Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I am a Cohen-head

A Leonard Cohen-head.  Jessica and I went to his concert on Sunday.  Had a fantastic time.  The band was great.  They played for over three hours.  Our seats were good.  The sound wasn't too loud -- the first time in my 30 years of concert going that I didn't feel I needed ear plugs.  He played all the great old stuff: So Long Marianne, The Partisan, Famous Blue Raincoat, Suzanne, as well as the "newer" faves: First We Take Manhattan, Everybody Knows, Closing Time.  Although we sat just thirteen rows from the stage I wanted to be closer.  I wanted to be ON stage, absorbing the show as much as I could.  So, when we got home I went online and bought a ticket for Monday's show on center aisle, sixth row.  It was even better.  He played longer, there was more banter, and the band was really, really into this show.  The crowd was just electric and the band fed off our energy.  As Jessica said, "on Sunday we saw an old man doing Leonard Cohen, on Monday you got to see Leonard Cohen."  And it's true, from time to time, when he tipped up his fedora, I saw the man in this photograph.  I saw a man in his mid-forties at the height of his artistic powers.  Not bad for a self-described 76-year old "kid with a crazy dream."  I am a Cohen-head.  I hope he returns to the Bay Area, I'll take advantage of every reasonable opportunity to see him again.

P.S. Did I mention that Jessica's parents hung out with LC in Greece and New York in the early '60s?


Monday, November 8, 2010

It's the Time of the Season for [T]Raining (and a new font)

First truly rainy ride on Sunday.  Just 75 minutes in steady, sometimes hard and warm rain with Howie.  It was windy too, so that on descents we felt like we were both sliding around and being blown around.  Large raindrops stung my face on a 40+ mph descent of Joaquin Miller.  After that I was completely soaked and done with the ride.  We saw zero cyclists, which gave us feelings of moral and physical superiority.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Way OT: 2010 World Series

Giants win their first World Series in San Francisco.

In August 1993, the Giants were ahead of second place Atlanta Braves by eight games in early August.  I was rooting hard.  In my office, I listened to their afternoon games and talk shows on the radio.  As August wore on, the team wore out.  By early September their lead was gone.  They managed to catch up to the Braves, but not quite.  Needing to win their final game, the Giants gave the ball to their rookie phenom Solomon Torres.  Torres, imploded spectacularly, as the Giants lost the game by over 10 runs.  This was the year before MLB adopted wild card playoff scheme and, although the Giants won 103 games, they did not make the playoffs.

I took their failure very hard.  As their lead dwindled in August, I would wake up in the middle of the night, fretting and worrying about their pitching, hitting, and fielding failures.  I became an emotional wreck.  When it all ended, I swore I would never become so emotionally invested in a team in any sport.  Whatever rewards such an investment may have offered, the failure, whose risk was the same as that of success, hurt so much more.  So, I 2/3-heartedly rooted for the '94 49ers and excellent Cal Bears football teams of Jeff Tedford's early years.

The 2010 Giants' season waxed and waned.  They played mediocre baseball for the first two months of the season, then called up Buster Posey, a rookie catcher.  Posey played unremarkably with the big team as a September call-up in 2009.  There was much hand-wringing over whether Posey should catch or play first base.  He would become worn out quickly behind the plate, but was completely inexperienced as a first baseman.  Aubrey Huff, a career outfielder, was manning first at the time.  Posey-at-first experiment lasted only a few games.  Management decided to let him catch and traded away Bengie Molina, a veteran popular with the pitching staff, the team's undisputed strength.  This was the tipping point: if the Posey experiment failed, affecting the pitchers the team would have no chance.

No one expected what would follow.  The team caught fire, with Posey hitting over 330 for the first three months, throwing out base runners much more successfully than Molina, and deftly handling the pitchers.  Posey was remarkably poised, carrying the team offensively and defensively some games.  The rest of the lineup caught fire too, as the team embarked on a lengthy winning streak.  Finally, San Diego Padres, the team that owned the Giants all season, began to falter, launching a long losing streak of its own.  The season came down to the final series between these two teams in San Francisco.  The Giants clinched Western Division on the last day.

I followed with interest.  In the first round, the Giants played the Braves, a team decimated by injuries, but nonetheless dangerous, one with its own rookie of the year candidate in Jason Heyward and an excellent pitching staff anchored by playoff tested veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson.  Aided greatly by the Braves' numerous defensive gaffes, the Giants eased their way into the second round in four games.  There, a much more formidable foe awaited in the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phillies, 2008 World Series champions were also a two-time defending National League champions.  Before the start of 2010 they traded for the all-world pitcher Roy Halladay, who had no-hit Cincinnati Reds in the first round of the playoffs.  Yet, with Halladay on the mound for the first game of League Championship Series, the Giants' Cody Ross, an afterthought mid-season acquisition, homered twice.  I began to believe that this team may be something special.  Special they were, overcoming the Phillies in six games, the final game decided by the Giants' third baseman Juan Uribe game-winning home run to the opposite field, more remarkable for a dead-pull hitter.  The Giants' relievers made the finish exciting, as the Phillies had runners at first and second with Ryan Howard, a prodigious hitter at the plate.  We all exhaled in relief, as Howard took a called third strike with full count.  The Giants were in the World Series.

There, Texas Rangers, the best hitting team in the majors awaited.  The Rangers had eliminated two best American League teams in Tampa Bay Rays and the Yankees.  The Rangers were consensus favorites.  I was glad the Giants made it and quietly hoping they'd stop San Francisco's stretch of World Series futility, but expected little.

Game 1: Tim Lincecum vs. Cliff Lee.  Lee's postseason record going into the game was 7-0 with an invisible ERA.  After Lincecum two-hit the Braves in his first playoff start, he had two unremarkable starts and I thought the pitching edge would go to the Rangers.  I followed the game on my phone as I rode Cal Train with David Newman from San Francisco to San Jose for the Sharks game.  As expected, the Rangers scored the first two runs and Lincecum was not at his best.  "Oh, well," we said, then the Giants came back and tied the game before we got off the train.  As we ate bad hockey rink food before the game, following the game on TV, the Giants edged ahead and began to pull away gradually.  Lee left, having given up seven earned runs.  During the first intermission, hundreds of baseball/hockey fans remained glued to the televisions as the Rangers batted in the 9th inning.  They hockey game resumed, but we didn't go back to our seats.  The Rangers made it somewhat interesting, scoring three runs to pull within 11-7, but the Giants closed it out to rousing cheers in the Sharks Arena.

Game 2: Pitching matchup favored the Giants with Matt Cain facing C.J. Wilson.  The Giants had a good chance to go up two-zip, but if the Rangers somehow managed to take this game they would have the momentum going home for three games.  Can pitched beautifully, though I saw little of this game.  The Giants crept out to 2-0 lead, when Wilson developed a blister on his pitching hand.  The Rangers relievers gave up seven more runs, all with two outs in the eighth inning, walking four consecutive hitters in the process.

Game 3: The Rangers hit two home runs accounting for all their runs and hung on for a 4-2 win.  The Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, was obviously running out of poop for his second start in a row, as the Rangers jumped out to a 4-0 lead.  I was encouraged by the Giants' bullpen's ability to hold the Rangers scoreless after that and the Giants scoring two runs to make the game closer, but it was clear that game 4 would be pivotal.  A win would give the Giants a commanding 3-1 series lead, a loss would tie the series, shift all the momentum to the Rangers with another game in Texas, giving the Rangers a good chance to go up 3-2 in the series.

Game 4: Halloween.  Madison Bumgarner vs. Tommy Hunter.  The team with the better worst starting pitcher would win.  Bumgarner, the rookie, was nearly unhittable.  I peeked occasionally at my phone -- the game was scoreless through the first few innings.  I was too nervous to turn on the TV.  Then it was time to head out for trick-or-treating with six 9-year old girls.  I tried following the game on my phone.  Very frustrated that VERIZON (yes, Verizon) reception is horrible in our neighborhood.  Meanwhile, Bumgarner was four-hitting the Rangers for eight innings and receiving amazing defensive support.  The Giants hit two home runs on the way to a 4-0 lead.  Fortunately, many other parents were doing the same thing and their NON-VERIZON service was much better, so I knew the score.  Made it home for the mercifully very uneventful bottom of the ninth.  Sophie and I watched it together.  She got into it.  Giants up 3-1.  One more win, baby!

Game 5: I'm watching the whole thing, dammit.  Lincecum v. Lee again.  All the pressure is on Lee to keep his team in the series.  Hopefully, Lincecum got his World Series yips out of the way and would pitch better.  Did he ever!  He looked focused and mean on the mound.  I've watched him pitch quite a bit over the past couple of years and I've never seen such determination on his face.  Lee pitched well too, but he was giving up hits, and though the Giants weren't scoring, he seemed more vulnerable than Lincecum.  In the top of the 7th, Ross and Uribe singled, Huff bunted them over to 3d and 2d.  Burrell struck out.  Up came Edgar Renteria, the Giants' nearly perpetually injured shortstop, who had a couple of big hits in Game 1.  Lee didn't need to give Renteria anything to hit, as lightly hitting Aaron Rowand waited on deck, but it's not Lee-like to shy away from challenges.  And even though Lee wasn't trying to throw a hittable pitch on 2-0 count (who ever does?), he got too much of the plate, Renteria swung, and out went the ball for a three-run homer!  Giants' dugout exulted.  The Rangers got one run back in the bottom of the 7th, as Nelson Cruz jerked one out for a solo homer, but Lincecum settled down, striking out four of his last five batters.  I didn't see some of this, as Sophie asked for homework help and I wasn't going to choose TV over my kid, but we made it back to the living room for the bottom of the ninth.  The awfully bearded Brian Wilson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Cruz to end the game.  Bedlam ensued.  Big sigh of relief and joy.

