It had been. I left my helmet at the stop. For a millisecond, I considered continuing bare-headed (it felt so good), but turned around to retrieve the helmet. The next half mile of climbing felt as tough as the lower parts. I was back in my lowest gear. But I was somewhat rested from the water stop and inspired by the fact that I was almost at the top. This part of the climb passed relatively quickly and I was at the top. There, I realized that I would definitely finish this ride. By successfully plodding up Hamilton, I had come upon the strategy to conquer Sierra. Just plod at 5mph. Be patient and pace yourself and you'll make it. As I plunged down Hamilton, I felt confident in this game plan.

Chapter 6: Down And Up
I hadn't been on the south side of Hamilton in 12 years and had forgotten just how long that road is. I remembered one valley in the middle of the mountain out of which I would have to climb. There are, in fact, two valleys and the climb out of the lower valley was two miles long. Hello 36x29 again! I received an unpleasant surprise as I climbed that two-mile hill: Both knees started to hurt. I gulped down more Advil and continued. To get over the hill and the pain sooner, I rode faster, so this climb ended fairly quickly. I continued the descent to the next rest stop, about two miles above Silicon Valley floor. More gel and drink, and half a banana. Talking to one of the volunteers I learned that Sierra Road is a stair-step climb, so there would be places to "rest." He also said that the next rest stop was only 8 miles away. "Pish," I thought, "I'd be there in no time." But as I rode toward Sierra I realized that its 3.5 miles at 10% at 5 mph would take good 40-45 minutes, so it would take me over an hour to get to the rest stop.

Approach to Sierra is flat and residential, then you make a turn east toward the hills onto Sierra and you see the climb. It's impressive. I could see two residential blocks that looked as steep as the very top of Diablo, then the road turned left, and who knows what lay ahead... "OK, let's do this," I thought, as I shifted back into 36x29 and stood up. I paced myself up the first two blocks and around the turn, where the grade relented. I sat down and plodded. When it got steeper I stood. When it got easier I sat. I passed a few people riding and a few people walking. More grazing cows and eucalyptus groves. It was hard but definitely doable. About a quarter mile from the top I saw two riders, one passing the other. As I went on at my pace I caught and passed the slower one and was making up ground on the second. I passed him about 40 yards from the summit and was pulling away when he began to sprint (!), the fool! Showing that I was no smaller fool, I sprinted too, even as I shouted: "Don't do that!" But he put in another dig, which I matched (proving that I was the bigger fool). He relented and said disgustedly, "fine, you can have the KOM points!" Embarrassed for both of us, I shifted into the big ring and sped away to Pet-the-Goat rest stop half a mile away. More caffeinated gel and goopy drink and off I went.

Chapter 7: Time Trial, Baby!
I rode away from Sierra in the big ring, happily thinking that even though 46 miles lay ahead I was as good as done. I encountered a couple of steep rollers that humbled me back into my 36 -- as in: "whoa, this is steep and it hurts, time to shift out of the 50" but I felt good and rode aggressively. The descent of Sierra/Felter Road is quite steep and we were cautioned to look for a sharp right onto Calaveras Road, so I braked more than I would have liked, but it was good not to miss that turn. Calaveras Wall is just a tenth of a mile, but it is steep and is longer than I'd remembered it. As I stood up in my granny gear, I felt cramps coming on. I convinced myself to pull up and dance on the pedals and that warded off the cramps. Over the top and it was back into the big ring and off to the races. I could smell the barn, uhm..., the Marriott, and even though I had another 40 miles to go I felt I had the legs to ride hard.

Calaveras Road traces the ridge next to Calaveras Reservoir. More lovely green hills, cows, birds, flowers, lots of slight rollers, snaky curves -- a perfect road for aggressive riding. No cars, a few bikes going in the opposite direction -- I had the road to myself. With 5 miles to Sunol, Calaveras begins a two-mile long, fairly straight descent. It was great fun. There was plenty of daylight. I knew I would make it to Sunol before sunset and set a new goal: get to Palomares Road in daylight. The ride from Sunol to Palomares is through Niles Canyon Road, a narrow and very busy road. It would be great not to have to ride it in the dark.

The first two of the five miles that remained to Sunol, the grade of Calaveras was taking care of my speed. I was going steadily at 26-32 mph, depending on the terrain. After I crested and descended Calaveras Dam I had three miles of flat into Sunol. The scenery was so pretty and I felt so good that I went into time trial mode. I put my forearms on the bars, got as low as I could, and went for it. I smiled giddily, as I hammered toward Sunol with decreasing mileage markers flying past. It was still plenty light out when I reached the Sunol rest stop. Volunteers offered soup and hot dogs, but I didn't want to mess with my caffeinated gel and Perpetuem diet that was proving successful and was in a hurry to get to Palomares before dark.

Chapter 8: Cycling by Braille
I spent less than 5 minutes in Sunol before hitting the road again. As I started off I discovered that my right knee had tightened up during the rest stop and pedaling was uncomfortable. I was also riding downhill into a headwind, through a canyon with a full creek running through it, and it was getting dark. The temperature was dropping quickly. I wished I had put on arm and knee warmers in Sunol, but didn't want to stop there. I reasoned that I'd be climbing in a few minutes and that would feel warmer. I resolved to stop at the top of Palomares climb to get dressed. The ride through Niles Canyon was unpleasant, but mercifully short. I got to the bottom of Palomares in daylight. The southern end of Palomares is in a deep canyon. A peacock was wailing. Frogs and crickets were singing their songs. It is quite dark there, but there was enough daylight to ride without headlights. I had turned on my tail light back in Sunol. "Let's see if I can make it to the top of Palomares without headlights," I thought. I felt good enough not to need my 29 for this climb, using my 26 only for the steepest parts and 23 for the rest. I turned on my headlight with about a mile left on the climb not because it was too dark for me to see the road, but I was concerned it was too dark for drivers to see me. I reached the summit of Palomares, got dressed (knees felt much better with warmers on), turned on my helmet light and plunged down the northern side of the canyon. This descent is completely straight and though it was dark, with my light blasting through the darkness I felt safe going 40mph. Not smart, but safe.

