Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Intervals in the Dark

Left at 5:30 this morning and 15 minutes into the ride decided to ride controlled hard tempo up every hill with heart rate in mid 160s to low 170s.  Since there was next to no flats on the ride, I spent about 40 minutes doing these intervals in the pre-dawn darkness and recovering on descents.  It being dark, I had my light on, which completely fritzed my heart monitor, so I went by RPE, occasionally turning off the light to check the heart rate -- when the light was off the HRM magically resumed functioning.  (Additional benefits of a helmet-mounted light:  (1) the lamp is too far from bar-mounted electronic gadgetry to cause interference; (2) since the light "follows" the eyes it is easy to read HRM and computer displays with no need to use gadget backlights.)  Thus, I became very well acquainted with my bar-mounted light's on/off switch.

Thought I'd try to ride these intervals in low gears.  I am not much of an uphill spinner, so this was a new challenge: reaching the desired exercise level and staying in it for 3-12 minutes, depending on the length of the hill, while riding a smallish gear.  It worked pretty well after a while.  When I felt like I was bogging down, I concentrated on spinning smooth circles and breathing, which got me over the tough parts.  A hard ride this was.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Santa Claus Wind

I rode for an hour this morning into a gale-force wind that was blowing from the same direction as summer Santa Ana wind, only this morning it blew at 40 degrees colder...  Hence the name.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blogworthy? I think so.

(Click on photo for detailed description of the climb)

A week and a half ago, on Saturday, Todd and I were noodling about "Lamorinda."  I attempted to climb Happy Valley in the big ring -- this was my big ring training ride -- and succeeded, climbing it from the easier Lafayette side in 53x19, shifting to 53x21 at Sundown Terrace.  We turned around and descended Sundown toward Orinda, where I suggested we climb El Toyonal -- Lomas Cantadas.  So, up we went.  Since I'd been in the big ring, I continued riding in it on the easier lower part of the climb.  Todd and I began discussing the wisdom of doing -- no attempting -- this climb in the big ring.  We agreed that completing it would be a blog-worthy accomplishment.

I didn't make it.  I was in 53x21 until the first steep ramp, then in 53x23 for a while.  When it got seriously steep and stayed seriously steep I was groveling in the 53x27, barely turning the pedals.  The infamous farm came into view and I thought, "if I just make it past the right turn at the edge of the farm it gets easier there and I just might make it..."  I made it to the edge of the farm, made it through the right turn, looked up the road and it didn't look any easier.  So, I unclipped for fear of falling over.  Dumped the chain into the small ring, remounted in 39x27, and rode that gear the rest of the climb.  And that last 150 yards was damn hard, even in the 39x27.

The next day, Brian and I drove to Fairfax, where we met Jeff and embarked on a "9"-shaped ride to Bolinas, down to Stinson, up Panoramic, down through Muir Woods, back up Highway 1 to Bolinas and over to Fairfax.  58 miles, about 7,000 feet of climbing, through redwood forests, eucalyptus groves, along the coast, over Alpine Dam...  Beautiful and challenging.  A fantastic ride.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Not epic, but funny

Brian and I stopped at a scenic turnout on Skyline Rd. yesterday to check on a voicemail to make sure the caller wasn't Todd warning us he'd be late or worse, not riding.  It was 6:00 a.m. and dark.  There was a van parked in the turnout.  I had my helmet light on full blast because we'd been descending and I hadn't switched it to a lower output.  Anyway, I stood there checking the message.  It turned out the message was an abusive from my friend Chris who questioned my manhood because the past two years I'd ridden only five double centuries a year, while in 1939, a British racer Tommy Godwin rode 75,065 miles, which is over 205.6 miles a day for 365 days (Tommy Godwin's 1939).  Since neither Brian nor I was particularly keen on descending into fog in 37-degree temps on wet Tunnel Road to meet Todd who was climbing toward us, Brian waited while I stood there, heaping abuse on Chris on my Blackberry.  Suddenly the van started up, the driver pulled out of the turnout and made a 3-point turn.  As he did so, he rolled down the window and gruffly said, "What's the problem?"  We said, "No problem" and cracked up.  He drove away.  We had no idea there was anyone in the van and, obviously, my headlamp woke up the occupant.  I think we found it funny because it was so unexpected.  You had to be there, I guess.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Bike and Not New Bikes

I've been riding my Spectrum very happily for nearly two months now.  After about a month on it, I was curious to see how it compares to my Parlee Z1x, the bike on which I rode Leipheimer Gran Fondo and which I adored for its smoothness and comfort.  So, two weeks ago, I rode the Parlee.  It felt stiff and dead compared to the Spectrum.  I was forced to ride gears 3-4 cogs lower than those I ride on the Spectrum.  Just confirmed the unique fitness of the Spectrum to my riding style.

Then, during the Thanksgiving break, my family visited my father-in-law in Palm Springs, whose garage houses my 1982 Picchio bike, which I ride when I'm down there.  This bike is quite different from the Spectrum.  The Picchio is steel frame and fork, the cranks are 1cm shorter, and chainrings are round rather than oval (I'm a big fan of Rotor Q-rings), the bars are lower than I like, and the saddle is about 1.5cm farther forward due to short saddle rails of the Brooks B-17.  It took a while to get used to the Picchio, but after a while it felt good and lively.  I rode it twice: a 3-hour flat ride and a 4.5-hour ride that had 1.5 hour of flats, 2 hours of climbing and almost an hour of descent.  It was good on climbs and flats, not so great on descents due to super-low bars (no room to raise them the way the bike is set up).

We got back and I eagerly rode the Spectrum.  Soooo nice............


Blog Clean-up

The blog had become polluted with short notes about daily rides, diluting its purpose -- stories of long and epic rides.  So, I got rid of them, though I'll continue posting stuff that's interesting to me, amusing, brief, and possibly unrelated to the stated goals.  Such as the immediately preceding post.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Riding in the rain, all high and mighty

An e-mail exchange:

original e-mail: -- I'm not sure I'm desperate enough to ride in the wet...

my reply: -- It's not about desperation, it's about dedication :-p

(Guess I better get out there tomorrow, rain or shine.)



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

OT: when life gives lemons

A friend was up for partner at my law firm. He played by the rules: sucked up to all the right people, gave lots of presentations to influential people in the industry, built up a decent book of business, did excellent work, and was very well regarded. Superiors in his department assured him that he was doing everything right and gave him the impression that he would make partner this year. He really wanted this.

He didn't make it. The firm announced 10 new partners this morning: 8 "income" and 2 "equity" and he isn't among them.

He didn't come to work today. I tried calling him several times, but could not reach him. Of course I am pissed off on his behalf. And you can't help but look at the people who were promoted and compare them and wonder why the people whose opinions mattered chose them instead of him or maybe others who were passed over. I know several of them but not that well. They are fine lawyers, and I have some idea why two of them deserve this promotion, but not the others. Why them and not my friend? Though I am sure they don't promote the undeserving at my firm, they just don't promote all the deserving. And what or how much more does one have to do to get partnership? How much more ass-kissing, public speaking, politicking, etc. does one have to do to get the brass ring?

Not surprisingly, thoughts turn to fragility of our job security. What's worse, waiting for a promotion that doesn't come or sweating out a new round of layoffs...? Probably the latter, but my friend sure got screwed yesterday.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Bike

I have about 200 miles on my new titanium Spectrum over the course of six rides. By now, I believe I can give an objective impression of its ride rather than one colored by new bike euphoria. The bike is unlike any I've ridden. Over the past 10 years I've owned and ridden seven custom bikes, most of which I no longer own. Each had its signature characteristics. If I got on one of these bikes and rode an unpainted, undecalled frame I believe I'd be able to identify the frame. Though each was built just for me, they are that distinct. So, when I contacted Tom Kellogg at Spectrum Cycles and asked him to build me a titanium frame I had no idea what to expect.

I wanted to go to the famed red barn to visit Spectrum, ride with Tom, get measured, absorb the atmosphere, but traveling across the country just wasn't in the cards, so I sent Tom my measurements and dimensions of one of my frames and, after several conversations and e-mails, Tom went about designing the frame. What resulted was a frame with a fork with greater offset, shorter trail, longer front-center, shallower head tube, longer top tube, shorter chain stays, minimally greater bb drop, and instructions to use a 12cm rather 11cm stem. Except for the stem, all these seemed to be miniscule adjustments.

While we were discussing the design, Tom told me there was a delay at Merlin (Tom designs and Merlin builds ti Spectrums) because Merlin was out of 1-inch chain stays. That was OK with me and I asked for 7/8-inch stays to build some flexibility into the frame in hope they will make it "plane." I am sure there will be dissertations written on bicycle planing some day, but "goonster" on Serotta forum provides what I think is the best lay definition of the term: "It is the stiffness sweet spot, when a rider experiences the nirvana of a bike that feels just right, i.e. not too stiff and not too flexy, especially when climbing. Nobody is claiming that the frame somehow returns energy in a magical way, but some have reported that a bike with just the right amount of flex sometimes lets them use a slightly taller gear up rollers." Tom thought I may be onto something with smaller stays and the only time where he thought 1-inch stays are better would be in a sprint. As well as I sprint, this would not be an issue, so we proceeded full steam ahead with 7/8-inch stays.

I'd placed the order in early May and Tom thought the frame would be ready in time for Mt. Tam Double in early August. It turned out I'm not as good at waiting as I used to be. I called and e-mailed Tom a number of times asking for updates. He handled my badgering patiently and with good humor. There were delays at Merlin, so I called Merlin several times. Two months of teeth-gnashing until the frame arrived in early October. It was so well worth the wait.

I don't know if it's the 7/8-inch stays, titanium, or Spectrum voodoo, but I do think the bike planes. And even if it's not planing, whatever it's called, I love what it's done to my riding. After several years on compact cranks, I fitted a crank with 39x53 rings and a 12-27 cassette, fully expecting to spend more time on the left side of the cassette than on bikes with a 34x50, 11-28 set up. Surprisingly, I'm not. I am using 39x21 on the hills I climbed in 34x21 two weeks ago, and my legs and lungs are fine with that. On flats, the bike requires no undue attention to keep a straight line and taking hands off the bars produces no noticeable effect on handling. The best part is descending -- climbing in a bigger gear is awesome of course, but it requires work, while descending is pure, effortless joy. The bike feels very light in my hands entering a turn and does not feel like I need to push it into a turn. And once I pick a line, the bike just stays there. If I want to change the line -- piece of cake: very light and confidence-inspiring. So confidence-inspiring that I've attempted several unsafe passing maneuvers of cyclists and vehicles that I wouldn't have tried on another bike. Remarkably, the Spectrum is both exceptionally responsive and stable. I've never ridden a bike that handles like this.

When I came home from my first ride, I exclaimed to my wife, "I'm done!" "You're done?" she asked dubiously. "I'm done!" I repeated. We both knew this meant no more new bikes. A big deal for a guy with 7 road bikes in his garage and another at his father-in-law's. I've told two friends about this conversation and each bet me $50 that I'd get a new bike within two years (said one) or five years (the other). Well, maybe one more... a steel Spectrum, but not for a while.

I think I've reached Nirvana.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Leipheimer Gran Fondo

Levi Leipheimer's Gran Fondo was October 2, 2009. I signed up for the full Gran Fondo -- 103 hilly miles, including the well-known King Ridge and Coleman Valley climbs, along with nasty surprises of Hauser Bridge and Seaview Roads in between those two, provided additional significant challenges.

