Thursday, September 29, 2011

Knoxville '11

Knoxville 2011

Dedication: To My Honorable Shepherd, Jeffrey W. Gould, who dragged my sorry corpse into the teeth of the wind up and down Napa Valley, Butts Valley, Pope Valley and who knows how many other dales and hills all day.  Without him I may still be somewhere in Lake County, among people who count their teeth on the fingers of one hand.


This was the first double since my triple ankle fracture and surgery six months ago, so having bagged a double, with considerable help from Jeff, was important.  It feels good to have completed a Comeback Ride.

Ride Preparation
Ride plan – and it was a good one – was to start early at 5:00 a.m., ride comfortably but quickly, spend as little time as possible at rest stops, and finish in decent shape and at a decent hour.  I had the same good plan last year, but we spent too much time dallying at early and late rest stops, then tending to cramps and heat and gastric distress at mid-ride rest stops, and finished at 8:45 p.m. or thereabouts, riding in the dark for an hour and a half, fearing light battery failure as we went.

This year, I had a fail-safe option for battery drainage – a dynamo hub light, which lasts forever.  I installed the light on my Spectrum.  In preparation for the forecasted heat, I installed a saddle-mounted gizmo for carrying two additional bottle cages.  Finally, I bought a 12-29 cassette that would allow me to spin, spin, spin, thereby preserving my legs for late miles and warding off cramps.  This cassette would replace the 12-27 that was on the bike.  The day before the ride, I took the cassette and the rear wheel to a bike shop, where the mechanic installed it.  I tested the shifting at 8:30 in the evening and discovered that with the new cassette chainline was way off and shifting was terrible.  Cursing, I pulled the cassette off and discovered that the 1mm aluminum spacer that had separated the 27-tooth cog from the spokes had been tossed or lost (thanks shop mechanic!).  I didn’t have another one, so this wheel would be of no use.

Cursing some more, I took the bike downstairs and brought out Goldie (not too stiff, not too flexible -- just right), my Colnago Monotitan.  Goldie had been on just one double – last year’s Knoxville, so at least it knew the course and Goldie's 11-28 cassette was close enough to the Spectrum’s.  On Goldie I’d have a higher big gear, allowing me to ride faster on pedalable downhills and a slightly bigger low gear, but I still should be able to spin up hills.  I pumped up the tires, moved the bottle cage gizmo from the Spectrum to Goldie and got on the bike for a 15-minute streak-preserving spin.  I got off the bike at 10:10 p.m. and, with all the pre-ride prep still to do, didn’t get to bed until nearly 11:00.  With the alarm set for 3:25, I’d have to do the ride on little sleep.

Rise and Shine
I woke up before the alarm at 3:07.  Feeling pretty awake, I got up and remembered that I’d forgotten to pack my lucky ice sock.  I went to the dresser and rummaged in the sock drawer in complete darkness.  Unable to find the sock quickly, I decided to search systematically by removing every piece of hosiery until I stumbled upon the right one.  This approach worked.  I put on a sleeveless base layer, a short sleeve 6ABC jersey, arm warmers, and knee warmers – there were predictions of a cooling trend and I wasn’t taking chances.  I had my usual pre-double meal of two bananas and three egg whites, put everything in the car, and left the house at 3:50.
 
Driving through Berkeley, I noticed that the car’s thermometer read 56 degrees and remembered that I planned to bring a vest.  Oops, no time to go back to get it, I guess I’ll have to suck it up until it warms up.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to suck it up for very long, as by the time I reached Fairfield and glanced at the thermometer again, it read 73.  I was glad again to have found the ice sock.
 
As I approached the ride’s start at Pena Adobe Park , I saw ghostly lights crossing the freeway and traveling alongside it toward Fairfield – early starting cyclists.  I parked, got out the bike and after a moment's indecision shed knee and arm warmers.  I traipsed to the starting area, where I got my number and met Jeff and Brian.  To my surprise, Ken, who led me through the second part of last year's, was there too.  A few minutes after 5:00 we were off.

Heart of Darkness
Everyone’s lights were on, there wasn’t a hint of dawn in the Eastern sky.  We rode around Pena Adobe Lake, through Fairfield and north to points unknown; unknown because I’ve never seen those places in daylight.  As usual, Jeff was pulling at slightly faster than comfortable speed and I was trying to slow him down.  Just as we rode through a subdivision, a trio of riders wearing PBP jerseys passed us.  I looked at the names on their numbers and realized these were some of the most accomplished Northern California randonneurs: Eric Norris (campyonly.com), Todd Teachout, and Rob Hawks (head of San Francisco Randonneurs).  We sped up a little, they slowed down a little, and the seven of us rode north out of Fairfield together.
 