At the bottom of the descent I switched back into time trial mode and passed two riders along the way. Feeling strong, I continued to ride hard all the way into Castro Valley and turned right onto Crow Canyon Road. Crow Canyon is bad enough in daylight. In the dark it's downright scary. Many cars traveling in both directions at 50+ mph, blinding each other and making a cyclist difficult to see, and an extremely narrow shoulder to boot. This was the only place on the ride where I felt unsafe, though Niles was no picnic too.

It was getting close to 9:00 p.m. and I set a goal to get to 200 miles before 9:00. Mission accomplished -- I hit 200 miles at 8:58. The next goal was to get to the finish by 9:30. Desire to get off Crow Canyon as quickly as possible led to me ride harder and, finally, I turned right onto Norris Canyon Road. I exhaled, relieved to be off Crow Canyon.

Norris is a two-mile long, stair-step climb, then a descent into San Ramon. A quarter mile ahead I saw a cyclist's tail light. I made him my target and engaged in a low-speed chase. You can only make up ground so fast as you chase in 36x29, you know. I chased and chased, making up ground at a snail's pace to the sound of whirring gears, frogs' croaking, and crickets' singing. Eventually, the rider disappeared. I looked up and, thanks to light pollution from San Ramon, saw the outline of the hills and realized that I was just a couple of hundred yards from the top. Excited that I was about to crest the final climb of the ride, I accelerated and went down, down, down the other side. I rode fast through housing tracts and saw the tail light again. I sped up and chased the guy all the way into the parking lot of Marriott. I got to within 20 yards of him, but couldn't quite catch him. When he saw me, he ran into the room where we were to check in to make sure he checked in ahead of me. Funny. I would have been satisfied with unclipping my foot first.

I went inside and checked in at 9:27. The man at the desk told me that 70 riders were still on the course. Ouch. That's a lot of riding in the dark. Ate two of the four kinds of pasta on offer. Delicious. Picked up my ride jersey and started driving out of the parking lot just and the tandem was pulling in. I gave them a congratulatory honk and went home.

.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

2008 Solvang Double

Having loaded my Kirk Terraplane (Hi Dave) into the back seat of the car, I drove down to Solvang on Friday afternoon, March 28. The entire drive it was very windy. In Solvang, the wind seemed to be in the 20-25 mph range. This did not bode well for the double. It was windy all evening and into the night. I checked into the hotel, walked around town a bit, and checked in at the ride registration desk. At registration I learned that the course would not be fully marked and event organizers strongly encouraged riders to keep a keen eye on the route sheet. Also, no post-ride meal (booo!). I had a quick dinner and went to bed.

I intended to get up at 5:30 to have adequate time for breakfast and to ride to the start around 6:15, just four blocks away. I woke up at 4:00 and couldn't go back to sleep. As I lay in the dark, I saw dots of light dancing on my room’s ceiling:  reflections of parking lot lights in the hotel swimming pool water. Water was not calm -- wind.

After 90 minutes of sleeplessness, I got up at 5:30, ate, and at 6:10 rode to the start at The Royal Scandinavian hotel. I found 30 riders waiting for a group to get going. Almost immediately, three guys began riding, and I decided to follow them. It was overcast and still dark. The wind gusted a bit, but it was not as bad as on Friday. For just starting out and riding into the wind I thought this group was going pretty darn hard, but I was willing to stick with them for a while. At first they looked at me like “what the hell are you doing here” but after 15 minutes, seeing that I wasn’t going anywhere, they accepted me. I told them I was riding alone and asked if they minded if I rode with them. They didn’t. I started taking pulls and chatting with them. The chattiest was Chris, a 52-year old who'd done all but one of California doubles last year AND Paris-Brest-Paris. The other two were Bruce, a 58-year old with thighs the size of my waist who lives at the foot of Mt. Baldy, climbs the mountain regularly, and goes by “almighty;” and Steve, a mid-50s guy whom I didn't get to know at all.

For the first hour, we rolled fairly briskly, picking off individuals and small groups, as we rode over rolling hills and through rural valleys of northern Santa Barbara County. The hills were green with fields of lupine and California poppies covering many hillsides. After a few rollers, we began a long and gradual descent toward a valley southeast of Santa Maria. We had dropped Steve early on a climb and Bruce fell back later. On the descent Bruce caught up and the three of us worked well together, taking 1-minute pulls. Suddenly, a rider passed us at ~30 mph. We jumped on his wheel. He was riding close to 30 mph for mile after mile. Eventually, breathing hard, he eased off and I, then Chris, took turns, but not at that speed. Either our new companion was unhappy with the pace or he felt very refreshed, but he went to the front and again, pulled ferociously for good 5 minutes (I dubbed him “one-man tandem”). At this point, Bruce dropped off and Chris sat up. Not wanting to ride away from them I sat up too. As it turned out, the first rest stop was just half a mile away.

One-man tandem said that he had plenty of food and drink and took off. Steve pulled in soon after us. We refilled bottles, ate a bit, and popped mineral supplements when we noticed two tandems, one just pulling into the rest stop, the other about to leave. “That’s a train,” said Chris. I said “whooo, whooo!” A handful of other singles were leaving with the tandem. We slotted into the paceline and were off.

Since we were only 35+ miles into a 196-mile ride (yes, not quite a double century) there was no need for the tandem to blow its wad in the first quarter of the ride. So, they took it nice and steady, averaging speeds in the low 20s. Somewhere on a flat around mile 45 I looked at my computer. It said 24.5 mph. Then I looked at my heart monitor. It said 133. Then I looked back at the computer. It still said 24.5. The monitor still said just 133. :-)

The tandem kept chugging along. As we passed people, they latched onto the back of the paceline. At one point I looked back and saw that the tandem was towing about 15 riders.  As I mentioned, we were warned that the course would be poorly marked and it was. Time after time, we went past intersections when someone in the paceline would call out that we missed a turn, so we’d all turn around and go back. That was not fun. At one point we were about to catch another long paceline – they were about 25 yards ahead – when they went right instead of left. We followed them blindly, then someone in our paceline said, “it’s left!” we yelled at them that they missed a turn but they kept going and nobody in our paceline wanted to chase to tell them they were going the wrong way.