I arrived at Finley Aquatic Center, the start/finish of the ride, at a ridiculous hour of 5:45 because I feared a crush of 8,000 descending on check-in desks. There were no lines when I arrived, but then I had too much time to kill before the 8:00 departure. As I breakfasted in my car at 4:30, I was good and hungry by 7:00. A muffin and a cup of coffee and, after additional 50 minutes of standing around waiting for the ride to start with my friend Jeff and, we began inching toward the start line.

We crossed the line at 8:22 and turned out of the parking lot, whereupon Jeff rocketed ahead. Doubts quickly erased, I jumped on his wheel. So much for the warm-up, we were traveling at 25-27 mph. Police blocked all intersections, and we blew past everyone in the fast lane of the 4-lane road. Several people tried to draft us, but realized that this was no ordinary century paceline and wisely dropped off. This continued for good 10 minutes when we caught up with my weekend ride group, when we slowed down a wee bit and rode with them. Jeff drifted forward and I lost sight of him, assuming he continued to tear up the course. I rode and chatted with my Oakland/Berkeley gang.

Going through Graton and Occidental, things got faster and more exciting for a while. I discovered that Santa Rosa water with which I filled my bottles at Finley Center, has a brown hue and its taste also has a brown hue. This didn't make me want to drink so much. I made sure to gel up and, as I'd been sitting on wheels most of the ride so far, felt reasonably fresh and confident. The group pulled up for refuelling at the first rest stop, but I decided to continue. One of the faster guys with us continued on also and we traded pulls through Guernville to Austin Creek Road. On Austin Creek we caught up with a 40-rider group and melded into it. We'd been on the road for about 35 miles. Average speed was over 21 mph. Maybe not too smart.

In another three miles, we hit Cazadero and rest stop no. 2, which I also skipped. Just a few yards past the rest stop we came to a fork: Ft. Ross Road and King Ridge Rd. -- pick your poison. Levi picked King Ridge for us. King Ridge climbs gently first and dips here and there, then gets serious and kicks you in the quads with 8%+ grades with steeper pitches reaching low teens. Mercifully, it was still early in the morning and fairly cool. My big gear training, which taught me pedal circles the way nothing else ever had, proved very useful here. I started feeling twinges of cramps, but I concentrated on pedaling circles, using as many muscle groups as possible, trying to prevent overtaxing any one muscle, which would lead to real cramping. This worked pretty well. I made it up the hill at a slower pace than many, faster than a few.

Thus, I came to the Tin Barn rest stop around mile 37. I stopped to fill bottles and gel flask. There was no gel, endurolytes, or Gatorade (I like it diluted). Discovered that First Endurance drinks were remarkably chalky, so I filled a bottle with diluted FE orange drink, another with water and set off after grabbing a few pieces of fruit. Dropped down Hauser Bridge Rd. and started climbing again. Hauser Bridge climb seemed as steep as King Ridge, but mostly shaded and, therefore, was more pleasant. While I'd ridden King Ridge and had faint and unpleasant memories of the climb, this was my first time on Hauser. I'll carry vivid, unpleasant memories of Hauser with me from now on.

The climb went on for 4-5 miles. The occasionally dipped and twisted for a hundred yards here and there, leading me to believe naively that the climb was over, but it was never over. It just kept on going up again, steeply, crampily, until we finally reached the crest of Coastal Ridge on Seaview Rd.

This was familiar territory. Terrible Two also crests at Seaview at Ft. Ross Rd. and there were TT road marks on the pavement. We followed the TT route for a couple of miles, but where TT drops eastward toward Cazadero, we continued along the ridge toward the plunge that is Meyers Grade. Imagine the very top of Mt. Diablo climb, only extend it to over a mile and you'll have Meyers. I was very glad we descended rather than climbed Meyers.

Meyers spilled the riders onto Highway 1, and south I went in a raging tailwind. After cresting a few rollers, fearing more cramping, I freewheeled flat parts of 1 (it was that tail-windy) to Jenner rest stop. I stood and straddled my bike for a minute, fearing further cramping if I tried to bring a leg over the bike, when I saw Jeff. "Jeff!" I said. "Vlad!" he said. We shared ride tales -- he flatted about 10 miles into the ride, saw me ride past, and spent ~15 minutes repairing the flat. He spent the next 60 miles chasing me, skipping rest stops, and now was cramping too. We dismounted gingerly but painlessly, ate, drank, caffeinated and set off.

Jeff on the verge of cramping is much faster than Vlad on the verge of cramping. The rest stop did me good, however, and I was able to ride on Jeff's wheel, taking occasional, weak pulls. In just 5 quick miles we were at the foot of Coleman Valley.

I did Coleman Valley only two months earlier at Mt. Tam Double and was mentally prepared. Oddly, I felt better climbing it after 130 miles two months earlier than at 73 miles at Gran Fondo. The m.o. was to take it easy until the climb got really steep, then to plod purposefully through that steep quarter mile. At the foot of the climb, caffeine got to Jeff, and he rode ahead, trash talking in French and Italian-accented English to the riders he passed. It would have been funny had it come at a less painful part of the ride, but the targets of Jeff's barbs took it in good humor, though I would have been tempted to whack him with a pump or squirt him with chalky energy drink had he directed them at me.

We crested and rolled up and down through Coleman Valley to Occidental, climbed to Graton, and pacelined with Fighting Bobas to outskirts of Santa Rosa, where Jeff flatted again. We repaired his flat and set off again, coming to an unpaved 2.5-mile fire road strewn with gravel at mile 100.
WTF Levi? Scores of cyclists of wildly varying bike handling skills on a narrow dirt road along with pedestrian and bicycle traffic of non-Fondoistas. Dust and gravel flying... Not very safe... There was a paved street back to Finley somewhere, no? We emerged from the fire road a quarter mile from Finley Center and that was that.

A few words about ride organization. Start was pretty lame. We crossed the start line 22 minutes after the official start time and there were thousands of people behind us. Road signage was amazing. There were large blue and white signs on lamp posts and trees directing turns, advising of upcoming course changes, warning of upcoming steep climbs and descents, etc. Major and many minor intersections had police and CHP officers holding up traffic for cyclists throughout the day. Volunteers were excellent. Food was normal century fare. Energy food was meh.

I would ride those roads again, but would shorten to the loop to about 75 miles, starting and ending in Occidental. I probably would not ride this Gran Fondo again, especially since the cost of the ride has gone up to $130.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Bonking and Flatting

I nearly bonked on Saturday, when I simply forgot to eat. I left at 5:20 a.m. after eating two bananas and bringing a full flask of gel. Gel was all gone by 9:30. I stopped and visited a friend in Walnut Creek from 10:30 to 11:45. After riding for 10 minutes after I left his house, I realized how little I'd eaten and felt the familiar queasy emptiness. I decided to stop in Moraga to refuel. So, in 90+ degree weather, I rode on fumes to Moraga, where I stopped at a gas station for a Coke and a Snickers bar. Snickers packs 280 calories and a can of coke has 140, so that was a very quick 420-calory energy infusion. Very helpful. Made it home feeling OK, but shaking my head over the novice mistake I'd made.

A couple of hours before bonking, I flatted. I hit something -- not sure if it was a sharp rock or a small pothole. This was my fourth flat in a month! I get about four flats a year, so the recent rash of tube and tire failures is puzzling. And all of them have been different: from creeping rim tape to a snakebite, glass shards, on differents sets of wheels and tires, you name it. And just one day after my latest flat, as I rode, I ran my hand over the tire to brush off gravel and felt a strange bump. Stopped, examined the tire and found two tube hernias protruding through the tire. Very exciting (not), this would be my first tire-booting experience. I quickly settled on using a piece of a plastic bag as a boot. Stuffed the plastic between the tube and the tire as best I could. Pumped cautiosly, checking the tire to make sure the tube wasn't poking out, but the boot held. On the way home, I stopped to check it before descending the 10% Joaquin Miller Road, but all was well, and I made it home safely. Time to change the tire, I think.

After five roadside tire repairs in the last four weeks I am eagerly looking forward to uneventful and flat-free riding. Please!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I want to ride faster double centuries. I see little alternative but doing fairly long intervals at sub-maximal level and tempo riding. In other words, train. There's a difference between riding and training: "riding" is fun, "training" is work. I'm sure training will make me faster, but it's also boring as shit and after a while I begin to dread the upcoming interval session. Do I want to make my favorite hobby, something that I enjoy, work? Would it take fun out of cycling?

I guess I'll give it a shot and see how it goes.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Stage Race Analysis

Using total distance of 625 miles (DMD 206, CCD 218, Tam 200; plus fractions of a mile at each ride, adding up to approximately another mile), my average overall speed, including off the bike time, was 13.987 mph.

My stage times were
DMD: 16:42
CCD: 14:47
Tam: 13:12

3:30 difference between DMD and Tam -- pretty shocking. Almost as shocking as the 1:55 faster time at CCD than DMD on a course that was 12 miles longer. I give much credit for that to the sock-full-of-ice neck tie.

At DMD, that was the best I could do that day. I was undertrained and overheated and overextended myself trying to ride with Hornig, Forsman, Hebenstreit (all of whom rode 14:04 or faster), and god knows who else was in that paceline through Livermore to the 580 overcrossing. I skipped mini stops at Mines before lunch and on top of Hamilton. I spent lots of time at other rest stops it was out of necessity.

Off the bike dawdling cost me 20-30 minutes at CCD. I had good legs and often rode fairly close to the limit. Also, I could have shaved 3-5 minutes in the last 20 miles, I imagine, had I not ridden with the Latvian guy because I had to slow down for him, before finally riding away.

Tam was the perfect storm of good legs, great weather, minimizing off the bike time, and riding with a purpose. I have no idea how much time I spent off the bike because my computer died five miles into the ride. I think the difference between CCD and Tam times was due to the shorter distance and off the bike time.

If I decide to do the stage race in the future, I'd like to finish closer in time to the winner than 8:21, whatever my final place in the standings. I think that's a better measuring stick of fitness, though I'm still thrilled to have finished where I did this year.

Tentatively, next year, I'd like to do the Solvang Spring (promised an overweight friend to ride with him), DMD (want to break 16 hours or even ride a 15:30, if all goes well), Alpina (I've never done the Death Ride, so I might as well do the Mother of the Death Ride), and Borrego Springs (description is very scenic and I have family in the Palm Springs area, so I may be able to combine the ride with a family visit). Perhaps a faster time at Terrible Two as well.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tour de Manure (Mt. Tam Double)*

*Mt. Tam Double passes through northern and western Marin County's cow country. Even when you don't see cows, you smell them.


Strategy for this ride was to start in the front and go with the faster groups, draft as much as possible to conserve energy, and to be very efficient off the bike, wasting as little time as possible. Not the fastest group, mind you, but the second group, which usually contains very fit and experienced riders with whom I'd like to be able to ride. As for efficiency, when I thought about many of my rides this year and last, it occurred to me how long I spent at rest stops and lunch stops -- too long. I lounged and lingered and had sore legs when I'd gotten back on the bike -- sorer than when I had gotten off. Also, I decided that with all the gastrointestinal distress I suffered after lunch stops I would not eat lunch but would rely almost entirely on gel and electrolyte replacement products. This would also shorten my lunch stop. In 26th place, I trailed several riders in the Triple Crown Stage Race standings by such narrow margins that I could attribute my time deficits to excess time spent off the bike. I wanted to try to overcome these deficits by cutting my rest stop time to a minimum. Since I was unfamiliar with the course and how long it would take I thought I'd finish in daylight and hoped to be done by 8:00 p.m. That was the plan, anyway.