The staying together ended when we hit rollers somewhere in north Solano County .  People began popping off – even Rob admitted the pace was a bit much for him – and soon there were just three of us: Jeff, Todd, and I.   We motored through nasty headwinds past single riders and small groups with all of them acting as moving targets for Jeff.  At this pace, it felt like my matchbook was out and I was ready to strike, and this was not a good thing so early in the ride.  Finally, we came to a T-intersection that led to a climb over Mt. George.
 
Dawn was barely breaking.  Jeff rode ahead and I shifted into climbing mode, trying my newfangled high cadence technique.  It took a few minutes to get used to it.  During that time, a few people came past me, but I passed them again once my cadence went back up.  The descent in improving daylight into Napa Valley was fun and chilly, as fog and ocean air had reached Napa , where temperatures were in the 50s.
 
Jeff was waiting at the bottom.  We rode past Silverado Resort amid a loose group of around 20 people, going past most of them except for a man and a woman who rode at our speed.  I thought they were together, as they seemed to be in matching kit, but later I found out they weren’t.  The man, Tim, was also remarkable for full leg-length tattoos that didn’t seem to match.  Visible parts of his upper body were tattoo-free.  Jeff resumed pulling at 23-25 mph, and these two slotted behind me.  We rode north on Silverado, past chateaux, vineyards, fancy restaurants, hills, passing many riders.  At one point, Tim pulled alongside me and said, referring to Jeff: "We suck him until he's dry?"  I responded: "He can go like this forever.  For him, this is a social ride."  Satisfied that he wouldn't have to work for a while, Tim returned to his place on my wheel.  The first rest stop was in Yountville, 6.7 flat miles ahead.  When we reached Yountville Cross Road and turned left toward the rest stop, I looked back for the first time since Silverado and realized, surprised, that Jeff had been towing at least 10 people.  Many thanked him for the pull, as we arrived at the rest stop.

There, we greeted Scott Halversen, the head Quackcyclist, and other volunteers, refilled bottles, emptied bladders, and set forth quickly before unauthorized wheelsuckers were ready to go.  I was an authorized wheelsucker :-).  (I say this in jest because Jeff was extremely generous with his draft, inviting rider after rider to get in the paceline with us.  Their problem was we were going too fast.)

Go Jump Into Lake County
We rode west toward Highway 29 and on it for just a bit before turning west on Oakville Cross Road, back toward Silverado.  We turned north on Silverado, for another 7.5 flat miles.  We saw more of the same picturesque dullness: vineyards, fancy houses, wineries.  All along Napa Valley we'd been riding in low to mid 20s.  All that faster than comfortable riding through Solano County in the dark and Napa Valley in daylight starting adding up -- I was beginning to feel tenderized.  Jeff told me repeatedly to let him know whether we were going too fast, even encouraging me to use profanity to slow him down.  And though I said several times, "too fast, motherfucker! :-)," inevitably, we'd speed up again.  I was reluctant to keep reining him in, so I sucked it up and rode.  Finally, we reached Deer Park Road, the first serious climb of the day.  Howell Mountain Road, the usual way Knoxville Double takes from Napa to Lake County was closed due to construction, so we detoured by riding extra couple of miles north on Silverado before turning up and heading east over Howell Mountain by a different route.

Unlike the Mt. George climb, I could see this one.  I also remembered this road somewhat, having descended it like a demon on Napa Century just over a month earlier.  I remembered a fast descent, which means a slow climb.  After 24 miles of flats we had 4.2 miles of uphill.  I shifted way down and spun.  It took a little while, but I found good spinning gears and decent spinning legs and went at it, almost at Jeff's speed.  I was working harder than he -- I think he was resting here after all the work he had done on the flat -- but I was just about keeping up on the easier, lower slopes.  After a couple of miles, the road kicked up, I shifted down, and slowed down.  Jeff pulled ahead, still riding comfortably.  I was working, but it felt OK and I thought I was riding pretty strongly.  I was more comfortable than on the flats, probably because I was in control of the pace now.  We passed a few more people.  By now, we'd passed at least 30 riders over the course of the morning and considering our fairly early start we had to be toward the front of the ride.  I told Jeff that if we keep going like this we -- well maybe he because I couldn't maintain this pace to the finish -- would "win" this ride.  He replied that if I thought we were going to win, I was suffering from delusions of grandeur.  To which I said, "maybe I'm deluded, but you're grand!"