By now, the tandem had been pulling for good 30 miles and they sat up. I went to the front to offer to pull, but they explained that they didn't like to follow wheels, so 15 of us dawdled along at 16 mph. No one seemed interested in forming a paceline to go ahead, so we waited for the tandem to recover and go to the front again. This they did fairly soon. We sailed past Santa Maria, Nipomo, and another small town and were on rural roads again. We hit some rollers and though the tandem climbed better than most singles it was towing, the tandem sat up. Again, many chose to stay with the tandem. I went ahead and rode alone for about 10 miles into the next rest stop at mile 85. The tandem group arrived within 5 minutes.

More drink, food, pills. I was standing and chatting to a woman about her friend's bike, when I looked over where the tandem had been parked and it wasn't there. I remarked to her that they must have left already, but she said, "the tandem is leaving right now!" And sure enough it was. I blurted apologies for leaving abruptly and sprinted after the tandem, my mouth stuffed with remnants of a PB&J sandwich.

The next destination was Morro Bay (mile 100), where we had to get our numbers marked as proof of making it to the half-way point. We went through beach cities south of San Luis Obispo and through San Luis Obispo, when the route took us onto Highway 1. Highway 1 is a four-lane road in those parts, with a 55 mph speed limit, which means cars were traveling at 65 and we were on the shoulder. For 12 miles. Into the wind. My hat off to the tandem. They never sat up, never complained, never asked for a pull. They just hammered into Morro Bay, going over 20 mph the whole time. A couple of times I pulled out of the paceline to blow my nose and the wind felt like 15-20 mph straight-ahead, full-on, headwind. That pull was very impressive and very much appreciated. Our paceline grew tremendously on that stretch of the road.

We made it into Morro Bay, got off the freeway, made a right and started to climb a short hill, when coming at us in the opposite direction over the hill we saw Vespa scooters. As we climbed, there were more scooters. As we crested, we saw lots more scooters. It was a giant Vespa rally. There were 5-6 blocks of two lanes of bumper to bumper traffic consisting of nothing but Vespa scooters. Vespa riders waived at us, we waived back at them. It was very cool, though a bit stinky from their exhaust.

We descended to the harbor, had sticker dots attached to our numbers and rode off. I assumed the lunch stop would be there, but after finding no one to feed us and consulting the route sheet discovered that lunch would be 14 miles away. The tandem took it easy, so Chris and I set off on our own. We rode through a state park along the ocean -- Monterey pines and ocean views -- very pretty and windy. In the park we caught up to a fast looking guy on a Cervelo time trial bike. So, we sat on his wheel. As soon as he realized we were behind him he sped up. We sped up too. I sat on his wheel thinking, "I really don't need you to go that fast at mile 103, though I probably would have done the same thing. Why do we do that? Why do we speed up when someone catches us?" After about a mile of this, we came to a T intersection and Cervelo dude stopped, saying he had to wait for a friend. Buffeted by side winds, Chris and I continued.

After 15 minutes of oceanside rollers, we came to a turn that took us inland. At that intersection, we caught up with a guy in a yellow jersey (never got his name). And as soon as the light changed, he took off too, going 29! I sat on his wheel for a mile or so, then took a pull at 27-28, then discovered that Chris was way off the back. Yellow Jersey and I traded a few more hard pulls, then we decided to ride smart and slowed down and began to talk. This was his first double. Last year, he rode 15,000 miles. This year he is averaging 400 miles a week riding 4-5 days (I ride 200-250 miles a week). Anticipating my next question, he said, "I don't work." No sh*t(!) and no family either. He is 46, used to smoke two packs a day, drink lots of hard liquor and smoked pot. Discovered cycling four years ago, ditched his bad habits and is now addicted to cycling. Friendly guy, good talker. I didn't ask him how he pays the rent. We rode together to the lunch stop. The tandem arrived a few minutes later.

LUNCH! Sandwiches and V-8 juice. Protein and sodium, yum! I learned that three (small) cans of V-8 and a big Subway sandwich can congeal in one's stomach, producing an uncomfortable sensation. Oh-oh, the tandem is leaving. I jumped on the bike, the uncomfortable sensation still with me, burping V-8, as we rode. (I burped V-8 the rest of the ride.) Fortunately, the tandem was a freight train rather than an express, the pace was mellow and my stomach settled gradually. So it went again: the tandem pulled and pulled at fairly high, yet comfortable, speeds for long periods, then sitting up. Though grateful for the pulls, I wasn't interested in dawdling at 15 mph. My average speed hovered in the low 19s since mile 33 and I wanted to do everything I could to keep it at 19 or higher for the duration of the ride. Now, whenever the tandem slowed down I went ahead. Yellow Jersey usually went with me and we had one or two other people with us. We traded pulls, echeloned where traffic conditions permitted and winds required, and talked.

The next rest stop was in Guadaloupe at mile 143. Guadaloupe is a neat town with an old western cowboy feeling' downtown. I know because I got to see it three times. Thanks to inattentiveness to street signs and absence of route markings (thank you, ride organizers), Yellow Jersey and I rode past the rest stop, on through downtown and almost out of town, when we realized that street numbers were getting lower rather than higher and that we should turn around. It was thus, that we got to see downtown Guadaloupe for the second time. Third time was when rode through after leaving the rest stop.

This fifth, and next-to-last rest stop, was stocked with the same food: fruit, cookies, PB&J, energy drinks, gel, and pills as all the others. There was an important difference. This rest stop was in a public park with a permanent rest room rather than portable toilets. The permanent rest room, however, was permanently locked. Men went number 1 behind the permanent rest rooms and behind other public buildings. I do not know where women relieved themselves at this rest stop. The tandem took a short break and we took off. We rode through Guadaloupe for the third time (do you get the feeling that you know the town pretty well by now?) and out of town. We turned left and tailwind, baby! Half an hour behind the tandem at 27 mph. The wind was actually a bit from the left, so I got to sit next to the tandem stoker and talk to her (more draft than on the wheel) and looking ahead could see other things than the tandem's rear wheel.