The next morning all the newsstands were sold out of the Chronicle.  But the Chron posted newsboys and girls throughout downtown, however, and I picked up a couple of issues.  I've been in the Bay Area since 1980. I've been here for all the 49ers Super Bowl wins, but I've never seen the area this jacked up about a team.  Pundits said this rivalled the Niners' first Super Bowl win in 1981 and it may have, but I was a Rams' fan at the time and tried very hard to ignore the Niner inanity around me.  This time, notwithstanding promises to myself, I allowed myself to become emotionally involved and was riding the crest of excitement.  It was fun.  Still is.  Going to the parade tomorrow.  It's two blocks from my office, how can I miss it?


Friday, October 29, 2010

Double Crosser

I have a problem with cyclocross.  Its popularity exploded in the last couple of years and it's all people will talk about on some cycling boards and for some inexplicable reason I don't like it and I'm sick of it.  Frankly, I think it's a bit of a contrived and nutty cycling discipline.  I've kept all this to myself until now.  I am also mindful of the fact that riding double centuries requires a high level of mental instability too.  Having said all that, I've made Double Crosser, an animated "film" about insanity and inanity of racing cyclocross and riding double centuries.  I had fun with it.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Next Season

After sleeping through this morning's ride I decided it's never too early to make New Year's resolutions or plans for next season.  It's easier to motivate oneself when one is working on specific goals.  Exact scheduling is still up in the air because the dates of 2011 double centuries haven't been published and I base my list on the dates on which these rides usually take place.  One goal for 2011 is a self-fashioned Sierra Triple Crown consisting of Eastern Sierra, Alta Alpina 8, and White Mountain.  I want to do the other rides on this list because I like them and would like to improve my finishing times.

1. Solvang Spring Double (a fast training ride late March)

2. Devil Mountain Double (a beautiful and challenging ride in late April)

3. Davis Double (a fast flat ride in mid May)

4. Eastern Sierra Double (a fast and beautiful ride at altitude in early June)

5. Alta Alpina 8 Pass Challenge (a slow and beautiful ride at altitude in mid June)

6. White Mountain Double (early September)

7. Knoxville Double (a mellow and beautiful ride in late September)

That's seven doubles.  I've not done so many rides in a year before and am not sure I can handle that physically or want to be away from the family that much.  Though three of the rides (DMD, Davis, and Knoxville) are local affairs for which I am absent for one day rather than a weekend.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Resolutions post script

Yeah, punking out of a sprint was weak, but it turned out I was on the verge of a cold.  Got home and went to bed; slept until 10:30.  Ten days of coughing, nose-blowing, and stuffed head ensued.  Between the cold and start of the rainy season, I've been off the bike for two weeks, providing a convenient answer to the question of what to do when the double century season ends: take two weeks off with illness.  Now that I've had a rest, I'll get on the old-fashined LSD training plan for a couple of months.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Moral Victories, Moral Losses, and Resolutions

So I was out with Brian this morning on our Heart of Darkness ride that starts for me at 4:35 a.m.  We picked up Floyd and Todd at the 'henge.  As we rode toward the sprints past Chabot Space Science Center, the speed picked up.  I've been working on increasing my speed on flats, so was riding alongside Todd rather than sucking wheel, then sprinting.  Todd is my flat road riding role model.  "Pedal faster rather than harder" was my mantra.  I was doing pretty well, but working fairly hard.  Approaching the sprints I decided not to sprint because my legs felt pretty well shot and I was going to get my hat handed to me, so pulled off.  The guys went ahead and duked it out.  Not sure who won, they were too far ahead.

Riding home, I got pissed at myself.  Punking out of the sprint was a weak move, a moral loss.  If you don't want to sprint, fine, but don't wuss out because you may lose.  Resolved to make suicidal attacks in the future under the same circumstances: if sprinting promises to be hopeless, go for the element of surprise.  It might work, but if not at least I'd know I tried.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Relationship With A Bike And Another Bike*

Something funny happened the day after Knoxville Double: my relationship with the Colnago changed.  As described enthusiastically in the September 21, 2010 post, I was infatuated with the Colnago.  Comfortable, light, fast, and agile it was everything one could have asked for in a bike.  Then came Knoxville Double -- a test of my relationship with the bike.  The first half of the ride was wonderful, but then my legs started cramping and an extended period of mild digestive distress came on.  Then, the front derailleur came loose, leaving me with three usable gears in the big ring and five in the small ring.  Eight gears were plenty, but no longer was everything perfect with the bike and not everything was perfect with me on the bike.  The next morning I discovered that the rear tire was flat due to a slow leak -- another blemish.

The bloom was off the rose.  I turned to my Spectrum.  I'd re-wrapped the bars with red tape instead of white, and with a red saddle and red paint accent on the frame, the red really pops.  The bike looks lively and lovely.  I put about 100 miles on it in a week.  It rode great.  It climbs very nicely, descends confidently, and is stable and predictable.  The Colnago sat in the garage, its front derailleur still askew and the rear tire still flat.  I adjusted the derailleur and fixed the flat.  After a short ride, I realized that the derailleur needed further adjustment.  More fiddling and all 20 gears were again available for use, so I rode another 20 miles.  And you know what, it rides really, really nicely, but the feeling of infatuation of the first month, when I rode it exclusively at Spectrum's expense, was gone.  All of which got me to thinking.

[At the risk of angering my wife, I will now engage in an anthropomorphic exercise of imagination]

It seems to me, my relationship with these bikes is like relationships a man could have with women.  A married man with a dependable wife (Spectrum).  She works hard at work and at home, cooks, parents.  All this goes on for years and the man gradually, imperceptibly begins to take her for granted and starts to cast about a wondering eye.  Just then, this hot Italian number (Colnago) presents herself.  They enjoy a whirlwind romance.  Everything is perfect.  He is infatuated.  The wife (Spectrum) doesn't know or doesn't mind.

This goes on marvelously for a while.  Then, this extramarital relationship encounters an obstacle, a test, a double century.  So, what happens?  He cramps and burps, she flats and is undergeared.  The relationship survives the test, but things aren't perfect, as they were earlier.  He goes back to the wife repentantly and she takes him back.  He looks at her in a new light and appreciates all she has to offer in ways he had not done in a long, long time.  He pledges his undying devotion to her again.  Occasionally, he still dabbles with his girlfriend.  They still get along, but their relationship has been irrevocably changed.  They both know it.  At least he knows and she suspects it in her inanimate way.

P.S. Discovered a few days ago that the front derailleur issue from Knoxville Double resulted in the girlfriend's big chainring breaking two teeth.  In a stroke of anthropomorphic brilliance, can't you just visualize that?  After the first altercation, the girlfriend has two broken teeth.  Delicious!  Putting caps on her broken teeth this evening by replacing the chainring.  That's all the dental work I'm qualified to perform.

* Disclaimer: I do not have a girlfriend and I have not had a girlfriend since 1991, when my then-girlfriend became my fiancee, to whom I've been very happily married since 1992.  Nor am I looking for a girlfriend.  All my extramarital relationships are with bicycles, which may be illegal in a number of states.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Knoxville Double: Survival of the [relatively] Unfit

Told in third person singular for variety's sake and as a writing exercise.  In homage to the Beatles' "I am the Walrus," in this tale, I am "he."

1. At Home And In The Car

Weatherman-woman-person-web page said high of 97 in Vacaville on September 25, the day of Knoxville Double.  Vlad made sure to pack his ice sock and an extra water bottle.  He would carry two bottles on the bike and one in the jersey pocket for dousing.  These were insulated Camelback bottles designed to keep liquids cold on this very warm day.  After considerable deliberation about eating, toileting, dressing, and driving time requirements for a 5:30 ride start, he set his alarm for 3:30.  He slept fitfully, fearing oversleeping.  Once, a day before another double century, he dreamed that he missed his alarm, was two hours late to the start and ended up riding alone all day.  He didn't remember whether he managed to finish that bad dream ride or whether he woke up mid-ride.  It had been too long ago.

Alarm went off.  Vlad heard it and got up quickly, trying to make as little noise as possible for fear of waking the family, especially his dog, who, if awoken, would really wake the family.  Got dressed, drank and drank and drank some more.  Ate some egg whites and bananas, almost as an afterthought grabbed a long-sleeve jersey, and set off for Pena Adobe Park somewhere between Fairfield and Vacaville.  The drive took no more than 45 minutes and as he approached the freeway exit for the park he already saw riders crossing the freeway overpass on their way to Fairfield, their white headlight beams shooting from their handlebars and helmets.  It was only 5:10.

2. Goin' to Napa River

Vlad and his friends Jeff, Brian, and Ken decided on a 5:30 start, reasoning that in a 200-mile ride there is no escaping afternoon heat.  If you're on the road for 13-14 hours, you'll probably be out there in the coldest and hottest parts of the day no matter when you start.  He spoke with Jeff about finishing in daylight, but with less than 12 hours of daylight on this late September day, a day that promised near record high temperatures, they faced a daunting task.

They met up at the park gazebo, checked in, pinned their numbers, and departed about 10 minutes late.  Vlad wore his long sleeves and was very glad he did.  The first half mile of the ride was around a lake, which had an enormous swamp cooling effect, bringing ambient temperature down from mid 60s to low 50.  They crossed the freeway over the same overpass on which he saw riders 45 minutes earlier and climbed a small hill, which had its own microclimate with temperatures in high 70s. 