Four miles up Deer Park and we turned left up White Cottage Road for more climbing.  At first the road rose steadily and steeply for a quarter mile, then mellowed and turned into rollers, frustratingly dipping and twisting, rising and meandering and slowly sucking strength from my legs for another three miles.  Finally, it leveled off and plunged toward Pope Valley.  Immediately, we were stuck behind a slow moving RV.  At one point, I tried to pass it in the opposite lane of traffic, but saw lights of an oncoming car, grabbed the brakes too hard, locking my rear wheel and fishtailing, and returned safely to the shelter of the RV.  A small adrenaline jolt is all that was.  The RV pulled over at a turnout half a mile down the hill and we proceeded down impeded only by potholes and wicked hairpins.


The next 10 miles was like riding in Vatican.  We went from Pope Valley Road to Pope Valley Cross Road, to Pope Canyon Road, which led us to the second rest stop at Lake Beryessa.  Pope Canyon Road lived up to its name with a few unpleasant hills, particularly unpleasant was the one immediately before the rest stop, which one (I) tends to climb harder than one should because one knows the rest stop is just on the bottom, where recovery awaits.  But it's all about burning matches and their number is limited and it's dumb to go hard 72 miles into the ride unless your ride is 75 miles long.  (Stop me if you've heard this before.)  I arrived at Beryessa rest stop tenderized further, my book a few matches lighter than at the start.


Kx 37
The 37-mile ride from the second rest stop to the lunch stop has one turn, a right into the park where we had lunch.  Before then, it was all straight on Knoxville Road.  Well, it's not all straight.  The road is quite three dimensional, as it climbs, descends and twists and turns many times, but you get the idea.  There's a flattish part that goes for quite a while along Lake Beryessa, where I was still feeling the efforts of the previous 70-some or 80-whatever miles, before the road leaves the lakeside, heading north toward Clear Lake's southern edge's imaginatively dubbed burgh of Lower Lake.  Again, as the road began to tilt up and its surface deteriorated, I began to feel better, spinning my small gears.  We passed a few more people on bikes and many more people with guns.  Knoxville Road is a popular hunting spot.  Some hunters wore camouflage gear, others wore bright orange.  Considering most of the game they were shooting is colorblind, I wondered why they wear camo.  Somewhere along here, my bike started making a rattling-jangling noise whose source I could not identify.  I worried that it came from the drivetrain, but when I reached for a bottle in my behind-the-saddle gizmo, I realized that David was right: those devices do come loose and mine was loose as a goose.  As I remembered, they required a hex wrench for tightening.  I didn't have one and neither did Jeff.  I began to look for the water stop, which was 22 miles into this leg.  I hoped to find the right tool there to fix my gizmo and hoped I wouldn't lose the nut that went with the bolt that needed tightening before I got there.


Well, around mile 90, I plain ran out of gas.  I don't now if it got hotter or I didn't eat or drink enough, but my legs felt empty.  My brain was OK, I wasn't cramping, but I had very little power.  Considering my two training rides for this double were only around 100 miles each, I suppose my body thought it was approaching the end of the ride and was behaving done and depleted.  As several times on other rides, I thought, "maybe I am in decent century shape, but I am not in double century shape."  Plodding was the only viable option, so I plodded.  Fortunately, most of the climbing of Knoxville Road was behind us, but some rollers remained.  If you are fresh and strong, most of them would be big-ring rollers, but I was neither, so I was in my 30x25 and 30x28 a lot.  On one of these rollers someone passed me after he sat on my wheel for a couple of minutes -- the first time that happened all day.  I would have been offended had I felt better, but I wasn't and, as he passed, I said to him, "not much draft at six miles an hour?"  He smiled, agreed, and rode away.  I was at peace with that, trying not to think about the fact that another 110 miles in 80-plus degree weather remained.


The water stop finally appeared as a tent in a turnout on top of another roller, competing for space with a Clif Bar tent, a rest stop for Clif's corporate ride that travels in the opposite direction.  Only two people were at our rest stop: Jeff and the guy who'd passed me.  I asked for a hex wrench, but volunteers said they didn't have one.  I examined the gizmo closer and discovered that I needed a 4mm Allen wrench, which I had.  Unwilling to rummage in my saddle bag, which was jammed behind the gizmo and access to the bag would be difficult, so I asked a volunteer for one.  He said he'd get one and went to the car, but either forgot or didn't have one.  With no tool forthcoming, however, I had to fish out mine.  Did that and tightened the correct screw as well as I could, topped off the bottles, filled the ice sock and set off again.