We missed our turn again, retraced our steps, and turned onto a rural road that ran past lettuce and cabbage fields. One field also had operating oil pumps as in pumps pumping oil out of the ground. I hope I never eat vegetables from that field. We had a strong side wind and the tandem again lost interest. I went ahead. Rode alone for 3-4 miles, made a couple of turns, looked back and saw a group gaining. I assumed it was our tandem. It was a tandem, but a different tandem -- Bob and Brenda Fletchers, a couple from Vacaville , CA with their names emblazoned on the top tube. Marc, an English guy with whom I played leapfrog for much of the ride, went by sitting on tandem’s wheel, grinned and gave thumbs-up. I jumped into the paceline. Pretty soon I found myself directly on the tandem's wheel. Unlike Healdsburg tandem, which spun very quickly, the Fletchers rode bigger gears and their cadence matched mine. I watched their feet going 'round and 'round. After a while that became mesmerizing, as if I was watching myself pedal. I found out that the Fletchers race mountain tandems at ultra events like Leadville 100, that they're out of shape (bah! they started at 7:30, I at 6:15 and they caught me with 50 miles to go), both recovering from mountain tandem crashes, and were using the double as a training ride. Mountain tandem crashes... Ouch.

At around mile 160, going toward Lompoc, we found ourselves on Highway 1 again. One two-mile stretch was strewn with small gravel and bikes started pelting each other mercilessly. I've ridden in hail and this section felt like I was riding through a gravel hailstorm. Legs, arms, shoulders, face, bike -- I was spitting out bits of gravel! Showering after the ride, I washed gravel out of my hair. That part ended eventually, though not soon enough. I even felt fresh enough to take a pull, which the Fletchers gratefully accepted, as they were beginning to tire and were standing up and stretching pretty often. And, so, we pulled into the last rest stop at mile 172 (173 for me due to multiple detours).

Average speed 19.5. The big climb of the day lay just ahead.

A quick mark on the number from ride staff as proof that we were there, more drink and pills and we were off again. As soon as we left, Brenda said that we were about to start climbing the only major hill of the day -- four miles. The first mile was almost flat and went past a regional park. By the side of the road stood an 11-year old kid with a bike who said, "my friend wants to race you." Ten yards up the road was a kid on a mountain bike with a skipping chain, pedaling uphill. We followed, as that was our route, laughing and yelling at him, "go kid go! don't let a bunch of old farts catch you!" After a quarter mile, he declared victory and turned into a parking lot. We continued. The climb was on a badly surfaced and bumpy road, over a green range of hills. It was foggy, almost misty, cool, peaceful and very pretty. Also hard. Even though it was ~6%, I definitely felt it and was unpleasantly surprised to find myself in my 25 with nothing to downshift into. The Fletchers dropped back, Yellow Jersey rode ahead, Marc and I rode together and talked. Then we caught up with yellow jersey. Finally, I asked (two guys who've never ridden these roads before, what was I thinking?) whether either of them knew how much longer this climb was. Marc guessed, "the cattle grade?" And, yes, just then we were at a cattle grade. And, yes, that was the top. (Average speed: 19.1!)

I let out a big "Wheee!" and plunged down the hill. You know how sometimes you're too tired to be careful on a descent? I was. I just relaxed and flew down. At one point I looked back up the hill and saw Marc and Yellow Jersey two hairpins above. The descent surface was as bad as the climb but there were no holes and it seemed that I only needed to brake for steep hairpins. After a while the road straightened and I could just let it out. That was nice: restful and fast. (Bottom of the hill, average speed: 19.2.)

At this point things looked good for a 19 mph day. I pedaled easily, waiting for Marc and Yellow Jersey, but didn't see them. Quarter mile up the road was someone in a red jersey. I looked back repeatedly, waiting for the Fletchers to come and pull me home or the other guys to catch up so we could ride together. But again, I didn't see anyone, so I made the Red Jersey my target and rode.

16 miles to go. Riding time 9:25.

Caught up with the Red Jersey just before intersection with Highway 246 on which Solvang sits. We were 12 miles away. Turned onto 246, riding hard. Red Jersey dropped off on a roller. I kept going. Average speed still 19.2. Wind was generally favorable, but I was starting to flag, though still riding in low 20s.

When I start getting tired on a long ride I start to do math. Speed times time equals distance kind of math. 19 seemed like a sure thing now and it appeared I'd get in at about 5:40 p.m. with riding time of 10:15 or so. I wondered where I might have lost that 15 minutes that could have made this a sub-10-hour ride. Somehow, at this point a 10-hour ride became a big deal. I remembered the scenic tours of Guadaloupe, missed turns, and tandem dawdlings. That probably added up to about 15 minutes. I cursed it all but continued to ride hard, when suddenly I saw a sign for Buellton city limits.

(Geography lesson: Buellton sits on intersection of US Hwy. 101 and CA Hwy. 246, Solvang is four miles directly to the east on 246. I was half a mile from "Solvang 4 miles" sign.)

Consult route sheet. The ride is 192 miles long. Not 196. Good and bad. Good because I'll be done really soon. Very bad because the detours were going to cause me to miss 10 hours by just a couple of minutes. Nooooooooooooo!

Tired in the brain. Tired in the legs.

Riding time 9:47. Four miles to go.  Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Flat and windy. Bad windy, not good windy. Felt like sitting up. Decided that if I didn't make the 10 hours it would be because I failed with my legs rather than with my brain, so I told my brain to shut up, put my head down, and rode.

GO, GO, GO.

There's a quarter-mile long curvy hill just outside Solvang. One that a fit rider would barely notice unless it comes at mile 191 (192 for me, thank you very much) of a ride. Felt like sitting up again, but resisted. Shifted down and spun like a madman. Oh, look, there's an ostrich farm just to the right.....