Temperature changes were the most significant feature of the ride's first 25 miles.  It was dark, then dusky, visibility confined by their headlights except in Fairfield, where they rode through a number of unremarkable suburban subdivisions lit by yellow street lights.  Unusual for Fairfield, there was no wind.  Once they left Fairfield and found themselves on rural roads, riding through warm darkness on flats, warmer darkness on climbs, colder darkness in the valleys.  Jeff was rarin' to go, as always.  Vlad rode with him when his legs and enthusiasm permitted and let him go when he felt prudent to do so.  Visibility improved with the rising sun and the group found itself on the Mt. George climb.  Jeff and Ken rode off.  Vlad rode with Brian at easy conversational pace, hydrating semi-regularly.  Brian was talking, but breathing a little harder.  Vlad thought then that riding with Brian would be a nice way to monitor his effort, riding aerobically, saving his energy, while keeping company with another rider.  Thus, a ride plan was hatched.  They climbed together, talking about families and work.  Mt. George is a fairly short and relatively gentle climb of about two miles at 4-5% or so.  Ken and Jeff waited at the top.  The group regrouped and plunged down the western side of Mt. George toward Silverado resort which sits at the foot of the Mt.  The descent was fun -- twisty, but not too twisty; steep, but not too steep; very good road surface; and very light traffic: all that a cyclist could ask for in a downhill.  Five unremarkable flat miles powered by Jeff on Silverado Trail and the group found itself at the first rest stop at Napa River Ecological Preserve.

Remarkably, five of six rest stops on this ride are at bodies of water.  To be fair, neither Napa River nor any other non-bottled water was visible from this rest stop and, but for its name, Vlad wouldn't have counted this one as a body-of-water rest stop.

Finishing in daylight on a day that doesn't offer much daylight requires not dithering at rest stops, but they dithered.  Talking with volunteers, shedding clothes, refilling bottles, noshing, using facilities, etc. takes longer the bigger the group, just like renting a video.  As time ticked away at the rest stop, Vlad realized that daylight finish would be a dream rather than reality, glad that he ran his battery on low beam setting earlier in the day, when he ran it at all.  He was OK with that.

3. On The Way To A Misnamed Lake

As they left the rest stop, it was warmer, though still very comfortable.  Jeff continued to set the pace through Napa Valley, as the group blitzed this flat part of the ride with average speed of well over 20 mph.  Thus, they came to Howell Mountain climb, the first of three real climbs on the course.  The three real climbs are Howell, Knoxville, and Cobb.  There's plenty of other climbing, including Mt. George, Cardiac, and numerous and nameless hills and rollers, but those three really challenge the riders.  Again, Vlad stuck with Brian.  More talk about work, kids, aging parents.  More hydrating.  After the initial steep section, the climb relents for a bit to 4-5%.  As they rode here at 7-8 mph, a tandem simply blew by them.  A team wearing Furnace Creek 508 jerseys and breathing as if they were working at RPE level 8 passed at 11-12 mph.  Vlad was stunned.  The stoker on that bike was Peter Burnett, a supremely fit and fast cyclist, whom he knew mostly through the internet and a few encounters on doubles.  He didn't expect to see the tandem, which started at 6:30 for another hour or two, possibly as late as mile 90+, yet here they were at mile 50-something, flying away with very fit wheelsuckers, unable to keep up, trailing in their fumes.

A midway point in Howell climb comes at a major intersection, where Jeff waited.  He said Ken went with the tandem.  The three of them started together, but Jeff rode ahead as the other two were riding at a slow, fat burning pace.  Western side of Howell is a mostly shaded climb, so it remained fairly cool.  On the way down, a three-mile, 8-9% descent, they were stuck behind a construction truck inhaling its burning brakes.  Vlad didn't like that, but the road was steep and twisty and there was no getting around it.  Heaven forbid he should stop and wait a few minutes for the truck to get off the mountain and the odor to disperse.  That just isn't done.  Another 15-20 miles through valleys and foothills on a gradually warming day and he and Brian found themselves at Lake Beryessa rest stop.  "There are no berioza trees anywhere near the lake," he thought, "why the hell did they name the lake Beryessa?"

4. The Gold Rush

Beryessa is a gorgeous blue lake nestled among eastern Napa County's hills.  The views from the rest stop were stunning, so they lingered some more.  Finally, the entire group was refilled and refueled and they set off on the 25-mile interlake route that is Knoxville Road.  Knoxville Road has been dubbed thusly because on its way from Beryessa to Clearlake it passes a little-known Comstock Gold Mine.  Knoxville's southern section meanders along Beryessa, offering more amazing lake and hillside views.  This part of the road is flat, but as it turns north, it starts climbing rolling hills and the range that divides Napa and Lake Counties.  No one was there but cyclists and deer hunters.  Having yahoos bearing firearms staring at them made Vlad feel uneasy. 

He climbed with Jeff, as Ken and Brian trailed a minute or two behind.  He was chatting away when he noticed a few unusual things about this part of the ride: 1. He was climbing with Jeff, which is remarkable in itself, as climbing with Jeff normally requires an enormous effort, except today it didn't; 2. He was doing all the talking, with Jeff answering monosyllabically, when usually it's just the opposite; 3. Jeff was looking pale rather than his usual pink.  He asked Jeff if he was OK and Jeff responded that he was feeling crappy -- effects of the cold, which he thought he had shaken, but which came roaring back, and of several work-related sleepless nights earlier that week.  He gave Jeff ice water, which really didn't help things, and mileage checks to the water stop at mile 98, which may've helped somewhat.  Quietly he admired Jeff's persistence and the speed with which Jeff was riding -- they must have passed a couple of dozen people on Knoxville Road, and while he was riding comfortably, they were going at a brisk pace.

It was getting warmer, so Vlad drank more and doused and doused some more.  SAG vehicles patrolling this part of the course offered water, so they stopped for a refill.  Brian and Ken caught up.  They restarted and Jeff and Ken went ahead.  As they were pulling away, Jeff turned his head to the ride and spat out an unusually large loogie, which they quickly realized was puke.  Jeff puked on the bike without dismounting, without even slowing down!  Chapeau!  That goes in the books right along with Greg Lemond's brown-streaked legs in the Tour.

As Brian labored in the heat, they passed another SAG vehicle.  Vlad stopped to pick up an ice sock, then caught up to Brian and passed it to him. It wasn't quite Coppi and Bartali sharing a bottle, but a nice moment nevertheless.

Another mile later, Brian screamed as his left quad seized up in a cramp.  They dismounted, stretched and cooled his leg, then rode on.  At the top of the hill, Vlad threw caution to the wind and left Brian behind.  Only the descent and about a mile of flat remained until lunch, so he felt comfortable with riding away.  He bombed down the descent, then rode strongly on the flat, arriving at Lower Lake County Park lunch stop at 1:30.  Jeff was sitting on a lawn chair on a lawn.  He had gone from pale to a shade resembling celery and the way he felt matched his appearance.  Vlad parked and was on his way to get something to eat, when Jeff moved to stand up to join him.  Except Jeff's hamstring disagreed and cramped and Jeff collapsed on the lawn.  Vlad grabbed Jeff's leg to stretch out the cramp.  He succeeded, but it took some doing.  Brian pulled in and collapsed next to Jeff, also trying ward off cramps.  Ken was feeling fine and was foraging at rest stop's tables.

5. After the Gold Rush: Pelican Lake Becons

Meanwhile, Vlad was feeling almost chipper.  Liberal dousing kept him cool and empty bottles told him he'd been drinking well.  Legs felt good, energy was good, and the brain was good.  He was in a good mood, looking forward to a pleasant second half of the ride.  He refilled the bottles and filled his sock with ice: it was time to get serious.  The Cobb climb lay just ahead and he expected a slow and hot slog.  At Davis Double, he descended the north side of Cobb at up to 50 mph.  Today, he would climb it; this would be a real climb.  With temperatures well into the 90s at this point and air completely still, this climb had all the makings of an epic experience.  When asked how he felt, Jeff said, "Stick a fork in me."  As they were serving only sandwiches, burritos, and other finger foods, this could not be done for lack of utensils.  Brian seemed to have little enthusiasm for a return to the road, though he said that he would ride if the cramps went away.  The two of them remained prostrate on the lawn.  The group was down to just Ken and Vlad, who rode off toward Cobb.

Almost immediately, at a traffic light they caught a group of eight bikes, including a tandem.  Remembering a successful climb of Skaggs Road with a tandem after the lunch stop at Terrible Two, Vlad suggested to Ken that they do the same.  Ken agreed.  After two minutes, they discarded this strategy because the tandem was pulling the group at 13 mph on the flat run-in to the climb.  This was just too slow; they anticipated at least 18.  So, they rode away from the tandem group and turned onto Siegler Canyon Road.  Siegler is a lovely, forested road that climbs gently southwest from the city of Lower Lake.  On they rode, sharing their double century and stage race experiences, soon turning on Loch Lomond Road, to climb Cobb.  Ken was a much stronger climber, so Vlad encouraged Ken to go ahead and climbed at his own pace.  The climb was pleasantly shady and cooler than expected.  He thought that because they dithered at rest stops, both scheduled and unscheduled, it was later and the sun had moved to where roadside trees shaded his side of the road.  Much of the downhill side was still exposed to the sun and he felt fortunate, saved from the heat by their delays.  He passed a few riders, some of whom were walking their bikes.  The climb was steady and steep, with some sections pitching to 12%, but the 36x28 on his Colnago was small enough to make this climb not too uncomfortable.  He missed his Spectrum's 34x29, but the 'nago's low was low enough to almost spin it.

All was going well until he started getting twinges of a cramp in his upper left calf, just behind the knee.  Stopping was not an option, that was simply something he did not do, so he went on, trying to simultaneously stretch out the calf and use other muscles to give the calf some relief.  This worked for a bit, but the cramp returned, more severely.  He soldiered on until cresting, where he tried stretching again, then, remembered the trick of applying hand pressure to the site of the cramp.  He'd learned it at the Skaggs water stop two years earlier, when he cramped in both quads simultaneously and a volunteer at the stop who was a nurse treated him by pressing on the cramps.  He pressed, the cramp relented, so he pressed on.  But the cramp was crafty and went for his right calf.  He pressed there and pressed on.  The cramp multiplied, attacking his quads and ankles and tops of the feet.  Running out of hands with which to press, he pressed the most pressing cramps and pressed on.  The road climbed and fell and he pressed on pressing. 