What Else Can Go Wrong in This Darkness?

Having arrived at Vallecitos Elementary in Greenbrae, I half-fill my bottles with Gatorade, intending to top them off with water after checking in at registration table, put a $10 bill in my cell phone holder, and ride to check in and pick up my number. I run into Jeff Gould, my frequent double century companion; Jim Karanas, my former spin class instructor; Jeff Pierce and Bryan Kilgore with whom I dined and rode the Central Coast Double; and several other Triple Crown regulars. I pin my number and at 4:55 a.m. insinuate myself into the second row of 296 cyclists at the starting line. At 5:00 we are off.

For the first mile or two we ride through residential neighborhoods that have street lights, but then we turn onto Lucas Valley Road where we are left to the mercies of bicycle lights of the guys in front of us. Fortunately, all carry adequate lights and this very crowded portion of the ride sees no crashes or mishaps. After four miles of flat we hit the first climb, which the eager and the strong hit hard. I hold back, not considering myself strong and trying not to be eager, but still crest in the front 30. (Here, my computer conks out.) It seems I am with the second group. It's easy to stay together on the downhill, as no one rides crazy or stupid descending in the dark. I reach for a bottle and it isn't there... The other one is half-full. OK, this means I half-filled both bottles, put one on the bike and left the other in the car. I have half a bottle until the first rest stop at mile 30-something. Not good. I'll have to stop to refill, assuming I can find a place to do that, or buy a bottle at a 7-Eleven when we get to Fairfax. Intending to go water shopping I fish around my jersey pockets for my phone. No phone. No phone means no money. Here I am 6 miles into the ride with half a bottle for the next 26 miles, no phone, no money, and no computer. This is a hell of a way to improve my standing in the Stage Race...

When we hit the flats, the pace picks up. I have to work harder to stay with the guys I am with and must decide whether to work hard so I can ride with a fast group or ease up, conserve strength, and ride slower. For the time being, I have enough adrenaline to overcome my superego and ride with fast guys. There is a guy wearing a Cal jersey, and I try to stay close to him because he seems pretty strong and conspicuous in the foggy darkness on the rollers between Nicasio and Fairfax. The group is going hard enough that I let them go as well. I am feeling my legs, not in a good way and, after all the things that have gone wrong already, contemplate the possibility that I may not finish this ride. Sucks.

Well, if I am not going to finish there is no reason to hold back, so I speed up to a group ahead of me that's climbing the hill between San Geronimo golf course and Fairfax. I reconnect with them and plunge toward Fairfax in pursuit of three guys ahead. I get as low as I can and spin out my 50x11 to catch Jeff Gould, of all people. We ride through Fairfax together and I bemoan my fate or is it lack of preparation/attention to detail. Leaving Fairfax I let him go on the climb toward Alpine Dam because I don't know the climb and something inside me holds me back. I pass a few guys, others pass me. I catch up with Mark from Oakland with whom I rode Solvang Fall last year, where he was a whole lot stronger than I. We climb together and I notice that although my legs are definitely feeling the climb I have to back off a bit to allow Mark to ride with me -- the first positive sign after the "what else can go wrong" series of mental moans.

Eventually, I ride away from Mark and take all sorts of risks on the descent to latch onto the back of a 6-man group just before they get to the dam. That turns into a huge waste of nervous energy, as there is no flat to speak of, and the road turns uphill as soon as we cross the dam and there is no draft benefit from climbing at 7 miles an hour. Up again. Most of the guys I'd caught ride away from me. As I climb I wonder where those guys are in Stage Race standings and where I'll end up. It seems 40 or more people are ahead of me. I pass a few riders who are going quite slowly, but I conclude that they must have started before the 5:00 a.m. mass start. Half-way up the climb Todd Law with whom I also rode at '08 Solvang Fall and who sits 4-5 places ahead of me, catches up and rides away after a brief and friendly chat. My thoughts turn to maintaining my position rather than improving it. The season's goal was finishing in the top half. That seemed safe, but with so many people going by me, who knows?

Aquarius Smiles

On top of this hill is a woman directing traffic down toward Bolinas, no matter how much we want to ride the ridge and climb the Seven Sisters toward the peak of Mt. Tam. With budget-related closure of Mt. Tam State Park our route does not include that scenic option. I ask her whether she has water -- she does! I fill my bottle and pressing my luck ask whether she has a spare bottle -- she does! and she willingly parts with it. It's a regular Calistoga bottle but it fits into my bottle cage, and it has a "sport top," so I can drink without having to unscrew the top. Things are looking up, though as I pour and spill and drink, another 20 or so riders go by.

Happy, I descend 2-3 miles toward Bolinas and the first rest stop. Mark, Bryan, and Jason are there. Altogether 20-25 people are milling around. If I can leave quickly I can execute a mass pass. I leave quickly, but I have to go to the bathroom. Porta-potties are 100 feet down the road. There are three of them and four cyclists are waiting in line to use them. I get off the bike, tell them: "Sorry guys, I'm cutting in line," and go in the bushes.

Jump back on, riding alone, southbound on Highway 1 toward Stinson Beach. A group of two or three is half a mile ahead and no one immediately behind, so I decide not to chase but to ride tempo and wait for company. Soon enough a rider (Ken in white and blue) catches me, then a group of four more and we motor together through Stinson to the climb up Panoramic Drive.

I have no delusions about my cycling prowess. I don't fancy myself a kick-ass climber. I can climb my way out of a paper bag, but I'm no match for the really fast and light guys. But these three, who are not light and who didn't seem really fast on the flat, now are just spinning their legs like dervishes up the 8-9% sections of Panoramic, showing no signs of distress and pulling away. I try spinning with them, but fall behind, so I shift up and climb in a bigger gear -- catching back up to them fairly quickly. Big gears feel better, but the legs are feeling somewhat heavy and there are another two miles of Panoramic to climb and 155 miles to the finish. At least it's cool and foggy and the day promises to be un-Marin Century like, which often sees temperatures in the mid-90s. Toward the top of the climb we catch up with Sean Smith, with whom I rode at Central Coast. Sean had been off the bike for two months and is taking it easy. We descend as a group, go up and down rollers together, then descend again through Muir Woods and find ourselves back on Highway 1, going north and climbing again. On the uphill the group breaks up. I catch up to Todd, much to my surprise. He says he is not having a great day. We climb together, pushing each other to ride a bit faster than we would alone, and hightail it toward the rest stop at the bottom of the descent.

Coastal Cruising

Hmmm, Todd is not feeling great. If I get out of this rest stop quickly there's a slight chance of passing him in the Stage Race. Bill Schulz from '09 Solvang Spring (7th in the standings -- see Solvang story) is pulling into the rest stop at the same time. I yell at him to wait for me while I fill bottles and gel containers, but he is gone by the time I get going even though I leave the rest stop as fast as I can. Riding alone again. Rollers again. But now I am passing people. Having learned how mental long distance cycling is, I make sure to take pleasure in each pass and with a happier brain have fresher legs. Completing the Mt. Tam-Muir Woods loop I descend toward Stinson from the south. I see a pair of riders about a quarter mile ahead. Four to five miles of flat roads before rollers would resume, so I decide to chase. Put my head down, shift up, and get into my nonexistent aero bars (forearms on the bar for as long as you can take it, then on the drops; repeat until you lose motivation). It feels like it is taking forever to make up a measly quarter mile, but I make steady progress and catch up with them half a mile south of Bolinas. It's Ken in white and blue and his friend Mike with whom I'd ridden through Stinson southbound and climbed Panoramic. How did they get so far ahead of me? skipped the rest stop? We skip the Bolinas rest stop, which serves as rest stop No. 3 as well as No. 1. Working together we sweep up a few riders and catch Bill. That's a pleasant surprise. But Bill keeps standing up on rollers in a huge gear and just powering away. Fortunately, he's a cautious descender and we catch up on descents. Finally, he decides to ride steadily and we ride together. I mention to him I want to finish by 8:00, he scoffs and says, “7:00, easy.”

Cow Country, Ho!

We ride through Dogtown ((wtf is Dogtown?) Zip Code 94924, population 50-something) to Pt. Reyes, then turn inland toward Novato Cheese Factory (you know you're in cow country now). By now there is a good dozen of us and I manage to hide in the paceline for the next 10 miles into the next rest stop. We join the 100k and 100 mile routes and suddenly there are cyclists everywhere, causing traffic jams and antagonizing drivers. A half mile up, then down to the Cheese Factory, a left turn just beyond it to the rest stop. Quick bottle refill and sunscreen application and Bill and I are off. Now we have to look at rider numbers to figure out who is doing the double century (yellow numbers) and who is on the other rides (white numbers). We catch up with a Latin man of undetermined age (our age it turned out) and his androgynous 21-year old son, whom we took for 16-17. Those two are really strong climbers and ride away, but we would see them on the road all day. On the Marshall Wall, Bill's friend Pat catches up to us and he and Bill pull away on the climb. Crap, I don't want to ride alone, so I grit my teeth and catch up on the false flat of the Wall. We return to Highway 1, where it's chilly and wet in spots from Eucalyptus dew drops.

More rollers to Dillon Beach, then turn west toward Dillon Beach, then north toward Valley Ford and the lunch rest stop. I don't like this stretch of road. Prevailing headwinds and never-ending rollers. Bill drops back and Pat and I ride ahead. Pat says that there's quite a bit less climbing in the second half of the ride -- welcome news. We pass some of the guys who had dropped me on the Bolinas-Fairfax climb -- again, good for the brain. Holy cow, it's only 12:20! Normally, I hit lunch around 1:15. Cutting rest stop time strategy seems to be working.

Valley Ford lunch stop is teeming with cyclists: double century riders, double metric century riders, century riders. There are easily over 100 people here. Bill rolls in. We run around the lunch stop filling bottles and grabbing handfuls of Endurolytes, peanuts (ahhhh, protein), and potato chips. In and out of the bathroom and we're on the road again, north on Highway 1 again. I set a PR by spending under 10 minutes at the lunch stop.

Coleman Loop

This is not a happy stretch of the road. Rollers into a headwind. Climbs too long, descents too short. I do not hammer on the downhills, just tuck as low as possible to coast as long as I can before tackling the next hill. Sun comes out too and it's getting warmer. I'd made a strategic decision to ride in a long-sleeve jersey and regret it now. We plod on.

Route sheet says right on Bay Hill Road. It goes inland from Highway 1 and bypasses Bodega Bay before turning toward the coast again. Inland and uphill. A long and unexpectedly steep hill. Legs not working so great. Bill stops for a nature break, but encourages me to keep going. I keep going and look back periodically, but don't see him. I see Ken fifty yards ahead but he's riding strongly and pulling away. How the hell does he keep getting ahead of me when I don't see him passing? Does he not stop at rest stops at all? Finally, Bay Hill turns downhill and plunges back to 1. I go north on 1 again. Three flat miles, then what we came here for -- Coleman Valley, the climb from the coast to the plateau above Occidental. I've only descended it and it's a freaking scary descent: very steep with tight turns. Through the morning different people referred to the climb as being from two to four miles long with steep sections over 10% over two miles with half a mile over 12% and ramps of 15-18%. I decide to trust the guys who gave shorter estimates. OK, the steep parts are steep, but manageable and short. There is maybe a quarter mile of steep stuff and even that is not as steep as the top of Mt. Diablo. So, a pleasant surprise.