In spite of the stop, I still wasn't feeling great.  There was more groveling up rollers until the real descent began.  It was fairly long and fun and didn't require much braking, providing a nice rest.  Still, there were a few more small, stinging hills to climb, each taking a little more out of me.  The final flat drag to the lunch stop saw me gritting my teeth and hanging on to Jeff's wheel.  I was glad to have made it to mile 108.  The match book was quite depleted by now.


For lunch I had a very plain burrito, half a bag of potato chips, water, a coke, salt tablets, and Advil.  Refilled the ice sock and was ready to go.



Grovel-o-rama
When we left the rest stop, two things were bother me: I felt vaguely nauseous and my ice sock was giving me a brain freeze.  I figured that brain freeze would go away when I got used to the cold or when some of the ice directly on the back of my neck melted.  Or I could simply dump out all or some of the ice.  Nausea was more troubling because I couldn't figure out a way to get rid of it.  Running on fumes, I plodded along the false flat that is Siegler Canyon Road in my second and third lowest gears.  This was disheartening especially because double-digit grades of the climb to Loch Lomond loomed a couple of miles ahead, but I was ready to carry on.  I was willing to walk if I had to and was ready to barf if I had to.  In fact, on some level I wished I'd just barf and get whatever was bugging me out of my system.  Barfing wasn't happening, so I plodded on through this lovely, lush canyon with its rapidly flowing creek and happily chirping birds.  Jeff waited at the Loch Lomond Road intersection, but I was riding very slowly, so he rode ahead a bit.


The road tilted up and I shifted down, wishing for that 29-tooth cog.  No spinning for me now -- pushing and grinding.  I started cramping toward the top of this climb last year.  Mindful of that possibility, I rode carefully, trying not to over strain any muscle.  Trees line most of this climb and it's fairly shady in early afternoon.  Having shade helped, as did realizing that I was making decent progress even while feeling crappy.  Jeff was waiting half way up the climb and I announced that the climb was going better than I expected.  He offered words of encouragement, as he had done all through the day.  We crested at nearly 3000 feet, descended toward Cobb Mountain and climbed out of it.  I'd recovered substantially by then, but my climbing legs were pretty well gone.  I was still spinning well, but even on the tamest grades I found myself in the lowest two gears.  That was OK by me as long as I was making progress.


The Cobb climb from the north is mercifully short.  It is mercilessly steep from the south, but that was the side we descended, which was a blast.  What was not a blast was a feeling of shadeless heat from the valley, as we left what passes for cool mountainous climate in Lake County and approached Middletown.  We rode through Middletown and turned south into a nasty three-quarters side wind that blew me all over the road and must have been hell on Jeff, who pulled us manfully.  This was [kick my] Butts Canyon Road for 27 miles.  My computer died on Siegler Canyon, so I had no electronic way to tell where we were on the course, though I remembered terrain fairly well.  I remembered running low on legs and energy during these few miles that preceded the Pelican Lake rest stop and it was no different this year.


Valley Boy
Refilled the bottles at the rest stop, chatted with Jason, Bruce Carroll, Alfie, Lisa, and Bryan.  Bless Duck volunteers at all the rest stops.  They filled our bottles, took food orders, parked our bikes, dispensed pills, and applied sun screen with great cheer.  I had another coke and a bunch of gel and refilled the ice sock.  Not wanting to spend more time here than necessary, we set off.  Again, I didn't feel so great and wondered whether the not-so-great feeling was related to sock shock.  The sock had served me so well on a number of other rides that I wasn't going to blame it for anything that happened.  I was riding on autopilot, operating on what felt like a quarter tank.  Bless Jeff, again, for dragging me all over these roads.  At first, Butts is almost completely flat and beautiful, starting in a valley with a head-side wind, a valley that gradually narrows into a green and shaded canyon that provides shelter from the wind and the sun.  Twenty-some miles down the road, however, one has to climb out of the canyon and that is where I slowed again -- no drafting Jeff on slopes.  I was making decent headway up the hill when I heard a cyclist behind me.  I had enough energy and determination to refuse to let him pass me here, so I sucked it up and sped up.  I held him off comfortably, picking up Jeff's draft at the top and we sped away from the pursuer.  Just a few more mostly downhill miles to Lake Hennessey rest stop and we were there.