Suddenly, Vlad came upon Ken, who was standing by the side of the road.  Ken was fishing in his pockets for Thermo-tabs, an electrolyte supplement to combat cramping.  Though Vlad had been gulping Endurolytes all along, Ken offered and Vlad gratefully accepted two Thermo-tabs -- why not?  He took them.  They remounted.  Cramps seemed to stay away, when suddenly his legs had nothing.  They were just dead.  He turned them, there was energy for that and for spinning relatively low gears, but most of the power was gone.  "That's the trade-off: cramps for empty legs," he mused.  Oh well, there was no choice now, so he kept riding.

As Vlad rode, he started getting a vague, je ne sais qoi, feeling of slight nausea.  That was an unwelcome development.  He kept issuing small burps, which helped a little, but not much.  The nausea persisted, never so severe that he considered stopping if only to let the sensation pass, but annoying enough to keep him from even considering riding hard.  It occurred to him that stuffing water bottles with ice and topping them off with water left the bottles short of their water capacity, ice taking up more volume than water -- that much physics or chemistry he could remember.  Frequent dousing emptied the bottles ONTO his person rather than INTO his person.  Empty bottles and the ice sock gave him a false sense of hydration.  He realized that he hadn't been to the bathroom since the Beryessa rest stop.  He concluded that he was dehydrated.  So, he drank as much as he could, aware that playing catch up with dehydration is never easy, even harder on a hot and hilly double.

Fortunately, the descent of Cobb beckoned just around the corner and Vlad could enjoy the descent without worrying about his stomach.  Enjoy it he did.  At the bottom, just outside Middletown, Ken caught up.  He tucked in behind Ken, enjoying the draft, burping regularly at half-mile intervals and contemplating with little enthusiasm riding another 75 miles in this condition.

It was mighty warm now.  Roads were exposed.  His bottles were nearly empty and the few remaining drops were of body temperature or warmer.  Burpiness was beginning to tend more toward barfiness.  This would be the character-building portion of the ride he decided.  Very considerately, Ken pulled at a comfortable pace, slowing down further, when it was obvious that Vlad's distress left him lagging.  He limped into the rest stop at Pelican Lake.  No pelicans, not a one.  Alfie, Lisa, Jason, Mike and others staffed this rest stop.  He responded to their inquiries about how the ride was going with a "Blechhh."  The questioners, experienced long distance cyclists themselves, nodded sympathetically.  It was about 4:30 p.m., almost as hot as it was gonna get that day (100-something), and this was only mile 134.  Another unappetizing 65 miles of burping lay ahead.  He was grateful that he subsisted today on neutral-flavored gels that day and his burps were not of the ugly variety, but daintily flavored with vanilla or banana or "tropical" aromas.  A Coke, some gel, some water.  Sat around for a while regaining bearings.  Sighed, exhaling deeply.  "OK, Ken.  Let's go." 

6. Hennessey... Alas, Not the Cognac

Some more riding in the heat on flats on a road aptly named, Butts Canyon.  A downhill brought them into a shaded canyon, where riding was prettier and a little cooler.  Butts became Pope Valley at some point.  Oh look, Hubcap Ranch, a California State Landmark.  Rode past it in the other direction on the Davis Double just four months ago.  Hey, familiar roads are always easier on the brain, so Vlad perked up a bit.  Pope Valley Road meandered among hills, staying relatively level before diving to the right and descending toward Lake Hennessey.  He has always enjoyed this descent: it's fast, exhilarating, requires good but not outrageous bike handling skills, and encourages pedaling.  Today, he declined the pedaling encouragement and coasted.  Another mile of flat and the unmistakable aqua blue blot of a portable toilet in the distance told them they were at another rest stop.

Here they served hot dogs and soup.  Too hot for soup, Vlad went for a hot dog with relish without a whole lot of relish, but he knew he needed sodium and calories.  Simple carbs and caffeine in a red can helped wash down the dog.  For the first time in 90 miles he went to the bathroom, the results confirming his diagnosis of dehydration.  He told himself that having to go was a good sign.  Drank some water and remounted.  Ken was on the opposite end of the rest stop.  He called, but Ken didn't hear, so he started, figuring that Ken would catch him anyway.  It was a few minutes after 6:00.  Only 75 minutes of real daylight remained, meaning he would have to ride in the dark for an hour and a half, at least.

7. Into The Night

There's a long and scenic uphill drag through a canyon out of Hennessey Lake.  It was still warm and riding through a narrow, wooded canyon in the early evening it was darker than it should have been and seemed later.  Though still burping, his core temperature dropped somewhat and he was feeling marginally better.  He passed a few cyclists.  That could have been interpreted as a sign of his strength or others' distress greater than his.  Realizing it was probably the latter or at least a combination of the two, he chose to focus on the former and on turning his legs.  Though supplies of motivation were at about a quarter tank, physical energy was at about a third and he could still spin a decent cadence.  He still had no power.  Some leg speed, but not much power at all.

Ken caught up.  Vlad apologized for riding off alone, but Ken dismissed the apology, saying he'd seen him leave and it was cool.  They rode together.  The air was cooler too.  Ken expressed concern for his battery life.  Vlad suggested to Ken that they take turns running their lights, thereby doubling their battery capacity.  "An excellent idea," said Ken; they would be joined at the battery for the remainder of the ride.

Unwilling to burn light any sooner than absolutely necessary, they waited until 7:30 before Ken turned on his light.  They rode about 15 minutes using Ken's yellow light.  Then on a descent, Vlad turned on his white Exposure Diablo and Ken turned his off.  On climbs, Ken turned on his light and rode ahead.  That was OK because he waited at the top and they would descend together.  Lake Beryessa traffic picked up.  Boat-towing yahoos didn't inspire confidence and they hugged the narrow shoulder.  Finally, at the intersection of Highways 121 and 128, most of the boats left the course and they were nearly alone in the dark.

This darkness was much darker than Bay Area darkness, in which Vlad was accustomed to riding.  That darkness, with its light pollution, traffic, and street lights was full of visual and physical distractions, making pothole-strewn East Bay roads difficult to navigate.  By contrast, Highway 128 had nearly pristine surface, minimal light pollution, and the nearest street lights were 15 miles away.  There were no visual distractions and Vlad's light seemed so much more effective.  They bombed the descent of Cardiac Hill at over 30 miles an hour, plunging into darkness, navigating by double-yellow center line's reflectors.

It cooled and legs improved.  It was almost chilly in places and Vlad wished he had his arm warmers.  The long-sleeve jersey awaited uselessly at the finish.  He mused that he could use his ice sock as a thumbless mittoned arm warmer and could switch arms so that each would have a turn to be warm, but the sock, with its elastic completely shot, wouldn't stay up.  This was a minor inconvenience compared to tummy troubles and cramps.  By now, though cramps were merely a dull tolerable ache in his legs now, only occasionally flaring up here and there just to remind him to remain vigilant.  He applied pressure faithfully and it worked every time.  By mile 180, the burps went away too.  Only fatigue remained.  But encouraged by the improvement in his sensations (as Europeans are fond of saying), he rode more enthusiastically and they made good time.

8. Homeward Bound

They zipped into Pardehsa Store rest stop, the only rest stop not on a body of water.  Stopped only long enough to fill bottles, their quickest rest stop of the day by 10, maybe 15 minutes, and hightailed it toward the finish.  The smell-the-barn stretch of the ride is on Pleasants Valley Road, a lovely 12-mile southbound stretch, whose loveliness was not apparent to them because of darkness. But having ridden Pleasants Valley in daylight, Vlad regaled Ken with tales of springtime rides from Berkeley to Davis through this lushly green valley (that's springtime, remember; nothing is naturally green outside Fairfield in September).  He readily acknowledged that the northbound ride is much more enjoyable since the road lost altitude through most of its northbound run.  The climbing part of the southbound drag was just that, a drag, but they had little choice and made the best of it by talking and riding briskly.

Traffic on Pleasants Valley was light, but made unplesants by drivers of oncoming cars' insistence on using high beams.  Oh, they turned their lights down, most of them did, some sooner, others later, but staring at blinding lights or looking away from them into pitch darkness did not appeal. About half an hour from the finish, with the Exposure light performing stellarly, Vlad thought, "What the hell," and switched into high beam, flooding the road ahead.  Ken said, "Wow."  Now, oncoming cars began to turn down their lights immediately upon sighting them, one even flashing its high beam in a request for Vlad to turn down his light.  They laughed, musing about satisfaction of payback.

They were tired and were ready for the ride to end, but Pleasants went on and on.  Finally, they saw the sign for the T-intersection that signals the road's end.  More importantly, it signalled that only half a mile remained.  They whooped in delight, made the left turn onto Cherry Glen, went over the last climb of the day -- I-80 overpass and descended into Pena Adobe Park.  Finishing time: 9:20-ish.

They chatted at the finish, thanking each other for the ride, and parted, with Ken going to his tent to change (he's a hell of a rider and a great riding companion); he had camped at the park and planned to spend another night there.  Vlad talked to a few friends, met another person with whom he'd communicated electronically.  Ate a bit and drove home, tired and happy with the ride.

9. Epilogue

Brian resumed riding, finishing at 10:55 on what he called his hardest ever day on the bike.  Hats off to that man for his persistence.