The route sheet says the rest stop is at the top of the first climb of Coleman. I'm pretty sure we're at the top, but no rest stop. No one else on the road knows where it is either. I could use some water, but Coleman seemed to have woken the legs and I'm big-ringing it over shorter rollers and feeling rather chipper. Tailwind helps too. Finally, pull into the rest stop, take off my undershirt and experiment with Gatorade/Red Bull/water mixture in my bottle. Bill arrives. We linger a wee bit too long, but still leave fairly quickly.

Joy Road, the next turn that takes us south, arrives sooner than I expect because I have it confused with Occidental Highway, which is a good thing. Joy is full of rollers over which I manage to stand and power, and, while Bill drops back, I keep plowing on. A plunge toward Petaluma-Bodega Road and a left turn into a howling tailwind. A good place to rest after overtaxing myself a bit on Joy. Several sips from Red Bull-fortified bottle prove that Red Bull is a lousy sports drink additive and I dump out the bottle's entire contents. This leaves me with just half a bottle of water, but the Valley Ford rest stop is only five miles away, so hydration shouldn't be an issue. Two miles here, then a right onto Freestone-Valley Ford Road for a three-mile slog into a headwind, during which I work harder than I should, and I am back to Valley Ford. Just before I reach the rest stop at 2:45 p.m., I see a volunteer explaining to a group of riders just setting out for Coleman Valley loop that they should expect minimal support and may be pulled off the course if they take too long. Not a problem for me.

Rest Stops? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rest Stops!

Valley Ford rest stop is a ghost town. Little food remains. Volunteers outnumber cyclists by 10-5. Bill arrives. We reprise our lunch stop frenzy and leave in less than five minutes for Middle Road, which I hate. Headwind into flats, then steep rollers. Not sure if I have better legs than in 2006, the last time I rode here, but I manage to get over the rollers in decent shape, come to a T intersection and turn east -- tailwind again. I ride at medium pace, waiting for Bill. He pulls up and we catch up with Ken (again!). We ride together, but Bill keeps dropping back on uphills. Ken and I are riding fairly mellow for Bill's sake, and he rejoins us over and over. Finally, I tell them I am going to keep riding and go ahead. Ken stays with Bill. I ride medium hard, there's still good 45 miles to go, so I need to keep something in reserve. It's mostly flat and cool, though as I go farther east I am getting sunshine and it's warming up. I use century and double-metric riders as rabbits; it's so nice to have targets to chase and passing them provides a psychological boost. I am riding in low to mid-20s and feeling OK. The legs are feeling it, but it seems I can keep going at this pace into Petaluma rest stop at mile 171.

On the outskirts of Petaluma I pass a couple just out for a weekend ride and the man asks if there is an event. I explain that there is a whole bunch of rides going on simultaneously. He asks which I am doing. I say, "200 miles." "In one day?" he says. "Yep." His jaw drops, I wish him a good ride and go on. As I approach the rest stop, I realize that I have over a bottle of fluids and a nearly full flask of gel and, with no urgent need to use the bathroom, decide to skip this rest stop. I shout out my number to the volunteer with a clip board as I pass the check point and keep going.

Oh joy, more rollers and headwinds on the way out of Petaluma. OK, now I am feeling this ride and wonder whether a few pieces of watermelon would have done me good. I chase away those thoughts, but they return when I turn onto Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Rd and its 1-2% grade and headwinds and Red Hill climb that lies two miles ahead. I feel like I'm close to running on fumes. Plod, plod, plod, pass a couple of century stragglers, and start climbing Red Hill. Steep but not too steep, not too hot, and not too much traffic. At the foot of the climb a guy with an orange jersey and a yellow number just blows past me, standing in a cog about 3-4 gears bigger than mine. "You, da man," I think, "there's one guy I won't finish ahead of."

Red Hill is a fairly wide and straight climb, so you can see the people ahead of you. Orange jersey has good 150 yards on me when he crests, and at my speed that's over a minute. I limp to the top and tuck low, low on the way down. By the time I reach the bottom, orange jersey is an insect on the horizon. I pass a few century riders and my mood improves. Hit the bottom of the shortish Cheese Factory climb and see orange jersey cresting. It seems I made up some distance. Go into chase mode. Crest and swoop down. Left at Nicasio Valley Rd. and I am greeted by a raging tailwind.

If there's one thing I can do it's ride with a tailwind. Legs feel better, the mood improves, the bike goes faster. Everything is better with a tailwind. Marking time past landmarks, I'm 35 seconds behind orange jersey. On the outskirts of Nicasio it's 13 seconds and then, a gift -- he turns into the rest stop at Nicasio Valley School. "Sssseee ya!" I exclaim silently, and jam past the school entrance. More and more century and double-metric rabbits to pass and it's all good, high energy riding from here on out. Lucas Valley climb is in the easier, southeastern, direction with a tailwind on the long flat section that follows the ensuing descent. I hammer, absolutely flying past white-numbered riders and into San Rafael.

You Finished When?

I get held up at a traffic light just a quarter mile from the finish, but ride to the finish alone and check in at......... 6:12!

Jeff Gould is there, having demolished the course and finished 40 minutes earlier. Pat finished 20 minutes before me. Latin father/son duo arrives just after me. It turns out the kid had stomach problems all day and they had two flats on Coleman. Orange jersey arrives 10 minutes later, with Bill five minutes behind him. Then Ken. Others are trickling in one by one. Only double century riders are checking in. After 30 minutes of standing around I ride to the car and, as I put the bike on the roof, whom do I see arriving -- the guy who was 25th in stage race standing, 18 minutes ahead of me and whom I really wanted to pass in the standings. I check my watch -- I arrived 36 minutes ago. Big smile.

I get in the car and drive home, drinking half a bottle of undiluted, warm Gatorade.


Ride results were posted three days later. I was flabbergasted to learn that of the 296 people who started the ride I finished in 18th place (there were 254 finishers). Armed with T de M results, I feverishly calculated my stage race standing. It seems 10 people who were ahead of me didn't start or didn't finish the third stage and I passed three others on the strength of my ride. This vaulted me into the tie for 13th place. Sixty-eight riders finished the stage race. I met my goal of finishing the stage race in the top half. Jeff finished in an amazing 5th place.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Mt. Tam Double Tomorrow

Over the course of the past couple of weeks I've asked myself whether I am ready for Mt. Tam and the best answer I can give is I'm cautiosly optimistic. Cautiosly optimistic vs. confident vs. overconfident. After a year and a half of riding double centuries I am discovering that the line separating these levels of attitude is awfully thin.

In this period, I think I had my best legs at 2008 Eastern Sierra. I'd done lots of training and good rides at Solvang Spring and DMD served me well. After a good ride at DMD I felt confident and was looking forward to Eastern Sierra. I had another good ride there. It turned out that would be my downfall at 2008 Terrible Two. After three good rides I thought I was hot shit and knew everything there was to know about riding, nay, racing, double centuries. So, at Terrible Two, I went with a very fast group and rode way too hard for 75 miles. As a result, I overheated, under-ate and under-drank, and Terrible Two became Terrible 1.2 when I cramped in both legs simultaneously at a water stop at mile 120.

This year, I haven't had the time to train as much as I would like. Thus, I've ridden conservatively. My times at Solvang Spring and DMD were slower than last year, but then I had a very good ride at Central Coast. Riding very conservatively on a pleasantly cool day, I met my goal of finishing the Terrible Two, though I was waaaaay back on the finishing list, considerably behind a number of people who'd ridden slower at DMD and CCD. So, more food for thought.

When we went to a family camp in Santa Barbara in early July, I had a series of very good rides, doing several hilly and flat interval sessions and returned with legs that felt much better than the pair I'd brought to Santa Barbara. But the longest ride I'd done there was 50 miles. In fact, that was the longest ride I'd done since Terrible Two on June 21 and that is just not a good way to train for a double century. So, last Saturday, just a week before Mt. Tam I put in a 110-mile ride. The ride went well, and now I feel cautiously optimistic. I would be thrilled to have a ride as good as I had at CCD. Weather promises to be cool and mostly overcast. I just have to remember to ride smart, eat and drink lots, not hammer over Marin County's never-ending rollers, and think happy thoughts.

Decided that I'll be riding the black steel/carbon Rex. Keeping my fingers crossed and wishing myself luck.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Hard, But Not Too Terrible Two

With lengthy double-digit gradient climbs looming, I decided to go with ultraconservative super-wide range gearing of 34-46 in front and 11-32 in the back. It proved to be the right choice.


Alarm that is my daughter went off at 3:15 a.m., half an hour ahead of my clock. I decided to get up and take advantage of extra 30 minutes in the bathroom. A long day and a long ride fuelled by unnatural substances lay ahead, it was better not to tempt digestive fates. Everything was already packed -- clothes, food, shoes, bike -- all that remained was to eat breakfast and head off for Sebastopol for the start. I left at 4:15 and arrived a few minutes before 5:00.

Many riders were already at Analy High School in Sebastopol, pinning numbers, filling bottles, and catching up. I pinned my number, took a nervous pee, then met up and chatted with Jeff and Bill. Jeff had been working ungodly hours and was sick to boot. The half-hour before the 5:30 start flew by in, well, 30 minutes, but it seemed much faster. Time to go! A few words of caution and encouragement from ride organizers and we were off.

Analy High School to Calistoga

This year's start was very nervous. Much yelling about slowing, dodgy maneuvers, unnecessary braking and red light running (I participated in that last one). With all that we managed to get out of Santa Rosa without crashes and without dogs bringing down parts of the field (2008). As we left Santa Rosa and began the ride down Bennett Valley, my average speed registered 19.7mph -- it would decrease throughout the day. Descending Bennett Valley I spotted Brian who'd ridden out to ride a part of the course with me. He turned around and caught up with me as we rode through Glen Ellen on the rural roads he knows so well.

Trinity Grade was our first obstacle. I hardly remember climbing it last year. Then, I was toward the front of the field and it seemed to pass in a blur. This year's ride was all about finishing and effort and energy management, so I rode deliberately slower. In no time I found myself in my 34x32, as the climb was steeper and longer than I expected. I passed a few people who were breathing heavily -- that was a lot of effort expenditure so early in the ride. I was glad for my gears, which helped save my legs and lungs for future climbs. Descent of Trinity is notoriously treacherous. Every year TT riders crash there and this year was no different. Ride organizers posted a marshall at the particularly gnarly chicane to warn riders. As I passed him I asked whether anyone had crashed, he replied: "Just two." I made sure that I didn't make it three and made it to the bottom unscathed.