"Shut up and ride!"

GO, GO, GO.

Route sheet says, "right on 5th, left on Oak." There's the top of the hill and look, I'm in town.

Where the hell is 5th? Here it is, the first intersection!

Big ring. 5th is a slight downhill!

Clock reads "9:57:something"!!!

Where the hell is Oak? Just two blocks away.

GO, GO, GO.

Left on Oak. Just four blocks to go! Slight downhill!

Are you kidding me?!

I am sprinting through stop signs!!! What f---ing stop signs?!

Event staff greet me at the T intersection and direct me to the parking lot. I pull in, stop, unclip.

"9:58:55" Yay!!!

19.3 mph. Yay!!!5:20 p.m.Yay!!!

I checked in at the desk inside, went outside just as Yellow Jersey, Marc and the Fletchers were arriving together.

Epilogue: I talked to Yellow Jersey, Marc and the Fletchers, rode back to my hotel, showered, walked back to Royal Scandinavian to buy an event jersey, and bought a present for my daughter and some pastries. Walking back to my hotel, I smiled when I saw the Cervelo guy just riding into Solvang.

A Friendly Exchange

T. wrote:
5 am?You guys going to do some loops I can intersect with? Was hoping 6-7am ish, for I am weak. -T

T.,
We are not only weak, but also slow of leg (in the dark one can't go fast for fear of, errr..... darkness) and wit (how else would one explain leaving home at 4:35 a.m. to meet someone at 5:00?). And I have an office holiday party tonight, so I'll be toast tomorrow.

I was thinking Spruce, Wildcat, Bears, Pig Farm, Reliez, etc., figuring we'd see daylight in Martinez. Come, on, join us at 5:00. There's perverse pleasure in knowing you're riding while others sleep. Besides, we sure can use your light. You can BART back from Lafayette if your legs or spirit feel like giving in or giving out.
-V.

Marin Century 2007 report

had planned on doing the metric double. Got to Terra Linda around 6:30, found no parking, so I pulled into an apartment building parking lot to turn around and look for parking elsewhere. Drove into a carport to make a 3-point turn... Crunch!!! Crunch!!! Crap, my bike is on the roof!Good bye, fork. Drove all the way home to Oakland, unsure whether to cry or curse -- did some of both, grabbed another bike, put it INSIDE the car and drove back to Terra Linda. Got rolling at 8:00. Now, only had enough time for a 100 miler. At the first rest stop that I was trying to roll through, someone turned into me and took me down. "Are you OK?" "NO!" But the bike is OK, so I keep going wondering whether with all these adventures I'd be better off turning around and riding back to the car.Rode angry and hard... Rollers, rollers, more rollers... Learning that the substitute bike I grabbed is not a great climber (or is it me that's not a great climber?)... Left shoulder on which I fell hurts... First cramps at mile 45... Getting overheated... It's been cool and overcast the entire week, why does it have to be hot today? Don't feel like eating much -- rest stop fare looks not so appetizing... Right knee aches... Damn, I should have grabbed another bike... Feeling slightly nauseous around mile 72... Rolling out of Petaluma rest stop, still feeling nauseous... Hot, head wind... Plod, plod up Red Hill... Crampy and nauseous... Left knee hurts too... Roll through Nicasio rest stop but remain upright, which I treat as a small blessing... The rest of the ride was uneventful. Car's thermometer said 100 degrees at 3:00... Just out of curiosity, turned on the computer at 5:45 to check the weather in Petaluma. It was still 89 degrees.
See what you missed?

Confession of a Doper (2006 Napa Century)

After much soul-searching, and inspired by examples of riders of Team Telekom, I've decided to come clean. It has been extremely difficult living with the knowledge that I have benefited from performance-enhancing substances. Therefore, I have decided to confess and to throw myself at the mercy of the governing body.

During the 2006 Napa Century, which I rode woefully undertrained, I liberally helped myself to Advil, Tums, and Carbogen. I have notified the sponsoring clubs Berkeley Bicycle Club and Napa Eagle Cycling Club of my transgression and offered to return my patch and reimburse them the cost of post-event meal, and the cost of food and beverages I consumed during the ride.

I expect no mercy from event organizers or my peers. However, I make this admission in humble hope for forgiveness, ask that my punishment be just and not excessive, hope that my suspension is brief (brief enough to allow me to ride Sequoia Century on June 3, 2007), and pray that on June 3 I do not succumb again to the temptation of aiding my performance through use of chemicals.

I encourage all fellow users of performance-enhancing substances to admit their use here in the hope of cleaning up our beautiful sport.

Riding in Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Mountains in 2005 and 2007

Summer 2005

Santa Ynez mountains north of Santa Barbara are considerably more challenging than the Oakland-Berkeley hills I usually ride. There are at least two rides in the immediate SB area that take you to elevation of 3900 feet. It's really one loop that takes you up the ridge and along it, but you can do it clockwise or counter. I only did it in clockwise direction, which was a big mistake. The initial climb up San Marcos Rd. is fairly challenging, but nothing leg breaking for the first ~3.5 miles. After the first half mile you enter canyon and ranch country and although there are occasional houses you leave the suburbs very quickly. There are three very steep hairpins, but otherwise, the road averages 6-7%. The bad thing is that it is almost completely exposed and since you ride away from the ocean you get a slight tailwind. Not enough wind to speed you up, but enough of an air current to prevent you from feeling air moving around your head and face, which really heats you up. The road changes name to Painted Cave Rd. at the intersection with Hwy. 154. Up in the mountains road markings are barely existant.

Painted Cave Rd. is also ~ 3.5 miles. The first half mile after the intersection felt like 8-9%, but it relents. There are some switchbacks here and if you're not working too hard have a look around. The views of Santa Barbara and Goleta are spectacular. The grade eases a bit and after a while you enter a forest. In the shade of the trees the temperature seemed 10 degrees cooler. Scenery and the novelty of the road seemed to make the time pass quicker. Most of San Marcos Rd. and Painted Cave (except the bottom of Painted Cave) have crumbling pavement, although I did see road crews and they are repaving significant sections of San Marcos, but not Painted Cave.