Many thanks to Alfie, Jason, Lisa, Mike, Scott H. and all the volunteers for putting on a great ride.  Requesting cooler weather for next year.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fresh Legs/Fresh Brains/Fresh Frame

Over the last several weeks I've ridden fairly aggressively.  Aggressively, to me, means following uphill attacks on our small group rides and challenging for top of the hill sprints.  As opposed to not doing that, which usually means, "there they go... I am not going after them."  This can happen for a variety of reasons ranging from not having good legs ("Ugh, I can't."), to not having motivation ("Ugh, I won't"), or doing a steady, aerobic ride in which a sprint or an attack has no place ("Ugh, not today").  And, of course, not sprinting means not losing a sprint, conveniently providing an excuse to feel morally superior ("I am a disciplined rider").  Any ride that does not include sprinting or other hard efforts can be an LSD ride, so the "not today" excuse is always available.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, when a ride goes well that means I have good legs and when it goes badly it's the bike's fault.  Recently, I bought a well used ~1998 Colnago Monotitan frame on eBay for about a quarter of its original price.  The paint scheme (Colnago's Art Decor) was loud and gaudy and in bad shape, with many chips and scratches.  Nice thing about titanium frames is they don't rust, so this damage was purely cosmetic.  I had the paint stripped and had plain yellow decals applied, so now it looks titanium gray with yellow decals (simple and tasteful and I don't have a picture).

Though aesthetics are important they have no bearing on the bike's ride.  I thought it would ride well, but had no idea what to expect.  In fact, my expectations matched the cost of the frame -- fairly low, but I was willing to be surprised.  Boy, was I surprised!  Holy crap, the bike is nimble, steering a bit quicker than my Spectrum (my benchmark reference), flexy and comfortable in the back, but somehow also a wee stiffer than the Spectrum (shorter chainstays?).  It has an unexplainable "magic carpet ride" feeling.  It puts a smile on my face.  I look forward to my next ride because I get to ride this bike.  It encourages me to climb standing, something I never did often or particularly well.  Now, I can stand comfortably for minutes at a time.  I climb as well seated as on any other bike.  It sings on flats and zooms on descents. 

An added quirk is that this frame was made in Russia.  Apparently, Colnago subcontracted its titanium frames to Russia in the 1990s.  When I first read that in a web discussion forum, my heart fell, as I am well acquainted with Russian quality control ("Mamma mia! An Italian frame made in Russia!").  Then I read a subsequent post that said that Russian welders who worked on Colnagos also built MIG fighter jets and were among the best titanium welders ever to work on bike frames.  I felt better.  I concluded that the bike's ride and the fact that the frame has been in use for 12 years without any structural problems speak well of workmanship of this frame's builder.

For better and/or worse, this bike has removed the "bad bike" excuse for poor rides.  Happily, in about 350 miles of riding I have not had a "bad bike" ride on it.  I don't think it's the bike so much as a confluence of a very nice bike, good legs, and enthusiasm for riding the very nice bike.  I am enjoying the heck out of this bike.  And, as a result, I am contesting sprints, following attacks, and even leading attacks, standing and big-ringing it up climbs on Moraga Road from downtown Lafayette toward Rheem Valley and up Redwood Road toward Skyline.  No excuses, just going for it.  It hurts, but I am riding strongly and riding strongly makes the pain worthwhile.  When the brain feels good, so do the legs. 

The next challenge is to curb my enthusiasm on Knoxville Double this Saturday...  Tune in next week.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Journey to the Top of the Mountain

Things happen for strange reasons sometimes.  In this case, nothing has happened yet, but something is brewing.

I hate Journey, the rock group.  Steve Perry's voice makes my skin crawl and Journey songs embed themselves in my brain, refusing to leave.  This is a well-developed and deeply ingrained dislike that I've nurtured since the late 1970s.  I detest Journey so much that recently I had to leave my daughter's talent show when a bunch of middle-schoolers took the stage to perform Don't Stop Believin'.  (Be patient, there's a cycling segue here somewhere...)

So, one day, my wife and I took our daughter shoe shopping.  Wouldn't you know it, Journey's greatest hits blared from shoe store's speakers.  I couldn't stand it and escaped to Wheels of Justice, a bike shop two store fronts away.  Wheels of Justice isn't so hot, but it was much better than a shoe store filled with Perry's screeching.  As I browsed, I saw a copy of John Summerson's The Complete Guide to Climbing (by bike) in California (Extreme Press, 2010).  I flipped through it for a few minutes, and found it full of narrative and statistical climb descriptions, charts, and climb ratings and rankings. All that looked good, so I bought it.

Summerson rates climbs using the system race organizers use that relies of gradient, length, and altitude.  He rates the listed climbs from Category 3 (easiest) to 1 (hardest) to hors categorie (unrateably hard).  My favorite section of the book lists 100 most difficult road bike climbs in California (p.160).  I've ridden seriously for 23 years and in the last five years completed 15 double centuries.  Some of the doubles took me over the longest and steepest climbs in the state, or so I thought.  Not quite.  Apparently, during all my years of serious cycling, I've climbed just 12 of 100 most difficult climbs.  Two of these -- Highway 74 and Tramway Road in Palm Springs -- I conquered by dumb luck, as I rode them while visiting my father in law.  While imposing, I'd never rate these as 68th and 83 hardest climbs in the state.  Yet there they are on the list.  Others seem to be underrated or missing.  Howell Mountain is a notorious Lake County leg-breaker, but apparently it is not long enough for inclusion in the top 100, though the author lists it elsewhere and thinks it merits a 1.09 rating (cat.1/2).  Skaggs Road, Sonoma County's famed beast is absent altogether, as is Euclid/Spruce to Grizzly climbs that take a rider from the flats of Berkeley to the top of Berkeley Hills over a distance of 7-8 miles.  Also absent is another part of Skaggs Road, the "Rancheria Wall," a 2-mile long 12-14% killer of a climb that hits you at mile 135 of Terrible Two double century.  And don't get me started on Thornhill, Broadway Terrace, Snake, Ascot, South Park, Centennial, Carisbrook, Keller, Redwood, and other direct routes into Oakland and Berkeley hills.

The book's faults aside, it's a fascinating compilation.  And, of course, now I want to ride some of the other top 100.  Incredibly, the hardest climb I've done is only 45th-ranked east side of Monitor Pass (rating 2.33, cat. 1).  There are 44 harder climbs.  Some I don't even want to consider: Mix Canyon, for example:  four miles at 10%; mile 2.8 to 3.3 is 16.2% and mile 2.8 to 3.8 is 15.8%.  That's one mile at the same grade as the top of Mt. Diablo, which is just one-tenth of a mile and is plenty hard at that distance.  And there's another three miles of Mix Canyon, and that's no picnic, I'm sure.  But because Mix is relatively short and at a low altitude, it's only the 43d hardest climb in California, just two places above Monitor.  Monitor is quite fresh in my memory.  I suffered on it for good 50 minutes just three months ago, but I have a feeling Mix Canyon will leave a rider in more pain than Monitor.  That said, I have ridden up nearly 30% grades of Marin Street in Berkeley, though that was on a bike with a 26x26 low gear...

Anyway, I've gotten quite involved in all this analysis and really want to ride these climbs.  Plotting and planning all this riding isn't easy, as all the climbs I haven't done are driving distance away and I don't like driving for rides.

But isn't it funny how things happen?  My dislike of Journey leads to purchase of a book that leads to serious ride planning.  I guess it's a good thing I hate Journey and that the shoe store was playing the CD that morning.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Road Conditions

I live in the East Bay.  Due to work demands, on weekdays I ride stupid early from 4:30 a.m to 7:30 a.m.  This time of the year Oakland and Berkeley hills are completely enveloped in fog.  The fog is so dense that it takes the form of drizzle and trees overhanging roads also drip-drip water, leaving roads completely wet.  Often, visibility is minimal.  Fog is so dense that I take off my prescription glasses and ride bare-eyed.  My prescription is fairly light, so what I lack in visual acuity, I more than make up in not having to look through lenses fogged up inside and out.  Having ridden in the fog on wet roads almost daily for years I've become pretty good at it.  I'm now ready to try riding on dry roads that I can see well.

The other day, I had my bike in my office in San Francisco and decided to take a lunchtime ride.  I rode from Financial District along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf toward the Presidio, then to Sea Cliff.  Turned east in Golden Gate Park, rode through the park, then went north back toward Presidio and retraced my steps.  Riding through Presidio, Sea Cliff, and GG Park was magical.  Especially the park.  On weekdays it's completely empty.  Main roads are newly paved and the tail wind makes up for the gradual uphill grade from the ocean to the Haight.  Went past the bison, Conservatory of Flowers, and the new DeYoung Museum.  Beautiful and peaceful. 

I had two close encounters with cars:  one made a right turn in front of me without signalling near the Fisherman's Wharf; the other pulled out of a parking space as I was passing by on Battery, half a mile from my office.  I had anticipated the latter more than the former, but had enough room to avoid the right turner.  Neither appeared to be a tourist -- the first was a Saab, the second a Toyota Highlander, not your typical rental vehicles -- so I can't blame gawking out of towners for not paying attention.  I'd been thinking about keeping a bike in my office and riding at lunch a couple of times a week, but these incidents and the overall lunchtime volume of traffic made me reconsider riding in the City altogether.  Perhaps I can find a different route.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Breakfast Cereal

Oatmeal is the only food that leaves you feeling emptier after you finish eating than when you started.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Bikes and Legs

It occurred to me how much I blame equipment for lack of conditioning.  This is common, I suppose, as tennis players complain about rackets when they fail to get into position and mis-hit the ball, runners moaning about their shoes, and cyclists (moi) whining when they climb slower than expected.  What's going on, the bike is slow and unresponsive, I thought.