Gently rolling 5-10 miles followed and then we plunged Down Oakville Grade into Napa Valley. On this descent I registered my maximum speed of this double century -- 51.6 mph. (I achieved my minimum speed some 100 miles later on the climb of Rancheria Wall and again on Ft. Ross Road, but more on that later). At the bottom of Oakville Grade something resembling a 6-man paceline coalesced and we began to ride together on Oakville Cross Road toward Silverado Trail. I took a pull immediately before Silverado Trail, where we caught two more riders and soon after another pair. Suddenly there were 10 of us and Brian and I found ourselves about 6th and 7th in line. This was a strange paceline. First of all, paceline skills of its riders varied widely. We went from even and smooth pacing to sudden accelerations and sprints into slipstreams and panic-induced brake grabs accompanied by much cursing. As we rode on and picked up more and more riders the paceline swelled to about 20, but the odd thing was that nearly everyone we picked up slotted into the line ahead of Brian and me, as we found ourselves drifting farther and farther back. Moreover, after pulling riders drifted back, but as they came back they went back into the paceline ahead of us. Thus, as we proceeded north toward the rest stop in Calistoga it became plain that neither Brian nor I would end up pulling on this 17-mile stretch -- not for the lack of willingness or form but because of the weird paceline dynamics of this group. Which was not a bad thing with 150 hilly miles still to go.

Calistoga to Geysers to Lake Sonoma

We arrived in Calistoga around 8:45, having ridden 55 miles at 17.2 mph. Brian rode home, I refilled my bottles and ate a bit and set off. I began riding and talking with Mark from South Oregon, who was riding his first double -- a hell of a ride to cut one's teeth! Soon we caught up with Brian from San Rafael. I told Brian 2 that there were three of us and since we were riding a 200-mile time trial we might as well make it a team time trial and he readily joined us. We swept up another rider who began working with us, then two more, and yet another pair and just like that, a for the most part decently working 8-man paceline was making its way at a good clip to the Geysers climb.

[I just don't understand some riders. They hit the front of a paceline, accelerate, ride too hard, pull too long, and come to the back completely blown, sometimes unable to hang on to the back of the paceline. What good is that?]

Anyway, we came to the foot of the Geysers seemingly in good shape. Brian pulled over to stretch out a cramp. Mark went ahead. Everyone climbed at his own pace. It was getting warmer and the Geysers climb is long and fairly steep. I shifted into the 34x32 and climbed steadily. As it was getting warmer, I remembered the lesson of Central Coast Double and removed my helmet. That made riding much cooler, but in a few minutes a SAG wagon passed me going in the opposite direction and I thought it would be wiser not to get disqualified and put the helmet back on. I climbed and doused myself with water from a bottle, feeling rather chipper and pushing a bit harder, when I saw Jeff speeding downhill. I called out to him and a few seconds later heard him calling me. I saw him climbing and waited for him. He explained that things had been going fairly well until he began feeling ill on the Geysers and decided to go back. As he descended he got mad for quitting and turned around again to climb. Then he talked to a SAG driver, who asked him his name and Jeff discovered that he couldn't remember, so he rested and bit and decided to abandon the ride for good. That is when I saw him. He climbed with me for a quarter mile, but I told him to go home, so he turned around descended the Geysers for the third and last time. I caught up with a man with a British accent who was wearing an 8-pass jersey from Alta Alpina Double ridden in the Sierras just a week earlier in cold rain. We talked about his wet and cold adventures and reached the first peak. We quickly gave back almost all the altitude we gained and as the road reared up again I discovered that my legs weren't working so well. Grim memories of my 2008 Terrible Two misadventure floated to the surface like debris from a shipwreck. I slowed and redoubled the dousing. In about 10 minutes I made it to the Geysers rest stop in reasonable shape, feeling much better than a year ago. I found the weather there almost chilly. As I left the rest stop and headed downhill I found it necessary to put on my arm warmers. The road to the lunch stop at Lake Sonoma was more downhill than I remembered -- everything was harder last year, maybe except Trinity climb -- and I arrived at the lunch stop, 110 miles into the ride, around 12:50. A quick sandwich and a coke, a few pills of this and that, bottles refilled and bladder emptied, it was time to face the Skaggs Spring beast.

Lake Sonoma to Gualala River

I think this is the toughest stretch of the ride. Skaggs Springs Road is a 20-mile series of exposed steep pitches interspersed with short descents and false flats that later becomes a more gradual climb, eventually leading to a long descent to Gualala River rest stop. But the gradient alone is not what makes it tough. It is that it comes immediately after lunch, so that we tackle it with dead-ish legs and full stomachs. I felt like I climbed the first 10 miles with my lunch firmly lodged in my esophagus. With all that in mind I didn't relish the idea of climbing Skaggs. That is where I pooped out last year and to finish this year I would have to do something different. Coincidentally, a tandem was leaving at the same time when I had a brilliant thought -- I'll go with the tandem. They'll climb slower than I would alone, so if I ride with them I'll conserve energy and have company! Better for the legs and the brain. To add to my great fortune, I was having an Eeyore day -- a light cloud kept following me around the course, providing a modicum of defense from the heat. We plodded together in reasonable shape. Oh, it took nearly forever to reach the water stop at 120 miles, but I noted that I was an hour and a half ahead of my 2008 schedule, which boosted my spirits immeasurably. Brian from the Calistoga-Geysers leg was at this water stop as well and we agreed to leave and ride together. Brian is a strong rider and a great talker, I contributed what I could to the conversation. The road was too hilly to trade pulls, but having company lessened the misery. Although my cloud finally burned off, we reached the shady part of Skaggs and began the 7-mile descent to Gualala River rest stop. The road was very bumpy and curvy, I had to brake and lot and began to experience something new -- sore triceps. Sore triceps? Push-ups for improved cycling performance...

Gualala to Ft. Ross

Gualala rest stop is in a lovely and cool spot above Gualala River in the middle of a redwood forest. It's green and traffic-free, with only bird songs and the sound of the rapidly flowing river breaking the silence. Clean air and we were in the middle of nowhere. Why leave? Oh, that... We stretched the legs, I ate watermelon and roasted potatoes and it was time to go and face Rancheria Wall, a two-mile stretch that averages 12%... 140 miles into the ride. Well, why not? It was very steep and hard and steady, but doable. The legs, grateful for the 34x32, tolerated it well with no sign of impending cramps, a pleasant surprise. It was here that I achieved my minimum speed of 3.8mph. I didn't think it would be possible to remain upright on a bicycle at that speed going uphill. Brian walked the last quarter mile to ward off cramps -- he had a low gear of 34x27. I waited for him at the top of the climb, at Rancheria Reservation where a few people sat on doorsteps watching bikes go by. Just as Brian and I began the descent toward coast, a 4-year old boy darted across the road -- I grabbed the brakes and swerved, avoiding him by two feet. It was an adrenaline rush I did not need.

But the descent to the coast at Stewart's Point was not just a descent. Of course, there must be another climb to tackle first. A half mile at 7-8% -- just enough to soften the legs some more. But we finally got to the top and plunged to the coast. On the coast the wind was simply howling... in our backs. I sat up at one point and looked at my computer to discover that I was coasting at 29 mph on essentially flat road. Oh that was nice. It was clear and cool, ocean views were stunning -- payoff for all that suffering, although more suffering lay ahead.

Ft. Ross to Monte Rio

Fifteen coastal miles flew past in 45 minutes of conversation and nature eye candy and we reached the Ft. Ross rest stop. The rest stop lay on Ft. Ross Road just a few yards east of Highway 1. As soon as I turned off 1 I saw the climb -- daunting, straight up the hill. Better not to look. Stop and eat, refill bottles, use the facilities. Sigh, let's tackle this one. Just like Rancheria Wall -- about as long and as steep and some 30 miles later into the ride. More groveling at speeds of 3.8 to 5.6 mph. Legs still OK, though -- evermore grateful for the 32 rear cog. Brian says when you think the climb is over there are three short and sharp stings. Sure enough, climbing just keeps going until -- YES! -- a "Stop Ahead" sign, signaling an intersection, the definite sign of the top of the climb. And it was. A two-mile long descent followed by a series of rollers and by -- what the hell is that, another climb? Certainly, a half-mile at 8% -- and now I very clearly remember cursing this particular hill long and loud on first Brian's birthday ride six years ago. Finally, this one is over too and Brian 2 and I drop into Cazadero. We talk about trying to make it to the finish by 9:00. I do some quick math: we need to average 18mph for an hour and a half. It'll be tight but doable. I go into time trial mode and pull for 10 minutes on a mostly flat road, but realize that maybe I can do that for half an hour, but not an hour and a half, what with 176 miles in my legs, and back off. We are going 16-17 mph. It'll be close, but we'd have to spend next to no time at Monte Rio rest stop.

Monte Rio to Finish

We get to the rest stop at 8:10, there's 13 rolling miles to go, but we linger a bit too long and there's no way we'll make it by the time we leave the rest stop. Oh well, what the hell, just ride and enjoy it, I guess. So, we did, talking about our riding and kids' schools and extracurricular activities and work and our own childhood. We climb to Occidental, then up Graton Road, that's followed by a long and fast descent and suddenly we find ourselves just 3 miles from the finish on the outskirts of Sebastopol. Time to leave it all on the road. I pull hard all the way to the finish. It was painful but rewarding. I was very happy just to finish and cared not for my time. Time was 15:45, 200 miles with 16,000 feet of climbing in average speed of 14.2 mph.

I picked up my "I Did It" t-shirt and jumped in the car to go back to Brian 1's in-laws, where our families were spending the weekend. Bill called me on my cell phone as I drove. He had a fabulous ride, meeting his long-time goal of breaking 13 hours -- a barrier he demolished with a time of 12:32! He spent remarkable 17 minutes off the bike. I should ride with him more to learn to ride faster and more efficiently.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Terrible Two tomorrow...

Which bike to ride -- the coolest looking but not quite broken in Toei; the very practical (34x32 low gear, a 46x11 high, and a dynamo hub) but heavy steel Rex; or the light and sexy steel/carbon Rex, on which I've ridden three doubles this year, but which has a 34x28 low (which is normally plenty low, but I'm not sure it's low enough for this beast). And legs not feeling too great today plus interesting gastrointestinal goings on... Tomorrow should be an eventful day.

Steel Rex it is.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

2009 Central Coast Double


I went into the 2009 Central Coast Double (“CCD”) with low expectations. I wanted to finish this ride to keep alive my quest for completing the Triple Crown Stage Race. I felt that my fitness was below last year’s level, which was proven by my slower time at this year’s Devil Mountain Double (“DMD”) and greater fatigue after that ride. Work and family commitments wreaked havoc with my post-DMD training plans. The longest ride I was able to do was a hilly 70-miler, which left me tired. When I learned that the CCD course would be extended from 209 miles to 218 due to government-mandated detours, I realized that my tiring 70-miler was less than a third in length of the CCD. Daunting.

Jeff Gould and I agreed to drive to Paso Robles together on Friday afternoon the day before CCD. I drove and Jeff got us a hotel room across the street from start/finish. Couldn’t imagine a better location. The drive was uneventful. We arrived in Paso Robles a bit before 4:00 p.m. and checked into the hotel.

I changed seat posts on my bike the previous evening from a zero setback post to one with 20mm of setback and hadn’t had the chance to ride the bike with the new post and get my position dialed in. I wanted to ride 8 miles, as my bike computer was at 3,992 miles and I wanted to start the CCD exactly at 4,000. I got on the bike. The saddle felt pretty good, not perfect, but very close and I was tempted to just leave it alone. I was riding along, mulling whether I should get off the bike to adjust it further. I glanced at the road and, as fate would have it, saw a beaten up multi-tool in the middle of the street. Taking it as a sign, I got off the bike, picked up the tool, unfolded its 5mm Allen key and adjusted the saddle. Got back on – the adjusted position felt better. At this point, I needed another two miles to get to 4,000, so I turned up a 10% hill. I climbed half a block, when a dog bounded out of a yard and gave chase. I got up and sprinted. The dog gave up. The dog-inspired detour, however, caused my mileage to exceed 4,000. I returned to the room with computer reading 4,000.1. Bummer.

