The MorTer loop from home contains just three significant climbs: Tunnel/Skyline, Morgan Territory, and Pinehurst. I resolved to ride conservatively to make sure I had the legs to complete the ride. Whenever I felt pressure on the legs, I shifted down, trying to reduce the pressure on the legs and keep up the cadence. That was the plan. I left early -- at 5:15 -- not sure just how long this nearly 100-mile ride would take and to make sure I'd get home at a decent hour. Immediately, I rode into a cloud of torrential fog. It was cold and the fog was preposterously thick. Climbing Tunnel, I could barely see the road. Not because of darkness, as my light was plenty bright, but because of fog. Normally, I take off my prescription glasses to see better, as my prescription is pretty weak. My eyeballs don't fog up the way glasses' lenses do, so I can see better. Today, the difference was minimal. Tree tops collected water and dumped it on my head in huge drops, as I rode underneath. I rode almost by Braille, trying to follow the double yellow line in the center of the road. When I couldn't see it, I looked for the white line on the right. I nearly rode off the road several times, but managed to get to the top safely. A few more anxious moments on top of Skyline and I found myself at the Skyline/Pinehurst intersection.
Descending north Pinehurst's sharp, gravel-strewn, off-camber turns is no picnic in dry daylight. Daylight i did not have; I hoped for a dry road. Dry road -- that I got. I descended carefully and confidently. At the bottom of Pinehurst, where it's straight, dark, and downhilly and you can't help but ride fast, I hoped to see no deer and saw none. I rode through the town of Canyon, as usual, cutting off the Post Office curve and turned onto Canyon Road toward Moraga, I put my glasses back on -- much better. I looked at my watch and it seemed that my slow and cautious climbing and descending set me back at least 10 minutes already. Normally, I reach Walnut Creek in 1:15 and today it looked to be an 1:30 ride, which was fine. In the flats of Moraga, I looked down at me gears and found myself in a surprisingly big gear. I looked at the grass and the trees and they were bending in favorable direction, explaining my gearing. I continued spinning and taking advantage of the wind.
Moraga seems to be a blob of a city. It's a fairly compact suburb, as suburbs go. The next suburb on the route is Lafayette, which seems to resemble an octopus, with tentacles reaching into numerous canyons. Since I had to ride from the westernmost end of a tentacle to the easternmost of of another, so getting through Lafayette seems to take longer than it should. However long it needs to take to get through, I got through it fine, reaching Walnut Creek in surprisingly fast 1:15.
Nothing was going to slow me down, I resolved, so I ran my first red light at the formerly antique gas station on Olympic Blvd. I ran red lights two and three in Walnut Creek as well. All the subsequent traffic lights, intimidated by my threat to run them too, paled into green. OK, some of the times, I slowed down to allow them to change to green, but I did not put my foot down again during this ride unless I wanted to.
In Walnut Creek, I joined the route of DMD, my favorite double, on Ygnacio Blvd. It was good to see DMD directional arrows again, especially since I missed it this year due to my ankle fractures. I happily spun my way up the hill just west of CSU East Bay Concord campus and descended to Pine Hollow Road, a shortcut through Concord neighborhood to Clayton that avoids the main drags of Ygnacio/Kirker Pass Road and Concord Blvd. There are a couple of 2% uphill drags through the neighborhood and there I felt my legs for the first time. I remembered to shift down, so that felt OK.
I was just over two hours into the ride when I decided to try to get to Morgan Territory Road within 2:15, by 7:30, when Gary would be leaving. So, I sped up a bit, turning right onto Marsh Creek Road. Marsh Creek runs through downtown Clayton and out of town, east toward Brentwood and Byron. The intersection with MorTer comes after a stair-step climb of three, increasingly longer and steeper rollers. I topped out at the third roller at 7:30. Concerned that Gary may call while I descended and with wind in my ears wouldn't be able to hear the ring, I hoped to get down to MorTer as quickly as possible, where the road was flat and I'd be able to hear the phone. No dice. I pulled out my phone when I got to MorTerMorTer. I could tell he left a message, but I had no way to access it, so I assumed he was riding in my direction -- not that I was going to change my route -- and kept going.