The next day, several things happened: I looked at my riding position, which for a couple of years has been based on shoving the saddle as far back as its rails allow and pushing big gears.  Reluctantly coming to the realization that I'm better off spinning, I decided to move the saddle forward and up.  Swapped a 12cm stem for a 13cm to preserve the old bar reach.  Took a day off and slept a little longer than usual.  On Saturday, I was flying around the roads uphill and on flats.  The bike was fast and fun again.  So, when we are going well the opposite happens -- it's always the rider who's responsible for strong riding, not the bike.  Funny that.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More Ribs

This is my first rib injury, so I'm going to dwell on it.

One of the worst things with injured ribs is a sneeze.  Worse than a sneeze is the second sneeze.  When ribs hurt, you realize that a sneeze is a deep and sharp inhalation followed by a sharp exhalation.  The first sneeze sucks because ribs hurt like hell both on the inhalation and the exhalation.  The second sneeze sucks worse because you know that the upcoming sneeze is going to hurt like hell.  That second sneeze is coming.  And you try to stifle it, which doesn't work, so you produce a lame sneeze, which still hurts like hell when you inhale and when you exhale, plus, because you tried to stifle the sneeze, you wind up with a stuffed, itchy nose.  Driving hurts too -- turning the wheel is painful, turning to look before changing lanes is painful, reaching for the door to shut it is painful -- anything but freeway driving on straight roads.  I chose sitting in traffic on straight Highway 24 over getting off the freeway and driving up traffic-free but winding Wildcat or Pinehurst that would have required turning the wheel.

Saturday was a bad day.  I think sitting at my desk and turning and reaching very little was good for the injury.  Weekends are not like that.  They're full of activity, so lots of painful moments.  Sunday was much better, with pains not so sharp and less frequent, so I'm optimistic about full recovery by the end of the week.  Still gonna ride all week.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ribs, my ribs!

Yesterday, I rode to West Oakland BART and took the train to the City.  That was grand.  On the way back, riding through traffic to transbay bus terminal, I saw a guy on a bike juking and dodging and diving around cars.  That was impressive and aggressive, I thought.  Suddenly, I found him ahead of me at the curb cutout to the bus station.  Any self-respecting cycling bus rider just rides onto the sidewalk, then up the ramp into the bus terminal; certainly, that's what I was about to do.  Not him.  He stopped right in front of me.  I tried going around him, but going around him involved jumping a curb at nearly zero miles an hour, which didn't end well, as one might have expected.  I fell heavily onto my left arm, and the arm left a nice dent in my rib cage.

This morning ribs felt pretty good if I didn't turn suddenly to the left, reach with my left arm, spit, blow my nose, or breathe heavily.  That was good enough to get out for a morning ride with my 5:00 a.m. group.  I figured Brian rode with broken ribs and guys are racing the Tour right now, injured worse than I.  So, I rode.  After a while I got to the point of pain equilibrium -- the pain was tolerable and almost negligible if I didn't try to blow my nose, spit, or breathe heavily.  Climbing standing up was quite painful, so I didn't stand up.  My nethers didn't like that, so I had to stand up once in a while for relief.  But, all things considered, it was a good 41 miles.  So good that I reprised yesterday's commute.  Hopefully, the ride to the bus will be less eventful, and I'll make sure not to get close to any bicycle outside the terminal.

P.S. The right knee that bugged me since before AA8 is much better today.  I raised my saddle about 3mm last night and after today's ride the knee feels as good as new.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Double Musings

It occurred to me that it would be a fun writing (not riding) exercise to ride all the California Triple Crown double centuries in a year and to blog about it.  Obstacles lie both in riding and writing.  First problem is scheduling: This year, six weekends between April 10 to May 15 had seven doubles, with two rides on May 1.  Then, there are five rides between May 29 and June 26, all on consecutive weekends.  The schedule relents thereafter, with a six week break until August 7.  There are six rides between August 7 and October 30.  So, in my opinion, undertaking this task will leave one with sore legs, sore tuchis, high hotel and gas bills, unhappy family, and neglected work.  And who has the time to write so many reports in a timely manner?  A very fit and family-free retired person may wish to undertake this, but not I.

On the other hand, there are 10, by my count, Northern and Central California doubles, spread throughout the year with the toughest stretch of Eastern Sierra, Alta Alpina 8 and Terrible Two on consecutive weekends in June.  Family issues aside, that may be doable.  Though not by me.  Not now anyway.


Mamma Mia! Update

My mom has finished reading the AA8 post; however, she prefers I rode centuries rather than doubles.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Mamma Mia!

My mom was so upset by what she read in my Alta Alpina 8 report that she refused to finish reading it.  The cyclists who've read it have been completely non-plussed.  For mom's sake, I guess I'll tone down the suffering in the future accounts.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Alta Alpina 8-pass Challenge aka Death Ride x 1.6

OK, that was effin' epic...

The Beginning

Weather forecasts were favorable during the week preceding the ride, with the last one predicting temperatures in the mid 40s-mid 60s range.  So far, so good.  On Thursday afternoon, someone posted on Facebook that it may be windy during the ride, but believing that everybody talks about the weather and does nothing about it, I decided to hide my head in the sand and refused to check the forecast.  One can prepare for temperature changes, but short of installing sails there's nothing to do about the wind.

On Friday afternoon, I drove to Markleeville.  Going through Sacramento, I saw an outdoor thermometer that read 90 degrees.  When I reached Markleeville an hour and a half later, it was 55.  Had a rubber hamburger, fries, and a beer at Wolf Creek Inn.  I am used to rubber chicken, but this was a new experience in composite cuisine.  I was staying at Bear Necessities, a cinderblock cabin, plain on the outside and very cozy inside and a deck with a nice view of a stream, name unknown.

I knew this would be a hard ride, with 20,000 feet of climbing, all of it at over 4,000 feet, with all eight mountain passes at over 7,300 feet.  So, the ride plan was to ride to finish before the course closed at 10:00 p.m. and if things go well, finish in daylight.  With a 3:30 a.m. ride start I wanted to get to bed early, so I turned in at 8:00 and fell asleep almost immediately.

Woke up before the alarm at 2:20 -- six hours of sleep, awesome!  Breathing felt weird.  Felt like I couldn't take a full, deep breath.  Hoping it wasn't a sign of my inability to handle altitude, I decided to ignore it, wishing it to go away.  Ignoring it seemed to work. 

By my standards, I dressed lightly for a morning with temperatures in the high 30s.  Decided to go with long-sleeve light merino base layer, wool arm warmers, long-sleeve jersey, vest, knee warmers, cap under the helmet, light long-fingered gloves, and toe warmers.  Ate my usual pre-ride fare of two bananas and three egg whites, washed down with a bottle of Gatorade, loaded the car with everything I'd brought to give myself an option to drive home after the ride rather than spend the night, and took off for Turtle Rock Park where the ride began.

Parking lot was filling quickly.  I arrived around 3:20 and riders were leaving already.  I'd checked in on Friday night and had my number and wrist band, so all I needed to do was put on my shoes and helmet and start riding.  I left exactly at 3:30.

As is my bad habit, I felt compelled to chase down a group that started half a minute ahead.  I justified this by convincing myself that I would recoup the energy spent chasing this group by drafting them once I'd made contact.  Pshaw!  We all know how that works.  I made contact and rode with them for a mile or two, then concluded that they were going to slow (too slow for what?!) and rode off alone in pursuit of the red blinky light that beckoned tantalizingly a hundred yards ahead.

A few miles later, I found myself between groups riding through Diamond Valley toward Kingsbury Grade.  We were on a plateau, in complete darkness.  I looked up at the stars a few times and they were magnificent.  In search of better stargazing, I turned off my light for a look up, but the darkness scared me and I quickly turned the light back on.  It would have made much more sense to go with a helmet-mounted light.  I would have been able to see the computer and the route sheet, but my helmet light's battery wouldn't last as long as my bar-mounted light's, so I went with a bar light.  As it was, I found myself following blinky lights, and this worked well enough.

The blinkies all rode very casually, perfectly logical at 3:45 a.m. at the start of a 200-mile ride, and I kept passing them.  After a while, I began to worry that there would be no blinkies to follow if I reached the head of the "race" and I didn't know the route and couldn't see my route sheet.  I really needed to ride with someone who knew the roads or could read the directions without stopping.  It was getting warmer, with temperatures reaching low 50s and I wondered if I overdressed.  Finally, I caught a guy from Tahoe who knew the roads and was going at my speed.  Actually, he was going a little faster than my speed, so I found myself going at his speed.  Again, this was not optimal, but I needed to know where to go, so I stuck with him.  We rode and talked for about 15 minutes until we reached the foot of Kingsbury Grade to Daggett Summit, a climb from hell, as far as I was concerned, that ended with a two mile stretch at 11-12%.  I asked my companion how long the climb was, he said: "An hour.  55 minutes if you're fast.  50 if you're really fast."  I told him I'd aim for 1:10 and let him go.

Kingsbury Grade

The climb started innocently enough with wide, sweeping turns and relatively mild grades of 4-5%.  It was still warm and I took off my hat.  We started getting early daylight and small groups formed.  I caught up with double century regulars Mick Jordan and Steve Bursley and rode and chatted with them for a while.  Mick is doing the Central Coast 1,000 km (yes, one thousand kilometers) brevet starting June 24.  (Gives a little perspective to those of us who think double centuries are tough.)  Then, I rode with another small group that engaged in a spirited discussion of bike light technology.  All sang praises of Magicshine lights.  We began seeing riders descending.  Brian Chun was the first person going down.  Another half-dozen riders zoomed by.  The sun was rising, and we were approaching condominium buildings at Heavenly Valley ski resort.  I kept some strength in reserve for the steep stretch that lay ahead, the stretch that never came because suddenly, I saw the rest stop and the Daggett Summit sign -- what a pleasant surprise.  What happened to the steeps?