Painted Cave Rd. tops out at 2800 ft. at East Camino Cielo Rd. On my first ride I turned right and went along the ridge. Finally I got some breeze and felt a bit cooler. I had drunk 24 oz. of water before reaching the intersection and had just half of large bottle left. The west side of East Camino Cielo is the second worst paved road I've ever ridden. There is a peak in the mountains above Santa Barbara called Gibraltar. East Camino Cielo climbs Gibraltar in a meandering sort of way from the west, then drops down to the intersection with Gibraltar Rd., which goes down down down into town.

If I said the views from Painted Cave were spectacular, views from East Camino Cielo are just mindblowing. You're higher, there's nothing to bstruct views of Santa Barbara to the south, but you also get views of the Santa Ynez mountains to the north, which I found even more impressive.

Unfortunately, East Camino Cielo is popular with shooters. There are a couple of ranges on the ridge and there are people shooting noisily even in the middle of weekdays. And sound carries far there. The other bad thing about this road is it is popular with very large black flies. On many climbs I would get a fly circling me, always counterclockwise, for miles on end. It's not much fun to climb in the heat waving your arms around. As long as I'm complaining, I'll mention road surface again. Descent of eastern side of East Camino Cielo and of Gibraltar Rd. was one the most horrifying experiences I've had on a bike not counting the times I crashed and knew I was about to eat it. The road is quite steep 7+% and is thoroughly potholed. Holes range in size from your typical hand-size divot to something that's 3 by 5 feet. Large sections of the road are like mine fields where you have to dodge between holes while patches bounce you up and down. Ah yes, the patches. The road has many patches. The patches are not flush with the surface but are about 2 inches above it. So either a hole swallows you or a patch bounces you... And so you're dodging and going into holes and over patches -- lots of fun! And because it is so bouncy it is hard to see. And because it is hard to see you ride your brakes. And then your arms get tired from squeezing the levers for ever and ever. The lower I got the worse the surface seemed. Probably because I was getting tired. Then my saddle came loose. I am sure the descent of Gibraltar and East Camino Cielo offers wonderful views too, but I was too freaked out by the road to notice. Finally, you hit residential area about half way down Gibraltar and suddenly pavement changes to newly-lain blacktop. Good road ends where money stops.

Those of you with mountain biking and cross experience may enjoy the descent, but no thanks. For what it's worth I saw lots of people climbing Gibraltar and East Camino Cielo (counterclockwise) and no one going in my direction. This seems to be the saner and safer route.

On the next long ride I climbed San Marcos and Painted Cave again, then, again, climbed East Camino Cielo to the top of Gibraltar peak. There, I turned around and retraced my steps. Descending East Camino Cielo in this direction seemed much easier. I arrived at the intersection of East Camino Cielo and Painted Cave completely out of water, but didn't want to ride down Painted Cave because the surface at the top almost rivals upper Gibraltar. Because I was now out of water, my plan was to continue riding about 3 miles along East Camino Cielo to intersection with Hwy. 154 and take 154 down to San Marcos and descend San Marcos back into town.

(There is no water anywhere on San Marcos, East Camino Cielo (except one spot; see below), or Gibraltar. Two large bottles are a minimum. On my first ride, which was on Sunday, at least a third of the riders I saw wore a Camelback.)

[The following is in present tense for emphasis]

So, now I am traveling west along East Camino Cielo and it is descending toward 154, which goes over a saddle in the mountains. Except for one very nasty spot, the surface is OK. I am descending and descending and I see a fireman walking along the road. That's odd, but I don't really think about it until after a quarter mile later I see a fire station. Eureka! Water! I fill two bottles. One fireman asks me where I was going and I tell him I don't really know where I am. He says, "you're at highway 154." And sure enough, 154 is just 50 yards below. I thank them and now that I have water I'm ready to explore a bit.

I cross 154 and come to a T intersection. None of the roads is marked. The road I came on, the road to the left, and the road to the right -- none marked. I decide to go right. I see signs saying this is an old stagecoach route. The road climbs gently for about 1/4 mile then starts to descend. The road keeps descending and descending into a shady canyon. I am getting an idea that this roughly parallels 154. The road is pleasant, relatively cool and WELL PAVED. It's about 1:00 and I need to be back by 2:30, so time is getting kinda dodgy. After about two miles of descending I see signs saying "Old Town Tavern." I'm thinking, "what the hell?" I hadn't seen a commercial establishment for three hours and am not expecting one in the middle of nowhere. Sure enough, Old Town Tavern. Looks like a shack. At least 8 cars parked in front. I'm thinking, "what the hell?" It's lunch time. So I go in and they seat me. It's dark; deer heads on the walls. A few empty tables, but kinda busy, touristy. They ignore me for 10 minutes. I get up, go to the bar, get my own water from the pitcher. A party of 10 comes in, they tell them to wait outside. Finally, a waiter shows up at around the time I figured I would have been eating. I order a chicken ceasar, figuring that it can't take more than 3 minutes to throw that together. Another 10 minutes go by, I get up and leave. Don't quite feel like climbing out of the canyon. So I go down again. Keep going down. The road just keeps going down, down, down. Very pleasant, about 5-7%. I come to a stop sign at an intersection. Street signs!!! Not sure where I am. Decide to turn around. The climb, as the descent, is very pleasant, cool. You can go 9mph without working too hard. Two miles up the climb I pass the tavern. The party of 10 is still waiting outside. Two miles later I get to the top and swing onto 154.

Descending 154 is something else. You coast at 35-40 mph. There isn't much shoulder on either side and cars whizz by at 65. Cars notwithstanding it was fun to just let it all out on a downhill. You can take 154 almost all the way into SB -- maybe even all the way, I just don't know if it's bike legal in town, but I turned off onto San Marcos and descending it wasn't bad.