Just as I turned onto MorTer, the fog lifted. It was clear and cool. I kept drinking, with just half a bottle remaining until I reached the top, where there's a water fountain in a park parking lot. Oh yeah, a few words about provisions. I did this ride on two flasks of gel, four bottles of water, and a bunch of Endurolyte and Thermotab pills. That was enough food for six hours, I found out...
I seemed to remember that MorTer crested around 9.5 miles, but the last time I rode it was a year and a half ago, so I wasn't so sure, but there was a "Winding Road Next 9 Miles" sign, so I was reasonably confident in my memory after I saw the sign. MorTer is flat, slightly rolling for the first few miles. At first, it's hard to tell for how few miles, probably four or so. Then stair-steps start. They looked short enough and not so steep, that its' easy to take them in the big ring. After the drag up, the road would flatten or even roll down a bit. I stayed in the big ring until 5.5 mile marker, when I saw what looked like a longer drag, so I shifted into the small ring. Even this one -- and a few subsequent rolling sections really -- wasn't so tough that it's entirely feasible to stay in the big ring until about 6.5 mile mark, where the road becomes a true climb. There's a really nasty 0.2 mile pitch at 7.1 marker, after which the legs feel so tenderized and further up-steps are long and steep enough that it's a small ring ride the rest of the way, for me at least.
It got warmer as I gained altitude. I really wanted to stop and take off my leg warmers, but didn't. About a mile from the top I passed a camper parked by the side of the road with empty beer cans. There was a an unopened six-pack of Bud next to the rear door. No signs of life emanated. I smirked and rode past. Fractional mileage markers kept going by. 8.5 mile marker looked familiar. The following markers did too. It really felt like the top was near. Nine really felt close. At 9.2, I knew that I wouldn't see 9.3 before the parking lot. Sure enough, the lot was just around the corner. No phone reception there either. I used the bathroom, filled the bottles, took off knee warmers, and set off again.
There were an additional 50 of climbing before the road plateaued. As I turned a corner, I saw an adolescent coyote trotting ahead of me on the opposite side of the road. While we were going uphill, we traveled at the same speed, but as the grade relented, I began catching up and he looked back, worryingly. As I got closer and closer, he continued trying to run faster, finally ducking under a hole in the fence. It disappeared and pulled out the phone again. Miraculously -- service! I quickly dialed Gary, he picked up. He'd just turned onto Morgan, so our plan worked, we'd meet in a matter of a few minutes. I looked ahead. The entire Livermore Valley was socked in fog. Immediately, I remembered one of my favorite mantras: "Never undress on top of a hill." I winced at the though of cold legs -- meh, I'll keep going. As I descended, though it was still clear, I was at altitude where there were layers of fog, and there, humidity skyrocketed and temperature dropped. As I rode into the cloud, visibility diminished and I turned on my light. The descent is notoriously known as "The Plunge." It's a one lane, very steep road. having the light on gave me a feeling of a modicum of safety. Toward the bottom, a truck was coming up the hill and it got out of the way when it saw me. I think the light had a lot to do with that. Gary was a vision in green coming through the mist. I braked, he turned around and caught up with me.
It was only about 8:30, ridiculously early. I had another four hours before I had to be home with two of the three major climbs already behind me. The legs felt slightly tenderized, but with lots of miles still in them. I resolved to have fun. Instead of riding toward Danville, then homeward, which would take about two hours, possible a bit longer, we decided to ride southwest and then see about the time and the legs.
We rode the rest of Morgan, then turned west on Highland, then south on Carneal, a direction I've ridden only once before. I'd forgotten what a nice stretch of road it is. It's gently rolling downhill through lovely ranch country with cows, horses, and alpacas watching us as we rode past. Alpaca sighting prompted a lengthy and lively discussion of Alpaca sweaters. I wondered what had happened to mine?