It was breezy and cold at the top.  I got a sticker for reaching this pass.  At each pass we would receive a sticker on our numbers as proof for completing each segment of the ride, with eight stickers at the end of the ride signifying completion of all the passes.  I put the hat back on, refueled, greeted Jack Holmgren, an Oakland double century and randonneuring veteran, and took off.  Half way down the mountain, saw Sean Smith climbing.  I invented a praying mantis aero tuck.  Actually, I borrowed it from Floyd Landis, ca. 2006, but made an important modification: Landis used aero bars for his position, I didn't have aero bars.  I rested my forearms on the bars and raised my hands to deflect the air from my head and torso.  Fast as hell.  Unsafe? You bet.  But with no turns requiring braking and excellent road surface, I cruised comfortably all the way back to the valley.

(photo credit: Brian Chun)

I turned right and headed northwest.  The sun was low.  Ominous, dark clouds hung over the mountains.  I hoped the clouds didn't carry rain, hail, or snow.  Yes, it was June 12, but it rained, hailed, and snowed on this ride last year.  I had a tailwind and was cruising comfortably at ~22 mph.  Saw many late-starting riders going in the opposite direction.  I wondered how they would fare, with the wind rising.  The course turned onto Pioneer Trail and things changed.  Now I had a side/head wind, the desert floor was rising toward the mountains and the road pointed in that direction.  It didn't look like a climb, but it was a climb and it felt like a climb.  I hate these optical illusions.  If you look at the picture above, imagine riding toward the right.  Visually imperceptible, but physically very perceptible.  This stretch took quite a bit out of me physically and mentally.  There was a rest stop in the middle of nowhere on this stretch.  I stopped to fill a bottle and took off again for Woodfords and the climb of Luther Pass.

Luther Pass

Climbing Kingsbury, I overheard that Luther is a very easy climb.  Yes, you gain altitude, but do so gradually until you reach the top.  That was fine with me.  I was on Highway 89, climbing along the West Fork of Carson River.  I felt like I was bogging down.  I was a bit too warm and the grade, though mild, was wearing on me physically and mentally.  I took off my hat again, gloves too.  That helped the brain more than the legs.  The brain helped the legs by marveling at the river, which was cascading full blast with deafening noise.  Crags and boulders towered over the road.  There was medium vehicle traffic and almost nonexistent bicycle traffic.  Temperature dropped as I gained altitude and I felt better.  Energy improved, legs sped up and I almost zoomed up Luther, which truly was a very mild and gradual climb with the peak, again, coming unexpectedly early.

Carson Pass

Jack arrived at the rest stop while I refilled the bottles.  We grabbed a quick bite and left together.  We tucked and zoomed back down Luther and at the bottom turned right into a tailwind toward Carson.  It was a tailwind even though I tried to convince Jack that his high speed was the product of the excellent draft I provided him rather than the wind at our backs.  Before the climb began in earnest, there were a couple of mild rollers about which Jack warned me.  It was helpful to know that.  As the other climbs so far, Carson was a relatively mild climb, with grades in the 4-6% range, made easier by the now howling tailwind and spectacular views.  The wind was so strong that I felt it pushing me in the back.  Normally, I don't feel the tailwind, only see its benefits on the computer, but this time I really felt that it was shoving me up the climb. 

(photo credit: Brian Chun)

With this wind at my back, it was easy to lead Jack up the climb.  For the riders descending it was not so easy.  The wind blew so hard that we could see them struggling the keep their bikes going straight and keep their speed up.  We pressed on.  Carson Pass sign came into view.  I stopped to take a picture and put on my hat and gloves while Jack continued to the rest stop.  He left before I finished my  rest stop business.

Leaving the Carson rest stop proved that my impressions of what the wind had in store on the descent were accurate.  I fought to keep the bike going straight, as gusts buffeted me and threw waves of sand at my face.  Climbing Carson, I'd spied the magnificent Red Lake.  Rather than spending a thousand words, on the way down I stopped to take a picture.

Blue Lakes
Blue Lakes didn't happen.  Ride organizers warned us by e-mail that the road to the summit likely would be closed and they added an out and back trip down Airport Road outside Markleeville just before the lunch stop.  The ride toward Blue Lakes, though, was very pleasant.  It climbed gradually past still leafless aspen forests.  As the road pitched up, I shifted into the small ring and promptly dropped my chain, which got stuck between the crank and the frame.  Pulling it loose took some doing.  I remounted and as I began to ride heard the chain rubbing unusually.  Got off again.  Discovered that my chain watcher gizmo traveled down the seat tube and was rubbing the chainrings and the chain.  Took out the screwdriver and turned the gizmo 90 degrees to get it out the way.  Fine screwdriving to get the chain watcher to work properly was beyond me at this point.  Remounted again and continued.  The climb ended unexpectedly, as I came to the rest stop just before a shut gate.  Beyond the gate, the road was covered in snow.  Bottles refilled and body refueled, I left the rest stop.  A few minutes later, I greeted Sean who was climbing easily.

As I hit the valley at the bottom of descent, I also hit headwinds.  A rider (Andy Snyder) was ahead of me.  I sped up to take advantage of his slipstream and we shared pacing through the valley and began the descent along West Fork of Carson River back toward Woodfords.  On the descent, we caught another rider in a red jersey.  Praying mantis re-emerged on the descent, as Andy dropped back.  Red jersey and I took turns down the descent, but, honestly, with nearly 100 miles to go, I let him do most of the pulling.  I didn't see a number on him and it looked like he was just out for a ride, so I felt no guilt wheelsucking.  He said one point, "so you have Ebbets and Monitor left?"  I said, "yes."  "Long day," we agreed.  But hearing/realizing that there were just two passes left, albeit each done twice, made it seem manageable.

We reached Woodfords and I turned right toward Markleeville, while red jersey went straight.  It was getting warmer.  Four miles down the road was the left turn onto Airport Road.  It immediately kicked up at ~8%, which was the steepest hill of the day so far.  That went on for a good quarter mile.  Actually, it was not a good quarter mile, it was a bad quarter mile.  I was dressed for the descent from the snowed over Blue Lakes Road and here I was bathing in sweat in 60+ degree temperatures.  Off with the hat and gloves again.  Reached the top, where the road was flat for fifty yards before plunging -- and I mean plunging -- down toward Markleeville Airport.  As I descended, I saw Jack, Nicole, and a few other people I know climb out of the valley where the airport was.  As I descended, I cursed ride organizers who sent us here because I didn't look forward to climbing out of this valley.  But the bottom of the descent was where we received Blue Lakes stickers, so this was required riding.  Got my sticker, grovelled up half a mile of what now was the steepest part of the ride, all the while cursing Alta Alpina Cycling Club for sending us here, then descended the quarter mile bit back toward Turtle Rock Park and lunch.  Took off arm warmers and toe covers and left them in the car, optimistically believing I wouldn't need them anymore.

Sean arrived at the lunch stop at the same time.  This was his 50th double century, earning enshrinement in California Triple Crown Hall of Fame.  Congratulations!!!

(That's L for Roman 50!)

I was 113 miles into the ride, about 87 remained, and since it was just noon, I decided to take my time at lunch.  I made myself a meaty sandwich, had a Coke and some salty snacks.  Somewhat rested and refreshed, I was ready to get back to work.  It was warm, but I decided to bring but not wear my hat and gloves for high altitude temperatures.

Ebbets East

The road descended for two miles into Markleeville, then down to East Fork of Carson River Valley.  I was riding upstream, but had a tailwind.  With the grade and the wind canceling each other out, I was making good progress.  East Fork of Carson was as gorgeous as the West, but wider and calmer.  People were fishing and kayaking here.  Clouds were long gone and temperatures in the valley were much higher than on passes, so off with my hat and gloves once again.  This was pleasant and a bit tiring. 

The climb of Ebbets began mildly and innocently enough, although there was one rather ominous sign.  I mentally shrugged at it and continued undeterred.

(photo credit: Brian Chun)

Maybe road signs did not deter me, but the terrain soon did.  The road kicked up fiercely with steep pitches, which relented and kicked up again and again.  Snow reappeared.  The road narrowed -- California State Highway 4, which runs all the way to San Francisco Bay -- to a one-lane road!  Surface was generally good, but here and there we saw piles of gravel and sand.  Views of Carson River Valley (and my finger over the camera lens) were stupendous, so these provided welcome distractions from the pain of the climb.  And painful it was.  I caught up with Andy and we shared misery.  There was no pacing up this climb, as I was close to crawling and Andy seemed to be in his lowest gear as well. 

I don't like to stop on rides, but I went into this one intending to stop for photo opportunities and the weather required frequent stops for dressing and undressing.  So, when I came upon something not often seen in my part of California, I stopped dead in my tracks -- a frozen lake in the middle of June!  (It's true, there are more pictures of lakes than rivers in this story and that's because I found lakes to be more willing photo models:  The rivers kept running, while the lakes remained perfectly still.)

On and on we climbed.  I caught up with Mick Jordan again.  Plod, plod, plod went my bike.  Stand up over the really steep parts and down again when the grade relented.  Mercifully, there were no 24% pitches on this stretch of the road.  My computer was completely at odds with the route sheet, which by now I could see perfectly, and I was guesstimating where the pass would crest.  Depending on how I felt the top of the climb would be either a pleasant or an unpleasant surprise.  Ebbets, at mile 130, was a pleasant one.

As I stopped to receive sticker no. 5, I saw Robert Choi.  Robert Choi, who often wins these rides, caught me at mile 130.  Obviously, he started after me.  I assumed he started at 5:30, the latest possible start time.  I didn't feel so bad about him taking 130 miles to make up two hours on me.  Later, I learned that he started at 7:30.  I am not sure how I feel knowing that he made up four hours on me in 130 miles, though I am glad I didn't know it then.  Robert and I got our stickers and began the descent to Hermit Valley rest stop to collect sticker no. 6.  Holy cow, I can do a portion of the ride faster than Robert -- the descent.  Well, by all means, I will put 10 seconds into Robert on the descent and he'll finish over two hours before I do, completing the ride six hours faster, but I don't care because it seems I can still descent faster.  The descent was fun, but not in a good way.  Fun as in "damn, this is great descent but it's steep and is going to be a pain to climb."