Jeff and I went to Basil Restaurant to meet Jason, Michael, Alfie, Lisa, Bryan, Sean, and Alexis. Had a huge and fabulous meal. So huge that after dinner I took a 30-minute walk to settle my stomach. If you’re in Paso Robles, eat at Basil. You won’t regret it.

1. Start to Top of Santa Rosa Creek Road

At 5:40, Brian Stark addressed the gathered throng of 174 cyclists, warning us to be careful descending Santa Rosa Creek Road and Nacimiento-Ferguson Road, and we were off. I started toward the front of the field. There, the pace was fast but reasonable and civil. I was riding with Jeff and Sean. Saw a number of people I’d met on previous rides. One guy was on a 70-inch fixed gear. Ouch. About five miles into the ride, as the road tilted up a bit, a gap formed in the group. Jeff and Sean made the split, but I chose to hold back and rode toward the front of the second group.

Once we left Paso Robles, we turned onto Adelaida Road and then onto Vineyard Road. These are great cycling roads, especially Vineyard: quiet, well-paved, mildly rolling, and with great views of rolling hills and pastures. We saw many happy California cows. From Vineyard, we turned sharply onto Jack Creek Road that a few minutes earlier had seen a crash in the front group, amid much brake squealing and cursing. A few more turns and we were on Santa Rosa Creek Road, first flat, then climbing. Serious climbing of grades over 10%. I passed a stopped green tandem, which had broken a chain. The climb was mercifully short, however, and at the top was the first rest stop. The tandem riders fixed the chain and reached the rest stop a few minutes after me.

2. Santa Rosa Creek to Ragged Point

I left the rest stop with the tandem. Mindful of warnings and colorful tales of broken collarbones and bicycles hanging from trees, we descended cautiously, although at the top the descent was not particularly treacherous. Within a mile, the tandem flatted and I continued alone. Soon enough I came to what I dubbed the “Oh Shit!!!” corner – a very steep, sharp, and decreasing radius turn that gave rise to many tales of woe. I managed to negotiate it safely and continued even more cautiously.

The road finally flattened and I rode on alone at a mellow pace, waiting for people to catch up with me so we could work together. Soon enough a group of five caught me. I jumped on as it went by and we rolled into Cambria taking regular pulls. We reached the coast and turned north on Highway 1. A chilly north wind was blowing in our faces, but we worked well together on the flat part of the road, which ran for 22 miles to Ragged Point rest stop.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the rest stop with my group. As we rode past the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, nature placed an urgent call and, though I desperately wanted the answering machine to answer, I pee-led off the group when I spied a porta-potty by the side of the road.

My group was long gone by the time I exited the green plastic cabin and another group was about 150 yards ahead, as I mounted. I chased into the wind half-heartedly, not wanting to work too hard. They gradually pulled away, and I settled into a brisk but comfortable pace and rode to Ragged Point.

3. Ragged Point to Nacimiento-Ferguson

At Ragged Point, California Coastal Range of hills connects with the coast, leading to a dramatic change in the scenery. The road becomes, well, ragged: there are no flat stretches between Ragged Point and Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. Up for a mile, down for a mile; up for half a mile, back down to sea level; up fifty yards and back down again. I was consciously riding slower, but the scenery was gorgeous and it was cool, so I didn’t mind. At one point, as the road pitched up after a lengthy descent, the green tandem went by quickly. I weighed the options: chase and possibly work harder than I wanted but ride much faster than I could alone or continue at my own, considerably slower pace. I put my head down and quickly closed the gap. Within a minute, I heard conversation behind me and, upon glancing back, discovered a group of six riders behind me. They had been on the tandem’s wheel, but let a gap open on the descent and had to chase to get back on. With the tandem pulling I climbed faster than I had when I was alone and though I had to work a bit harder, the effort was very manageable and the draft was definitely noticeable even on uphills. And we took short flat sections and downhills much faster than I would have alone. In no time at all I found myself at Mill Creek rest stop at the foot of Nacimiento-Ferguson climb.

The Mill Creek rest stop offered only natural bathroom facilities: we had a choice of the tree and the cliff. I chose the cliff. The view was the most inspiring of any bathroom I’ve visited in my life. Thus relieved, I tackled the seven mile long Nacimiento-Ferguson climb.

4. Nacimiento-Ferguson to Lunch

Nacimiento-Ferguson zigzags up the hill from Highway 1, going seemingly north-south-north-south and so on for 2-3 miles before heading inland. So, for the first few miles of the climbs you are never more than a quarter mile from the ocean. Views up there are mind-blowingly spectacular. I rode on the wrong side of the road a bunch of time just to get a better look at the ocean and the coastline and to distract myself from the pain. This sucker is 8%+ percent before it flattens a bit when the road finally turns east.

I passed a couple of people on the lower part of the climb, then saw two guys riding together about 50 yards ahead of me and set my sights on them. As I was in my massive 34-28, it took 10 minutes to make up that measly 50 yards. When I finally got within 10 yards, I thought: “Screw it!”, shifted into 34-23, and sprinted up to them. All three of us were happy to have company. Though we reached the first flatter portions of the climb all of us were feeling the burn and, as we were leaving the coast it was getting warmer. One of the two guys fell behind and the other, Richard, and I continued together. There was much headwind and side wind and next to no tailwind, but we were comfortable with the pace and we rode side-by-side talking all the way to the lunch rest stop at Mission San Antonio.

On the way to the mission, we entered Fort Hunter Liggett army base, showed our identification to the guard, who informed us that we were about 40th riders to pass through (great news!) and that we’d have to dismount at the green metal bridge and walk across. Richard and I chatted about all the possible reasons we’d be walking and he told a story of a woman on a bike doing a face plant on the bridge, requiring 15 surgeries. We decided it was liability. Sure enough, the guard at the bridge confirmed it, made sure that we dismounted and walked across. Walking across a metal grate bridge in cleated shoes really sucks. It occurred to me to try walking barefoot, but I concluded that it would hurt more and clopped across.

5. Lunch to Harden Square-Hula Skirts Rest Stop

Lunch fare was make-your-own-sandwiches and fruit, which was fine, but most importantly, they had ice. Now, I like ice much less than the next man. In restaurants I order water without ice and if it comes with ice I scoop it out. This was different. It was 1:30, temperature was in mid-80s and rising, and last year I died in the heat at Terrible Two. One thing I learned there, though, was the sock cooling method. Bring a long sock, stuff it with ice, drape it around your neck under the jersey, and ride. An arm warmer would work just as well. At first, so much ice around my neck was painful, but I got used to it quickly and was very comfortable. Sean was at the lunch stop also, and we left together at conversational pace. We started with a tailwind that quickly became a headwind. We rode side by side for a while, but then I went ahead and pulled for a good long while into a headwind on Jolon Road, picking off riders here and there.

After nearly 13 miles, we turned off Jolon onto San Lucas-Oasis Road, climbed a quarter-mile hill, where I began to flag a bit, as my ice melted down. Once we crested, though, Sean went to the front and set an absolutely searing pace. We were riding on the flats in 25 mph crosswind from the left. I sat at 5 o’clock position in relation to Sean, as he absolutely buried himself for seven miles. I hung on for dear life. At one point when we entered a gulley we had wind at our back for about half a mile. There, Sean was pulling at close to 40! “I want his drugs!” I was thinking.

All good things come to an end. We turned into a headwind again and came to a water stop. I refilled my sock and bottles. Now both of us were feeling the strain of our efforts and we sat and up rode at conversational pace again. Something got into my eye and, as I tried to fish it out, I knocked my prescription glasses off my face. “Car back! Please, please don’t drive over my glasses!” I cringed awaiting the crunch. He didn’t. I rode back to pick them up. Both lenses popped out and I spent several minutes reinserting them. Sean waited. Glasses repaired, we rode on. Then Sean stopped for a nature break at the foot of a hill and told me to ride on. There was a rest stop at the bottom of the hill on the other side, so I rode, drinking and dousing myself generously. My sock had drained again, so did my energy stores. I plodded, so did others. I passed two people, one of whom was walking. “We are still nearly 70 miles from finish and it’s awfully early to be walking,” I thought. I crested soon after passing the walker and sped down the other side. The descent was long and straight, just perfect for a tired rider. And so, I arrived at Harden Square rest stop manned by two women in hula skirts.

6. Harden Square to Bradley

Spirits at this rest stop were fairly low. A number of people were suffering from the heat, a couple of people were sagging in, and very strong riders were talking about taking the shortcut that cut 12 miles and 1,500 feet of climbing from the route. But I was feeling rejuvenated. A banana, two cups of Coke and more ice in my sock and bottles and I was ready to go. Sean said he’d spend more time here, so we wished each a good ride and I set off. After a quarter mile of crosswinds, I turned right to find myself heading downwind and ever so slightly downhill. This felt nice. My ice was working and for a change my legs didn’t have to. I took inventory: legs were pretty good; neck was nice and cold; crotch was fine; brain was in decent shape. I concluded that so far things were going much, much better than I could have hoped. I took my hands off the bars, got out my phone, and called home. Nobody home. Called my wife’s cell – talked to my daughter – she picked up the phone because they were driving and Jessica didn’t want to talk and drive. I didn’t tell her that’s what I was doing. We had a great conversation and I continued riding hands-off at 20-21 miles an hour for nearly two miles. Very relaxing and inspiring.

A couple of guys caught up to me – it was time to get back to work. I sped up to catch up and started riding with them. We worked well together, taking pulls that lasted as long as our energy resources allowed. We rode quietly, hardly any talking. Three strangers, cooperating, but not socializing. Cycling is strange that way.

As climbs lengthened and steepened, the other guys slowed down and I found myself alone again. I was on Interlake Road somewhere between lakes Nacimiento and San Antonio. It was around 4:00, hot, and my ice was nearly gone. I tried sucking the sock, but that didn’t help, put it in my jersey then in my helmet, but that was of little use too. So, in the finest tradition of This is The Spinal Tap, I stuffed it in my shorts, and it produced a noticeable cooling effect. But my head was still hot and I was almost out of water, so I did something I’ve never done before – I took off my helmet. Oh my God! It was so much cooler to ride without a helmet! I rode bareheaded to the top of the hill, where I put the helmet back on and immediately regretted doing so. Oh well, better safe than sorry and a water stop was less than a quarter mile from the top. I refilled my bottles and sock and started dousing myself as soon as I began descending. Much cooler. Came to an intersection with Nacimiento Road (again?!) and turned left – north, away from Paso Robles. Why, oh why are we going north? Into a headwind? On a gravel-strewn road? At least Nacimiento descended for half a mile, so the cooling trend continued. When I reached the bottom it was cooler and it was also very windy. First on Nacimiento Road and then back on Jolon Road, I spent nearly 45 minutes riding alone into a 20-mph headwind. I like to say that riding into the wind builds character, well, I built a hell of a lot of character on this stretch.

Mercifully, Jolon Road ended at its junction with Highway 101, where I entered the freeway and turned south, the wind at my back. I exited after a mile and another mile later arrived at Bradley rest stop.