We reached western outskirts of Livermore where the road ended with an freeway ramp, so we turned west onto a road neither of us had seen before. That ended in another freeway ramp, so we turned south onto a road marked "Highway 84" that also prominently featured a "Road Closed" sign. I don't believe in "Road Closed" signs and insisted we proceed. We crossed over I-580, heading south. More "Road Closed" signs, but several cars passed us, going faster than local golf course traffic. A female cyclist rode in the opposite direction, advising us that the road was closed. "Bah," I said, "there's 'Road Closed' and there's 'Road Closed.'" We kept going. A quarter mile up the road we could see the cars that had passed us turning around and returning. We got closer. There was definitely a way to get through the barriers. We saw a roadway covered with large gravel, larger than I wanted to navigate, but there was a way to get around it off to the right and what lay beyond was a well packed dirt road. Tractors had graded that section, so it had many good size bouncy holes, which was OK. At first, we thought we'd have to dismount and jump a foot long barrier, but as we looked to the right, we saw that there was an entrance onto the westbound roadway. That's where we wanted to go and that's where we went without dismounting, exulting at our good fortune and sense of adventure. It appears that the construction project is conversion of a T-intersection to a T-intersection with a right turn on-ramp.
The former tailwind became a headwind, as now we rode west toward Pleasanton. We rode past a busy vineyards on the left and a busy quarry on the right, through a typical suburb, on through downtown and past Alameda County Fairgrounds, still without unclipping. We reached Foothill Blvd. and turned north toward Dublin. A discussion of the remainder of our route ensued. Gary needed to be home by 11, so we agreed that he'd accompany me up Dublin Grade and turn around on top. I'd ride on.
We climbed into a nasty headwind at a steady, conversational pace. Gary turned around at the top, I descended. Today, I concluded that westbound Dublin Grade is my least favorite descent. It's straight, very gradual, and always has a headwind. The wind negates the grade, so you always have to pedal and there's no end in sight. A busy freeway is on the right and the canyon is boring. Well, it gets you from point A to point
B in a straight line, at least we can be grateful for the topography getting it over with as quickly as possible.
I rode into Castro Valley, up Crow Canyon Road for a half, mile, where I saw a cyclist make a right and go uphill toward Redwood, where I was going too. I waited -- without unclipping -- for the light to change, giving him even more of a head start. OK, though tired, I felt like chasing. I chased uphill, then down, then half-heartedly on he flat. He turned onto Redwood. With a quick "morning" I passed him, and kept spinning. I climbed the hill out of Redwood faster than I would have liked, but my low gears at least allowed me to spin, saving my legs a bit. It was barely 11:00.
I descended past the golf course and began climbing. Redwood has two climbs: north, almost immediately after the golf course and again, after the Pinehurst intersection. I bounced from gear to gear, depending on the wind and the grade, feeling reasonable comfortable, considering I'd been on the road for over five hours. As I began descending, something whacked me in the right leg and stung and continued to sting. I swiped at it. When that didn't help, I glanced down, saw a wasp firmly attached to my quad, and swiped harder, succeeding in dislodging the wasp. Apparently, just in time -- there was no stinger in my leg. I had a bite and it bugged me, but it seems the wasp hadn't gotten the business end of the stinger into me, so I got off easily. As there is no cell phone coverage on Redwood, calling for a ride would be futile. Continuing to ride, however, promoted circulation in the leg, potentially carrying the toxin farther into the leg than it may gone.
I rode on. Climbed the second part of Redwood to Skyline. Instead of going home, I turned uphill toward Chabot Observatory. As I climbed, I started running out of legs. I was over six hours into this ride, subsisting only on gel, water, and salt pills, along with two bananas I ate at 5:00 a.m. Yeah, I was on the verge of bonking, but I had enough energy to make it to the top, assisted, again, I am proud to say, by my wimpy gearing. Once I got to the top, it was all flat before the descent home.
Instead of riding home, I rode to Montclair Peet's, where I had their biggest latte with lots of honey, a mango juice, and two pastries. That hit the spot. I pondered ride totals: I spent 6:38 on the road with about five minutes off the bike. I didn't have a computer, so I estimate I rode somewhere around 105 miles with no drafting, riding sensibly, and drinking well. I ate sufficiently for about five hours, then simply ran out of food. It would have helped to have some variety in my diet. I was pretty sure I may run out of steam on this ride on the little fuel I'd brought and I was wanted to see how far I could go on two flasks of gel. Well, I found out -- 5:45 to 6:00. With that, I am very happy. I'm also happy with the fact that I'd planned to spend seven hours on a ride shorter than the one I did. This means that I rode faster and farther than I'd planned. I think I'm ready for a double. If I'm not ready for it, I will be in three weeks with two more weeks of training and another of tapering.