At the rest stop, they were serving hot soup and not finding any takers in the 80+ degree weather, but they also had hot dogs and I asked for one.  I sat down in a lawn chair, armed with a coke and a dog.  That dog was the tastiest thing in the world and I inhaled it in no time.  I had to use the bathroom, which meant that I was at least somewhat hydrated.  Upon using the port-a-potty I realized that I wasn't so well hydrated, but the guy who used it before me was in worse shape than I.  Others were in the same boat; I wasn't the only one suffering and was lucky to have a friend and a team leader in Jeff.


End in Sight

This is the point in the ride where it feels like we're on the way home, but the way home lies over a number of hills, including one immediately after the rest stop.  As I began climbing, a strange feeling came over me, a feeling of having eaten the hot dog too fast, not a good feeling.  Even if I had better legs, my stomach would not have let me use them.  Jeff was playing, riding on gravel surfaces along the road.  I didn't mind.  If I had a much weaker riding partner I'd be somewhat bored with the slow pace and look for diversions too, and it was fun watching him do it.


Soon enough, we crested, rode over the plateau, and descended into a valley whose name I didn't know.  Cardiac and a few nameless climbs remained.  The road rolled and boat towing trucks rolled past us, but it wasn't even 5:00 p.m. yet, so we had plenty of daylight and were plenty visible.  I felt OK on the climbs, aided immensely by my grandmotherly gearing.  On descents, I discovered that the hot dog wanted us to become reacquainted when I got in the drops, so I stayed on top of the bars.

Just one climb to Putah Creek Dam remained.  We were at lake level.  I've climbed to a few dams and it takes at least half a mile to get up all of them.  This dam is weird, traveling eastbound, the road passes the dam at practically lake level, so the climb was barely a pimple.  We descended along Putah Creek into a valley, blown along by a howling tail wind.  This tail wind was stronger than the tailwind I had for the last leg of 2009 Central Coast Double, where I rode 25 mph alone for over an hour.  It was the first time I'd seen this part of the course in daylight and, as we were blown southward.  Yes, we were pedaling too, but pedaling was almost superfluous.


The last rest stop at Pardehsa Store (wtf is Pardehsa?) at Pleasants Valley Road intersection came into view about half an hour sooner than I expected.  Whether that was a result of wind, our riding, or low expectations I don't know, but I was thrilled to be there.  It was just 5:45 and with another 90 minutes of daylight and just 13 miles of flats and false flats before us, making it back in daylight should be a snap.  We left the rest stop quickly, climbed a roller, after which Pleasants Valley really feels like the final leg, and proceeded.  After spending significant time on state highways with their sometimes fairly heavy traffic, it was nice to ride on a quieter rural road.  For a change, we rode side by side, with Jeff entertaining me with stories from his junior tennis tournament playing days.  I found the story about his cowing of Malibu Cheater particularly entertaining.

We rode and rode.  The road is mostly straight.  We rode past ranches and ranch-like houses on large lots.  It was bucolic and scenic and looked like the residents were engaged in recreational agriculture.  After a while we started looking for Kx directional signs for the turn toward Pena Adobe.  The course was superbly marked and we hardly consulted our route sheets, but we just kept going south on Pleasants.  We passed a turn off toward Vacaville (literally, "cow town" in Spanglish) and it wasn't our turn.  Another mile or two later, a small yellow directional sign loomed in the distance and a car turned right from that intersection toward us.  I told Jeff that I thought that was our turn, from where less than a mile to the finish remained.  Jeff glanced back and looked just a little miffed.   He said there were a few riders behind.  "Close?" I asked.  "Pretty close," he replied.  "No way in hell," I said, and we went back to work, which means Jeff went back to work and I assumed my customary role of a caboose.  I turned around at the Cherry Glen intersection.  They group was about 100 yards back.  I told Jeff that we had a winning lead and were going at a winning speed.  That group had no chance.  Just to be safe, Jeff made sure that they really had none.  We arrived at Pena Adobe Park at a ridiculously early hour of 6:40.


Jeff nudged me toward the volunteer who was taking down arriving riders' numbers to announce my arrival first.  I told him that he deserved to be first, but he demurred.  So, to the volunteer, I said "207," Jeff's number, and then added "117," mine.


Just like that, my Comeback Ride was in the books.  I felt pretty spent, but in good spirits.  I hadn't cramped.  Considering that my two long training rides for this double were both around 100 miles, the huge jump in the distance on a hot day went surprisingly smoothly.  For the last time, I give a tremendous amount of credit and gratitude to Jeff for helping me not just finish this tough ride but to finish it in what for me was a fast time of 13:35.


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1 comment:

statcxr said...

Great account of the ride, Niksul. I knew you two would blitz the course as I watched you fade into the distance as we approached the first climb. Well done!