Ebbets West

I spent too much time at the rest stop, but knowing what lay ahead did not motivate me to leave promptly.  I had some chicken noodle soup, took some Advil (my left (wtf?) knee was bugging me), talked to Roy Benton about my blog (thanks for reading, Roy!), ate a bit, and dillie-dallied.  As a result of too much time at the rest stop the legs felt leaden when I began the climb.  Pretty soon I was in the plod mode.  I fought to keep my cadence up, but I was flagging mentally and physically.  The mileage disconnect between my computer and the route sheet made me think the peak was quite a bit farther up the road than it really was.  This six-mile climb was taking over an hour and it was getting warmer and warmer.  Spectacular views of snow-peaked mountains and roaring streams weren't doing my brain any good any more.  This was the longest and slowest six miles I've ever ridden.  By my calculations, I had another two miles to climb, which was going to take 25 minutes or more.  It was almost 4:00 p.m.  I'd been on the road for over 12 hours and my math skills were deteriorating as fast as my cycling skills.  At this rate, I wouldn't reach the bottom of Monitor Pass before 4:45; it would take two hours to climb each side of Monitor at this snail pace; half an hour combined for the descents; half an hour at rest stops; and half an hour to get back to Markleeville from the bottom of Monitor.  I didn't think I could complete the ride before the 10:00 cut-off and, as I climbed, I felt worse and worse physically and mentally and I wasn't going to feel any better as I continued to ride.  Advil wasn't helping the left knee any.  I discovered that the knee felt better if I slid forward in the saddle and tried to spin but it was hard to spin with so little in the tank and such steep grades.  Small muscles on my back ribs were killing me.  Standing up from time to time relieved that pain, but made my knee worse.  So much worse and worse I felt that I was fully committed to quitting the ride by going straight past the turn off toward Monitor and continuing to Markleeville.  I was done.  I was done with this ride.  I was done with Terrible Two that was coming up in a week.  I was done with cycling.  At least long distance cycling.  I think I was done in.

Lo and behold, a minute after I firmly committed to bugging out, I hit the top of Ebbets, 24 minutes ahead of anticipated schedule.  "Three cheers for bad math." I thought.  So, never mind all that fatalistic nonsense and let's see how long it takes to reach the bottom of Monitor and reevaluate there.  To no one's surprise, the descent to Monitor did my brain loads of good and legs a modicum of good and took five minutes less than I anticipated.  I had plenty of food and drink when I reached that intersection, so I skipped the rest stop at the foot of the climb.  Brian Chun was just leaving that rest stop and we rode together.

Monitor West

But all was not that well.  I was still plenty tired and we had eight miles to climb at 6%, followed by a 20 minute descent and a return 10-mile climb back.  Lots of work to do.
Monitor starts out gently for a mile, then rears up to 7-8% for a couple of miles before relenting.  Of course after it relents, one is pretty well spent and is reduced to plodding.  This one, anyway.  Having company helped.  I tried to talk to Brian as much as possible to distract myself, but the photo he took accidentally and fairly describes how we felt: see the road sign on the right?
(photo credit: Brian Chun)

We plodded on into a headwind.  A few riders descended in our direction.  They will be the first finishers.  The grade relented after half an hour, but we had a wind in our faces and little energy.  I just focused on turning the pedals steadily and with minimal effort.  My cadence must have been in the 40s-50s.  Left knee hurt, back rib and forearm muscles were killing me.  We soldiered on.  Brian slowed down a bit and I continued to plod on my own.  From time to time he'd draw close to me and we'd exchange a few words, then he'd slow down.  Stupendous late afternoon views opened up to the south.  By now I knew that all that remained of the ride was the out and back climb of Monitor and the return to Turtle Rock Park -- one right turn and one left in the 23 miles to the finish.  So, I stuffed the route sheet in the jersey pocket and completely gave up trying to guess when climb would end.  It would end when it ends and knowing or not knowing how long it would take or how far it was no longer made a difference.  Just keep going.  And after I don't know how long it was over.  Now that I think about it, I reacted to reaching all the mountaintops on this ride with "Oh! Here it is," rather than "It's about f-ing time."  I guess however dark my moods were, I remained optimistic most of the time.
And that's how reacted to reaching the top of Monitor.  The top of Monitor is somewhat of a bowl in the bottom of which lay a rest stop.  I stopped to refill and refuel a bit.  Along with usual suspect a most interesting pair staffed the rest stop: Ms. Douglas County (left) and Ms. Teen Douglas County (right).

(photo credits: Brian Chun)

Their presence led to expected merriment and queries, providing much needed mental distraction.  But enough of that.  It was time to remount, swoop to Topaz Lake in Mono County for the eighth sticker and try to get back to the top of Monitor before the sun set.  With finishing in daylight out of question I held out hope that I'd be able to descend the west side of Monitor in daylight because descending eight miles in the dark did not appeal a bit.  I knew that east side of Monitor was 10 miles long.  As I began the descent I was pleased to see that the first mile was barely a descent, just 1-2%.  That would make for less work on the way back up.  After a mile of that, however, there was a road sign warning of steep grades and twisty road for the next nine miles, so that's what lay ahead. 

All the roads on this ride are exceptionally well paved and graded, so descending was a ton of fun all day and here, too.  The descent was into a full-on headwind, which boded well for the return.  There were several steep sections and a sign that warned of 8% grade -- bummer.  Saw Sean and Nicole climbing together, then Jack.  Reached the rest stop, where temperatures were in high 60s -- way too warm.  Got the sticker, shed gloves, hat and vest, and left almost immediately.  My bottles and flasks were still almost full from the rest stop at the peak, so there was no reason to linger.

Monitor East

This climb began surprisingly energetically.  I am not sure whether that came from the rest I had on the descent and the two rest stops, but I was climbing out of the narrow canyon at the bottom of Monitor at 8-9 mph.  The tailwind had a lot to do with and because the canyon was so narrow, the wind blew even harder.  As soon as I reached a plateau, the wind eased, my energy waned, and I slowed.  It was warmer than comfortable.  The sun shone in my face, as it slowly descended toward Monitor.  A few clouds provided welcome relief from the glare and the heat.  I was back in the plod mode.  After about 15 minutes of climbing I noticed a mileage marker.  It said, "2.00."  That was it, then, make each marker a goal.  I figured that depending on terrain in would take 10-12 minutes to reach each marker.  So it went.  Plod, plod to 3.00, then 4.00.  Didn't see the 8% grade sign.  Road pitched up and eased here and there, but it didn't make any difference.  It was all hard, my cadence was the same -- low, and the knee and back ached.  I tried my look-at-view means of distraction, but was so tired I had a hard time keeping my head up.  I was hunched over the bars, staring at the road no more than eight feet ahead of me, and just turned the pedals the best I could.  Someone has likened that hunched over position to a cooked shrimp and that's a perfect description of how I looked and felt -- curled up, hot, pink, and nearly legless.

At 4.00, reaching 5.00 became a big deal because there I'd be more than half-way done with the climb.  Got to 5.00, then 6.00, then 7.00.  At 7.60, the only marker with a fraction, we crossed back into Alpine County and the marker reset back to 0.00.  That sucked for tracking progress because I saw no more signs in Alpine County, but fortunately, the grade relented significantly and it continued much more manageably to the top.

Sweet Relief

Most mountain passes have simple road signs announcing the name of the pass and its altitude.  Monitor has a monument that looks curiously and appropriately like a gravestone.  I crested around 7:50.  There was plenty of daylight, but it was freezing up there.  I put on my descending clothes and plunged toward Carson River Valley.  This is now my favorite descent of all time.  Though this road is known for fairly heavy traffic, there was almost none.  I had eight miles of beautiful alpine views, great pavement, and swooping turns that required no braking even on steep grades.  WEEEEEEEEEEEEE!  Praying Mantis hit 52.8 mph on this descent.  When I reached the bottom, finishing in daylight seemed a real possibility and for some reason finishing by 8:30 became important.  I must have "smelled the barn" because I found an untapped source of energy and hammered toward Markleeville (though if the start/finish truly smelled like a barn I'm not sure I would have been in such a hurry). I got there at 8:15.  There's a 5-6 percent 2.5-mile climb from Markleeville to Turtle Rock Park.  I had to climb no slower than 10 mph to make the 8:30 finish.  This seemed unlikely, but I poured it on to give myself a chance and found myself climbing into the headwind at 10-11 mph.  It was painful, but I found inspiration in chasing two riders who were 150 yards ahead of me.  I managed to pass them on the last steep bit, then stood up and sprinted toward the park HQ, where I dismounted exactly at 8:30. 

Happiness, relief, disbelief and fatigue hit me all at once.  I checked in and had dinner with Jack, Nicole and Kevin and several others.  We cheered each rider as she/he arrived at ride HQ.  Good camaraderie and bonding there.  Realized I was in no shape to drive home, so went back to my cabin and crashed.
All right, maybe I won't give up double centuries after all, though my sit bones hurt for three days.  But it was all worth it, and here's my reward (who needs a Death Ride jersey :-))

Final Thoughts and Lessons Learned

* Don't despair, the top may be nearer than you think.

* The numbers: 15:32 riding time, 17:00 total time -- both my longest ever.  201.45 miles per my computer, which I believe, even though Alta Alpina Cyclists say it's 198 miles.  Average speed 13.0 -- my slowest ever double century.

* No post-ride cramps or even muscle twitches, though I was sore all over.  Legs, arms, stomach, chest muscles all hurt to the touch.

* I took all the uncredited photos.