Summer 2007

Two years later, in 2007, I went back over the ridge, down Stagegoach and went straight past the intersection. At first I thought I'd explore some more, but I kept going and going, still roughly parallel to 154. For a while I had to get on 154, but traffic there was slower. It was still fast and pretty busy, but it felt like I was on a highway rather than a freeway. It was windy. I was riding through typical summer California scenery -- brown hillsides and vineyards. After about 40 miles I realized that my options were either to turn around and retrace my steps and go on roads where I couldn't find any food or water except water at the fire station or go on to Highway 246 toward Solvang, get supplies there, but I'd have to take 101 freeway to get back to Santa Barbara. Since it was already after noon and I was hungry and low on water I chose the former.

I rode on to Solvang where I had a burger at a civilized sidewalk restaurant (hell, everything in Solvang looks civilized), stopped at a gas station in Buellton for Gatorade and, with much trepidation, turned left onto 101 on ramp.

By my calculations and helpful road signs Santa Barbara was 35 miles away. It was 1:15 and I had to be back by 3:30. Doable.

Shoulder of 101 is not a fun place to be. Cars and trucks speed by at 70+ mph, lots of gravel, debris, weeds, heat. About 10 miles south of Buellton there's a 3/4-mile long hill that does not look particularly steep, but feels steep to a tired rider. It took much longer to climb than it should have, but finally I was over it. The descent was a wind-blown three-mile long speed-fest all the way to Pacific coast and it was well worth the uphill slog.

Call me spoiled, I've ridden along the coast a number of times, but after a while I find it boring. The ocean is bluish-gray and always looks about the same. So, on one side the scenery is always the same. The other side is usually a greenish-brown hillside. And the last 20 miles to Santa Barbara are essentially flat. And while that's better than 20 miles uphill, it's rather more boring than it should be and than one would expect. All the while there is a steady stream of fast vehicle traffic blowing past. I appreciated the tail wind, though.

Since my goal was UCSB in Goleta, rather than Santa Barbara itself, I arrived at my freeway exit good 25 minutes sooner than expected. This was the best part of the freeway journey. And I got back in time.

2005 Davis Double Tale

Davis Double ride or how I spent May 21, 2005

I came up to Davis the night before and spent the night at our friends' house. Woke up before the alarm at 4:15. Ate, loaded the bike into the car and drove two miles to the start.
I was a little apprehensive about riding alone, but two blocks after the start I pulled up at a red light, looked over and saw a guy (his name is Ron) whom I met on a ride just a week earlier. I asked if I could ride with him and his buddy (Pat) and they let me, so we rode together for 95 miles. Knowing I'd have company was very reassuring.

Early on, it was nice and mellow and warm-up like, then a fast group caught us and we jumped on that paceline. That was mostly good except that the roads at miles 12 to 23 were in pretty bad shape and it was bouncy. And because of the surface there was a lot of coast-and-sprint accordion-type riding in that group. That wasn't so good. The fast guys didn't stop at the first rest stop. We did and that was the last we saw of them. At this rest stop I had to get rid of my saddle bag. Before going to Davis I switched to a larger bag which I hadn't used on my double century bike. On this bike, the bag was swinging wildly, hitting my on the butt with each pedal stroke. It was hard enough to take for 23 miles... So, I stuffed my pockets, left arm warmers and the bag in a plastic bag (this was also rest stop #9 so I knew I could pick up the bag and warmers on the way back), and we set off again.

Weather and legs were mostly good and we averaged 21mph for the first 40+ miles until we hit the hills and the headwinds. The morning winds were pretty brutal and all the climbing -- 7000-ish feet -- is between miles 60 and 135. So, in effect, after a flat metric 100, we had quite a hilly 75 ahead of us. The ride certainly seemed hillier than I remembered it from 10 years ago. Having worked harder than I should have early on, I struggled quite a bit in the hills. Really had to slow down and pace myself. Didn't think hydration and nutrition were a problem, as I drank and ate all along. I told Ron and Pat to ride ahead. Around mile 90, the road flattened a bit and I got a tow from a tandem into Middletown rest stop (mile 95). At the rest stop they were serving V-8 in small cans. I had two. Mmmmm, salt. And I had 3 Advils. And a salt tablet. And I ate. Coming into that rest stop I had my first doubts about finishing and about the wisdom of taking on this ride, having trained less than I had hoped.

I left Middletown before Ron and Pat because I didn't want to stiffen up any more and because I was sure that they'd catch me on the first climb. I struggled up the climb out of the rest stop, then at the bottom of the descent a tandem passed me. I thought, "what the hell" and latched on. We rode the next eight -- lumpy but not too bad -- miles together. The captain was Harlan, a 20-something mountain biker. The stoker was his mom. Mom's name was Star. Star wore socks with a smiley face with a tongue sticking out. Seemed very appropriate for a stoker. Star was a hoot -- cussing and laughing as we rode. Riding with them was fun. I was feeling lots better and we were riding fairly fast. (I guess nutrition and hydration were a problem after all.) The road was just gorgeous -- through a forest along a very fast and full stream, wildflowers, hardly any traffic. Nice road if you don' t have to work hard. Finally, we started the climb to Big Canyon, high point of DC, the tandem slowed down a lot. I said good bye to Harlan and Star and rode away, twiddling my 34x27. Rode along the ridge for 2 miles and then hit Siegler Canyon Rd. -- the best descent I've ever ridden. I swear this road was not on the Davis Double route 10 years ago. Very fast, very green, beautifully paved, no corners requiring braking. Imagine Redwood with a very smooth surface only longer and faster and that's Siegler.

That brought us to lunch at Lower (Clear-) Lake High School (mile 115). It was around 12:30. The descent put me in a good mood and physically and mentally I was feeling a lot better than at Middletown. Ron and Pat rolled in 15 minutes later, having taken a 2-mile detour after they missed a turn in Lower Lake. We ate together but I left before they did for the same reason as before. I did not see them again.