7. Bradley to Finish

I ate a hot dog, gulped down a handful of Endurolytes, picked up my light, and refilled the bottles and sock. I asked a rest stop attendant how much climbing remained. He said about two miles up Hare Canyon at 3%, steepening at the top. I groaned. Oh well, 33 miles and one rest stop remained and it was time to ride again. After a couple of miles of tailwinds I turned onto Hare Canyon Road. Sure enough, it averaged about 3%, though a bit steeper for the first quarter mile. By now, the sun was below the walls of the canyon and I rode in the shade into a headwind yet again. Since I didn’t look at my computer when I turned into the canyon I was happy that the road had half mile markers. Half-mile, mile, 1.5 mile – I was close to the top as the road pitched up. Except it just kept going: 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5 – what the fuck? Well, keep going. The road was pretty enough, it was cooler, and my energy was good, so I climbed and climbed, going pretty fast. 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5... Finally, the road pitched up, there were two guys cresting, and in another 50 yards, just like that, it was over. At last.

On the other side was a screaming steep and straight descent. Unfortunately, the road was strewn with gravel and the best place to ride was in 12-inch wide tracks that cars’ tires had made. Well, going 50 miles an hour on a foot-wide track just didn’t feel very safe, so I braked a bit and slowed to 45. At the bottom, the wind was at my back for a change, so I got low and went hard. I immediately blew past one of the guys I'd seen near the top of Hare Canyon climb, the other was about 150 yards ahead and going pretty fast. I put my head down and hammered. I caught him about five minutes later and slowed down to ride with him. He was a Lithuanian I’d met at the 2008 DMD. We rode together for a while and talked cycling and hockey. After a while, I wanted to ride faster and told him to get on my wheel. We rode in tandem for a while, but he kept falling back and I kept waiting for him to catch up. After a while I bid him farewell and rode away to catch a guy in white who’d been dangling in front of us for good 5-10 minutes. Finally, caught up and tucked behind him for a break. From behind he looked very fit with well-defined legs. After a minute, I was ready to leave him behind and pulled up next to him. I looked over and saw a guy in his 60s! Holy cow! I was riding hard, going to finish in top quarter of a 218-mile ride and here I was, catching a 68-year old just five miles from the finish. I hope I am as fast as he is when I’m 48, never mind 68 – chapeau! We rode and talked a bit, I pulled for a while, and then he told me to ride on, so I did.

Back to hammering I went, quickly passing three more people, all of whom had left me behind earlier in the ride. This was very unusual, seeing so many people on the road at such a late stage of a long ride. Passing them provided more inspiration to ride harder and I kept going and going.

I hoped to finish in daylight. And though there still was fading light in the Paso Robles sky as I approached the finish, I had to turn on my light half a mile before the finish because I simply could not read street signs and getting lost was the last thing I wanted to do at this point. Approaching the park I heard shouts of encouragement and cowbells. I pumped my fist, very happy with my ride. Jeff was there to greet me. He finished 23d of 174 starters, arriving at 7:40. I was 38th, arriving at 8:28. My riding time was 13:18, total time 14:48, average speed 16.4 mph. In the last 25 miles I raised my average speed from 16.0 to 16.4. Tailwind definitely helped, but legs had something to do with it as well.

8. Post-ride

With Mother’s Day next day, Jeff and I were in a hurry to get home. So, we did a quick clean up, stopped at Jack in the Box (or was it Carl’s Jr.?) and sped home, recapping our rides. I made it home at 1:15 a.m. Didn’t sleep well, but was surprisingly functional on Mother’s Day. When I finally went to bed that night, as I drifted off, my legs felt as if they were still pedaling – 24 hours after the finish.

Monday, April 27, 2009

2009 Devil Mountain Double

I left with the 5:00 group and took it easy up Diablo. On the descent, the winds were blowing me all over the road. I've never had to pedal so much coming down that mountain there was so much head wind. At the bottom I hooked up with Ken from San Jose, who rides doubles on his fixed gear (though not the DMD) and a couple of his friends and we rode together at a mellow pace toward Morgan Terr. The group gradually grew to about 15.

Once we hit Morgan, some of the guys started hammering up the small knobs on the early sections and I let them go. I was in a group of four, riding medium-hard, working, but not uncomfortable, when about a mile from the top four black cows bounded down from a hillside onto the road. Seeing us, they started running up, 8-10 feet ahead of us. We did our best immitation of cowboy calls to drive them faster, but they climbed at the same speed as our group and there was no telling what they would do. I rode through a fresh cow pie. Yeeew. After a minute the cows had had enough and veered off the road. By the time I reached the top I felt like I'd done some work and it was getting warmer.  I was cautiously optimistic.

Phil Hornig, a 6:00 starter, caught me on the bottom of Morgan and we rode together. We let a foursome catch us and the six of us rode through Livermore together. While we waited at a light in Livermore a pair of Webcor guys caught us and as soon as the light changed, the Webcor guys blew off the line and it became a completely different ride. Several people fell off the pace, and I had to dig pretty deep to stay with this group, which I knew was stupid, but there was a mighty headwind and I wanted to have wheels to follow until we turned around and had wind at our backs. It was also stupid to have taken pulls. After results were posted I discovered that Phil finished 2d and another member of our group 8th, re-confirming that I was in over my head.

I let them go once we turned around. Let me say here and now, I hate Patterson Pass Road. Either you have a howling headwind or a slight tailwind. Neither is appealing. I struggled there last year, so I fully expected the same. That's what happened. Somewhere on the climb -- we're talking mile 85-ish -- my competitive juices stopped flowing, I was sweating profusely and felt pretty fried. I realized that I'd have to ride mellow, maybe finish an hour or two later than planned, but with 120 miles to go there was no reason to be a hero, I had no legs to be one anyway, but I wanted to finish -- I did not want my attempt to finish the Triple Crown Stage Race to die with a DNF of the first stage. I crested Patterson and rolled into Mines Rd. rest stop around 11:45. I planned to spend a bit of time at the rest stop taking in protein, caffeine, ibuprofen, and whatever other rhyming performance-enhancing substances they offered. Reasonably recovered, I left the rest stop after 20-25 minutes.

I also hate the first climb on Mines Rd. Just as last year, it was hot and we had a slight tailwind, so I rode in a personal sauna bubble with no relief from the wind -- and at my plodding speed, I certainly wasn't generating any wind chill. Several people passed me on the climb, but I didn't respond. "Ride within yourself and make sure you finish" was my mantra. Once the road flattened a bit and I began the slight descent I felt better and started my espresso-gel-washed-down-with-weak-gatorade regime. Don't laugh, it works for me. I became really good friends with my 50x19 and 50x21, depending on which way the 1% grade pointed. It was cooler, the road is very scenic, and I felt happier. I didn't stop at the intermediate water stop, just shouted my number at the guy manning the check point and rolled on, thereby passing several people who'd passed me on the climb, but were off their bikes now. I grinned. Competitive juices began dripping...

At the lunch stop I ate, recovered, and left fairly quickly in an effort to make up whatever time I would lose on the road by taking shorter breaks. Top of Hamilton lay 18 miles ahead and the climb began in 12. There were a few rollers of varying sizes on the way, but I got to the climb in good shape. Strangely, the climb didn't seem as steep as I'd remembered it, but it felt harder. I decided to employ my enjoy-the-scenery-rather-than-suffer strategy that worked so well last year. It didn't work THAT well this time, but I passed a bunch of people on the way up, competitive juices sped up to a trickle, and, again, I skipped the water stop just before the crest. As I rode past the stop, I asked a volunteer to douse me, which he did. With ice-cold water. That was quite a shock after small doses of tepid water from my bottle over my head, but it felt good and I made it to the top in good spirits.

Has anyone counted the hairpins on the south/west side of Mt. Hamilton? It wouldn't surprise me if it has more than Alpe d'Huez. You get to the top of Hamilton and think you're almost at the Crothers rest stop near the bottom, but NOOOOO. You have to descend for freaking ever with sore forearms and neck. And the damn hairpins keep making you brake. And then you have to climb out of two valleys. No bullshit, I prefer climbing the back of that thing to descending the front.

Finally, made it to the rest stop. Surprisingly, managed to leave at about the same time as last year. But this year I wasn't feeling as perky. I was pretty confident I'd finish and thought I'd get to Sunol in daylight. Sierra was Sierra. A slog and I was cramping toward the top, but I managed to pass four more guys. More competitive juices. Petted the goat, picked up my light and left. I rode completely alone to Sunol. Got there in daylight. Had two bowls of miso. Managed to get to Palomares in the dusk and about a mile into the climb, just around the first set of screaming peacocks, turned on my light.

After that it was a sensory deprivation ride over Palomares, boring burbs that's Castro Valley, 3.5 miles of get-me-the-hell-off-Crow-Canyon-Rd.-those-cars-are going-50+-and-the-shoulder-is-two-feet-wide-at-its-widest, another sensory deprivation climb over Norris (Norris was a real struggle, but, mercifully, it was shorter than I'd remembered), then on to the Marriott. I rode 0.75 mile of Bishop Ranch Rd. with my hands off the bars in a victory salute. I arrived at 9:42, 15 minutes later than last year, but an hour earlier than my most optimistic projection.Talked with a couple of guys I'd met riding doubles last year and then felt very, very tired. Possibly the most tired I've been after a ride.

2009 Solvang Spring Double

2009 Solvang Double Report

My ride in the 2009 Solvang Double was meant to be a “training ride” for more challenging double centuries that comprise the California Triple Crown Stage Race: Devil Mountain Double (“DMD”), Central Coast Double and Mt. Tam Double. Due to wet weather in February and March and family obligations I just couldn’t get in any long training rides. The longest I’d done was an 85-miler in mid-February. I’d done a lot of intensity work, but minimal endurance. Not the optimal way to prepare for endurance riding, but that’s what the time allowed. So I signed up for Solvang to do a long ride before tackling the DMD.

I left for Solvang late morning of Friday, March 27. Apparently, this is the time of annual northward migration of Painted Lady butterflies. I drove south into their swarm and for an hour from Gilroy on south my car and many other vehicles mercilessly pelted the poor butterflies. Very sad.

I arrived in Solvang, checked into my hotel, and went to pick up my rider number at Buellton Marriott. There, I ran into Jason (Rude Awakening – see his fixed gear ride report) and a bunch of his friends, all from Oakland , my home town. We had dinner together and entertained each other with tales of epic cycling adventures. We noted that it was pretty damn dark by 7:30 .

The ride had open start time from 5:00 to 7:30 a.m. I planned to start around 6:15-6:30 , about the time I started last year, when I finished comfortably at 5:20 p.m. Though then I was in better shape...

I slept badly and was completely awake by 2:30 . I drifted back to sleep, but by 4:30 there was stomping and glomping of cleated feet in the room above and outside – early starters. There was no use trying to sleep, so I decided to start earlier than planned to make sure I’d finish in daylight. I knew I’d ride slower than last year and would need more time to finish. I ate my bagels with Nutella (mmmm) and bananas and rode to the Buellton Marriott for the start. I pulled up outside the hotel, where several riders were waiting for their friends. I struck up a conversation with a woman with a British accent, we wished each other “good ride,” and I went downstairs to get my number marked. There, I learned that ride organizers needed to inspect my bike to make sure I had appropriate lights and that reflective ankle bands were required. Oops. No ankle bands and they were all sold out. I really didn’t want to wait 45 minutes until daylight to get started. I went outside to get my bike. The Englishwoman was the only person waiting. I had a brilliant idea to ask her for her ankle bands, which I’d return immediately after inspection. She balked initially, but I offered to leave my long gloves with her as collateral (no way was I going to start without them in 45-degree weather), and she agreed. Inspection went uneventfully. I returned the ankle bands and reclaimed my gloves, wished her “good ride” once more and was off, band-less. It was 5:45 a.m.

All I had for a front light was a measly Knog light designed for being seen rather than for illuminating the road. My rear light was blinking brightly enough to send one into an epileptic seizure, but that did me no good as I tried to navigate my way out of Buellton toward Solvang. Fortunately, the first few miles were well paved, had no turns, and even my weak light was strong enough for me to barely see the white line that marked the road’s shoulder. I rode just to the right of the line, as I chased riders in front of me in hope of taking advantage of their stronger lights.

As I entered Solvang I was struck by the smells of breakfast pastry baking. I rode for half a mile through Solvang’s lighted downtown, passing through clouds of sweet smells of rolls, Danish, croissants and who know what else was cooking in the myriad of the town’s bakeries. The last bakery in town had a very distinct and recognizable and unpleasant-to-me smell that I hadn’t encountered that morning – John Belushi’s breakfast of champions (http://www.metacafe.com/watch/26266/john_belushi_donuts_of_champions/).

Just outside Solvang, I caught up with cyclists who had good lights and then chased others that were short distances ahead. I kept doing that – catching up with groups with good lights, so I was not riding in the darkness for more than half a minute. This went on for a few miles and the dawn was breaking, when I was passed by a tandem. This signaled the end of the warm-up portion of the ride.

While drafting tandems and fast pacelines, I realized over and over that day, makes fast riding easier, it doesn’t make riding easier. Sure, I expended less energy behind a tandem at 25mph than I would have on my own at that speed, but I probably would have worked just as hard riding alone – only I would have been riding slower. So, off we went, hammering into the rising sun, up and over small rollers, past vineyards and fields of purple heather. As we climbed one hill, the stoker asked, “Are you Vlad?” “Yes,” I replied, surprised. The team was Jason and Lisa whom I’d met at several doubles last year. Suddenly, we had stuff to discuss, what rides we’re doing this year, how our common acquaintances at Solvang were faring, etc., etc., making the ride friendlier and easier. The tandem pulled us (a 10-person paceline) into the first rest stop after riding at posted speed limit for 12 miles. During the preceding 41 miles I made a conscious effort to eat and drink often and was feeling confident and strong.

After a quick refueling and relieving stop, we remounted and were off again. Jason and Lisa did most of the pulling, though occasionally singles – I too – went to the front to offer them brief respites. Our group kept growing, as we absorbed smaller pacelines. Thus, we went until mile 75 or so, when a white van passed us and pulled over at a turnout. The driver jumped out, ran to the middle of the road, raised her hands, and yelled and frantically gestured at us to pull over. It was Deborah, the ride organizer. She angrily told us that she’d been following us for 45 minutes (huh?!), that she’d seen us run countless stop signs (highly likely) and traffic lights (only right turns and slowly at that), and that she ought to DQ all of us then and there, but she wouldn’t do that. She kept saying that she should – but she wouldn’t. She pleaded and cajoled and threatened for us to make full and complete stops and to put a foot down. We nodded obediently and restarted. And we grumbled and groused. I wondered whether she was being a mother or a teacher. One of us promised not to curse or spit in public (this ride organizer last year DQ-ed two people for urinating in public at Eastern Sierra Double), so there was plenty of merriment in the paceline. For the next half a dozen stop signs I’d uncleat and dab my foot at 10-15 mph in sarcastic compliance with the request to put a foot down.

This encounter befouled the paceline’s mood. A bunch of people dropped back either from fatigue or to dissociate themselves from the renegade tandem and its friends, which, after all, led the group through the stop signs and traffic lights. By now, only I and Bill from Walnut Creek remained with Jason and Lisa. Bill is a hilarious guy and a very strong rider. Our small group worked well together into the second rest stop at mile 86.

There, I finally felt warm enough to shed long gloves, knee warmers, and wool base layer. Another quick refuel and Bill and I left with another Jason (Rude Awakening), who was on a fixed Waterford . The terrain out of the rest stop was rolling, so Jason and I didn’t get to ride together. He stomped over short and steep rollers ahead of Bill and me, then we passed him on downhills. So, we played leapfrog for several miles until we turned onto Highway 1 for a 12-mile slog toward the turnaround point at Morro Bay . After a couple of miles a fast paceline flew by and Bill and I jumped on the back. The paceline contained at least two winners of women’s 2008 stage race and was led by their teammates from Fresno Cycling Club. Though two men did most of the pulling the women did more than their share. For some reason, no one came back to the end of the paceline and Bill and I found ourselves drafting in the back the entire time. To which neither of us objected. That said, this paceline had little going for it other than fast pace. There was frequent Slinky effect going on with the line stretching and people letting wheels go, then speeding up back into the draft. So, there was way too much hurry-up-and-wait riding, which led everyone to expend much more energy than if we’d been riding steadily and smoothly.

But we were going fast and not pulling, so Bill and didn’t complain – OK, fine, only to each other. Lo and behold, by 12:30 we reached the lunch stop. I need to figure out better how to do lunch. Concerned that the group would leave quickly, I inhaled a Subway sandwich and washed it down with two V-8s. Well, if you read my report from last year, that didn’t work so well... again. Fortunately, the group rode easily for the first half hour, as I digested, regurgitated, re-swallowed, and burped, and cursed my failure to chew my food properly. I felt bloated and was in a bad gastrointestinal state. And sprinting-and-coasting, sprinting-and-coasting was doing nothing to make me feel better.

Mercifully, one member of the group flatted. The group stopped, but I rolled on, figuring that if I’d stopped they were going to drop me on the climb that loomed just ahead. I planned to climb slowly and try to recover on the other side of the hill while they fixed the flat and caught up, then ride with them again. Bill came with me and almost immediately, we caught up with a group from Cupertino Cycles, which also included – yes – a tandem. We were very happy. Climbing at tandem’s speed we got to rest a bit, then more rest on the other side, as we rode in its draft. Just then another tandem zoomed by – the Fletchers, a couple that races mountain tandems with whom I rode for 40 miles last year and enjoyed the experience. They were faster than the Cupertino tandem, so we jumped on their wheel and off we went. We were going at a fast, but manageable pace, when we were caught by a single rider in green kit and with legs the size of my waist. He offered to pull, but the tandem had a hard time keeping up with him, so we let him go, much to my burpy relief.

We made a brief stop at the Guadalupe Rest Stop, where I refilled my bottles, adding shocking little to their contents. We remounted and were off again. My stomach was still unsettled and working harder did nothing to help that. At times, I felt close to puking, but managed to keep it down. I forced myself to drink, but even the thought of eating was so unappealing that I didn’t bother trying. I realized that what I was doing was dangerous: I was already on the verge of dehydration and was running low on sugar, but eating and drinking more would have led to cookie-tossing, which was not going to make the ride easier. So, I rode like a ticking time bomb. The guy in green who spent more time at the rest stop caught us again and went to the front. There was a gap, the tandem strained to get into his draft, and the paceline’s speed picked up by 3-4 mph. I rode grimly (not Grimley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-4b8AjPl1I&NR=1). Bill dropped off and I didn’t even notice. After we turned south, the draft was to the left of the tandem’s stoker, where I parked myself. After another monster pull the green guy came back and said, “If you want me (him) to pull let me into the draft for a rest or you (I) should pull.” I replied, “No to both.” I was in no shape to pull in a crosswind and having the green guy pulling actually made ALL of us work harder. Brenda Fletcher turned and said, “He’s helping us a lot.” I relented and let the green guy into the draft. But honestly, I didn’t see how green guy was helping. Every time he went to the front, he’d open a 10-12-foot gap, the tandem would visibly strain and spend half a minute trying to get on his wheel, the green guy would pull for another minute or two, and the tandem would be left to fight crosswinds again, but now at a lower speed.

After the green guy came back following another huge pull I told him to come around the tandem gradually and, in the words of the London Tube, to mind the gap (http://shop.tfl.gov.uk/Clothing-and-accessories/Childrenswear/Product/Children_s_white_Mind_the_Gap_logo_t_shirt.html). He nodded. We came to a turn and slowed down. He went to the front and just kept going. The Fletchers tried to catch up but couldn’t. We didn’t see him again. I briefly mused whether I was responsible for his departure, but decided that my request was polite and was meant to conserve the tandem’s energy, though it appeared to have had the opposite effect, and I absolved myself of responsibility.

So I was left alone with the Fletchers... and my stomach. I held their wheel for another 12 miles, but with five miles before the last rest stop I was feeling so pukey that I finally had to let them go and ride at my own pace in a bad frame of mind. But as I rode, I reminded myself that this was a training ride and that I’d benefit from it. I also remembered feeling just as badly at the 2005 Davis Double at the same point in the ride, but I took my time at the last rest stop and finished strongly. These thoughts lifted my spirits a bit and, with the wind at my back, my own pace was good 18+ mph, and the five miles passed relatively quickly.

I arrived just as the Fletchers were leaving. I thanked them for their draft and settled in for protracted rest. I had a coke, Advils, a handful of pretzels, a couple of Hammer Nutrition pills of something or other and a banana. Bill and another guy came and left while I was there. After spending 15 minutes at the rest stop it was time to get this thing over with. Just 16 miles lay ahead: a 3.5 mile climb of 4-5%, a 1.5 mile descent, followed by a long slight downhill and a final 6-mile flat drag back to the finish. I figured this all would take an hour or so. Not easy, but fairly manageable.

On the climb, I quickly found myself in my 36x28. I had very little energy, so I turned the pedals slowly. Nothing hurt, but I just wasn’t moving very fast. My heart rate was stuck in mid to high 130s (my recent max is 191) and would go no higher. So I plodded. The climb was not as steep as I remembered and this year there were thousands of California poppies strewn all over the hills. Passing me a man on a time trial bike remarked that it felt as if we were in Oz. I replied, “Either Oz or Afghanistan .” He chuckled and rode ahead. Another person passed me, riding almost with as little enthusiasm as I, and, as I crested, a teammate of the Oz man caught up with me as well. The two of us plunged down the other side. The descent, which I remembered as terribly paved, wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. We quickly passed the other plodder and hit the flats. Suddenly, I felt reenergized and my stomach felt better. That is, relatively reenergized – only enough to jump on the wheel of two guys on time trial bikes and we were roaring along at 26mph. I told them I’d pull but I’d slow us down tremendously and they didn’t mind my sitting in. After we made the turn onto the final drag toward Buellton, we hit a small hill, where I had to let them go. But the rest of the ride was flat and I had a tailwind, so urging myself on, I fought toward the finish, riding as fast as I could.

I pulled into the finish at 5:20. Almost exactly the same time as last year, though last year I’d started half an hour later. Average speed was very respectable 18.5. I went inside to check in and asked how many people had finished – 12! I was the 13th finisher of 485 people who registered for the ride. Of course, I understood that many, many people started after me, but still, I felt quite proud.

As I sat outside reflecting on the ride, I thought of the huge role our minds play in this sport. I talked myself through a lengthy and gradually worsening rough patch and finished well. I took negative thoughts and turned them positive by thinking of the event as a training ride and used prior experience to get over my blahs. If only I could remember about the power of positive thinking every time I do an interval session… nah, intervals would still suck.