The ride out of Lower Lake sucks. It goes along a major road -- CA Highway 53, which has a lot of traffic and head wind. Out of the rest stop I was feeling pretty good and as I went along I passed a lot of people. About 5 miles later I looked back and realized that I was towing 6 guys for I don't know how long. Happy, I swung off and went to the back of the line. Three guys pulled us to intersection of CA Highway 20. Another road with heavy traffic and a climb right after the turn. The paceline broke up on the climb, but the hill was short, so I caught on to a couple of guys on the descent. The descent was nice and long and good for recovery. Ten years ago it was foggy there and in lots of other places. Today there was no fog anywhere.
We rode to the foot of Resurrection climb on Highway 20, which is the last major hill on the ride. Again, I started in 34x27 and felt OK. I started pouring water on my head and back and felt much better than OK. Then, when road flattened out a bit, I shifted up and started passing people. I kept jamming after the climb steepened again and rode hard all the way to the rest stop on top of the hill feeling good about the climb.

At the rest stop, I took more Advil and V-8 and had some Tums (potassium). After a fast descent, during which I saw the only car-related problem on the ride (passenger in an SUV had his arm stuck out the window flipping off the cyclists), we finally got off state highways and traffic mellowed out a lot. A 4-person group coalesced around mile 145 and we took turns for the next 15 miles at ridiculous speeds. We probably averaged around 24 for the next half hour. One of the people in the group was a woman who was probably 5'6" and at least 180lbs and she was hammering her boyfriend into exhaustion. At his request, we finally slowed down after 12 miles.
We pulled into Guinda rest stop (mile 160) around 3:30. Thermometer read 88 degrees. Again, I left before my group and caught up to a threesome. Two were pulling. The third guy was having saddle problems and/or leg problems. He'd take 5 pedal strokes, then stand up and coast. This went on and on for miles. I couldn't get any rhythm behind him and it was annoying watching him ride like that. So annoying that I WENT TO THE FRONT. (I went to the front. You know it must've been annoying.) We were going around 18-19mph. Soon after, a couple of faster guys caught up to us. Our foursome sucked their wheels at around 22-23 and I didn't have to look at Mr. Coaster again.

This was all fine and dandy, but by mile 173 I started feeling really tired and looking forward to the next rest stop at mile 178. I hung onto the wheels thinking it was easier to follow wheels than to ride alone at 15mph. The rest stop was in a farmhouse along a long straight road. There were lots of farm houses along this long straight road. About every quarter mile there was another farmhouse. After 175 miles, all farmhouses pretty much look the same. The next farmhouse... was not the rest stop. The next one was not either. That part sucked. Finally, pulled into the rest stop. The lead fast guy yells: "5 minutes here! 5 minutes." I'm thinking... Well, you can imagine what I'm thinking.

There was no question that I would finish, but it was going to hurt a lot. So, I spent probably around 25 minutes at the rest stop. There were lots of people on this ride with California Triple Crown jerseys and there was a bunch of them at this rest stop. I sat there looking at them and wondered how all these people could do three doubles in a year when I was having so much trouble with one and an "easy" one at that. More Advil, Tums, V-8. Also had a Coke. Ate a little bit. Legs got nice and stiff. Figured I might as well get it over with. Stuffed my oversized useless bag in the pocket. Gave away three Cliff bars, threw away empty Hammer Gel containers, and got rid of some other stuff that wouldn't fit into my pockets. Saw a couple saddling up their tandem. Got excited and started riding figuring I'll let them sweep me up. Within 200 yards caught up with a guy, riding really mellow ~16-17. Asked him if he minded company. He didn't. Started riding with him. This was his 20th Davis Double. He lives in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife took the train down to Davis. (Sounds like a great train trip. The ride starts 2 miles from Davis train station.) So, we are riding along and I'm feeling pretty good. The tandem passed us within 2 miles, but I let it go. There were 20 miles left and had no idea how my legs would respond and I really liked the pace we were going. I had no trouble maintaining it and it was reasonably fast considering I had 180 miles in my legs. Several times I shifted up to stand up for crotch relief. One of those times I didn't shift down when I sat back down and the bigger gear actually felt pretty good. So we sped up to about 18.

Anyway, we are going along and talking and I noticed that I'm asking all the questions and doing 80% of the talking and the guy from Tacoma is slowing down a bit. I'm still feeling pretty good. And he is slowing down a bit more. I said to him, "you know I'm feeling pretty good so I'm gonna waste myself over the next 10 miles" and took off. And I hammered for the next 10 miles into Davis averaging ~22. I have no idea where that came from. I felt like I was flying. My legs felt great. I was elated to be able to go that hard after 190, 195, 197 miles. I was just blowing past people. I don't know if anyone tried, but no one got on my wheel. When I got into outskirts of Davis I knew I'd be able to hammer all the way to the finish. That gave me another boost.

With 5 blocks left I stopped at a red light, put my foot down, and cramped. Both left quad and hamstring. Fortunately the cramps went away after 3 agonizing seconds and I finished without further problems. I finished at 6:30, 2 hours earlier than 10 years ago. Average speed was 18.5, 1.1 mph faster than 10 years ago. I was so happy!!!!!!!!!

Then I get in my hot car to go home. My 17-year old car doesn't have AC. It baked in the sun all day and I'm a bit worried about cramping on the way back, but I really wanted to get back as soon as possible to surprise my wife at the pre-school parents' night out. Anyway, I am driving and, fortunately, legs are not cramping, and it's really hot in the car. I have the back window open and, man, it's hot. I hadn't realized that I did a double century in such hot weather. I hit Fairfield around 7:45 and it's still hot. So I rolled down the front window and stuck my arm out. Hmm, it's actually pleasantly cool outside. I looked at my temperature dial and I had heat on half way from this morning's drive. Turned down the temp, the car cools down. Feels much better. I get out of Fairfield, merge right after the Bud brewery, following three cars to the 680 on ramp. Except all three get off the freeway at the exit 1/4 mile before 680 and I, like a good paceline follower, get off with them. Legs weren't cramping. Brain was.

Got to Tanjia restaurant, the site of parents' night out during the appetizers course. Ate, did a turn around the floor with the belly dancer, went home, and went to bed.

The end.