Fear is a good thing.
Going into Devil Mountain Double I was uncertain of my fitness. I'd really not done anything even half the difficulty of this ride, so it was hard to be able to say I was prepared. Indeed had I not run into promoter Scott Halverson on the summit of Mount Diablo a few months ago, where I told him I'd not recently done the ride due to it being relatively early in the year for such monumental difficulty and I wasn't ever adequately prepared, he recommended to stop worrying and ride it anyway. So I took his advice.
Getting there was fun. I went home from work, got my stuff together, then rode my bike to BART. BART was pretty full due to baseball and basketball games in Oakland, but I was able to stand with my bike at the "bike priority" spot on my car. Once in Dublin, I rode the bike lane on the obscenely freeway-like Dublin Blvd where someone tossed a lighter at me from a moving car (not sure why -- it bounced off the spokes of my front wheel). But after a mile on this monument to grossly broken suburban planning I turned onto bike trails for a nice 6 mile spin northward to San Ramon and the hotel. Except for the heavy backpack, it was a perfect warm-up for the next day's fun. Here's the Strava record.
The first real decision was when to start: the 5 am early start or the 6 am start. There were numerous advantages to the 6 am group: more time to sleep, more time to digest breakfast, spending the opening half-hour in a group of faster, stronger, more skilled riders, no risk of having to wait for the Diablo gate to open if it's a few minutes after it's 5:30 am opening time, an hour of extra warming for the chilling Diablo descent, and the extremely important reason: more likely to be able to use the toilet before the start and not have to deal with the delay of porta-potties. So that's what I chose, despite my concern the pace of these riders would be too hard on Diablo. Not too hard as in "I can't keep up", but too hard as in "I wired my bike to explode if my Powertap reads 250 watts continuously for at least 10 seconds". Fear was my guide. Fear of going into the red until at least Palomares, the second-to-last climb on the course. It's the red zone which would drag me down, and the red zone which I wanted to avoid. And if I was dropped on Diablo, there was every possibility I'd be denied any useful draft the entire following ride. In contrast, starting at 5 am with a larger group including a broader spectrum of climbing speeds, I'd hope to get at least a good group out to Morgan Territory Road. But I picked 6 am.
We gathered outside a few minutes before 6. Scott gave opening instructions: the usual, be careful, etc, and instructed us to go. Then something strange happened... nobody really went. Each rider looked at the others, waiting for one to take the initiative. Tick, tick, tick... then finally someone did. And we were off.
The opening miles were paced by a sag car, which was first to the intersections to guarantee lights would trip. I ride in the pack, fading back a bit on the surges which pointlessly occurred on brief grades, but easily rejoining after. I felt really good. I'd eaten a good dinner the night before (plain gnocchi, a sweet potato, and a banana) and a good breakfast (oatmeal and a banana), all brought from home. Since I don't usually eat so many carbs, I felt super-energized.
Eventually the lead car pulled aside and we were on our own. The only adventure came when first one, then another water bottle was dropped by riders ahead. The bottles skitter across the road, gain traction, then cut impressive small-radius turns to change direction. I managed to avoid both. But having survived this challenge, I had no issues hanging with the group until the the base of the climb.
The base of Diablo used to be a nightmare of potholes, the result of a dispute between local homeowners and government over who was responsible for repair. The government claimed the short section was officially private, but the locals claimed the damage was from through traffic which they were forbidden to prevent. So it the road got worse and worse until the Tour of California bike race decided to pass through, and the road was fixed.
I knew what was coming next. The leaders took off fast. I was moving backward. I felt fine, but looking at my power meter I saw 260 watts. Way too high, I cut back on the throttle, and was gapped. I glanced back and only a single rider was behind.
The climb was magically effortless. I managed to catch a few riders along the way, at least one re-gapped me after I did so but I eventually recaught him. Junper Campground, normally a point of crisis, arrived before I expected. I started to feel a bit tired in the closing miles, but not much, then there I was at the steep bit. By this point I'd started catching a few of the 5 am crowd. One guy, who I think was one of the 5 am'ers, jammed it on the steep portion, gapping me. I kept my eye on the power number to keep it at 250W. As soon as we reached the parking lot, however, he stopped pedaling, and I swerved around him to reach the check point on the opposite side. Obvious he was riding hard just to end the pain.
It had been cool in the valley: I'd seen 46F at one point. But I'd checked the weather station at the summit before the ride and seen 64F for 3 am: hard to believe. But the summit of Diablo, while it can be freezing cold, if there's fog in the valley it can be considerably warmer than civilization below. And indeed, my Garmin ready 70F in the sun at the summit. Balmy.
Despite this I put back on the vest I'd removed during the climb. We'd be descending back into the valley, and even if the fog had burned off, the valley had started the morning a lot colder. This was an excellent move, since I was chilled on the descent, almost shivering, but unlike my last two times doing this, in 2000 and 2002, I never became truly cold, and I never had to attenuate my speed to avoid shivering. I did perhaps slow a bit more than necessary when passing two rangers on North Gate Road, for fear they were monitoring rider speeds relative to the 25 mph speed limit, and not soon after this I was passed by a rider who I was unable to recatch. My descending has improved a lot versus where it once was but I still carry a lot more caution into corners than I need to. It would turn out he was the only one to pass me on the road all day.
When I reached the bottom, I realized I'd made a mistake at the summit aid station. My bottles had been empty: I'd begun the ride with Cytomax in one, Hammer electrolyte tablets in the other. But for the rest of the ride, I was going to rely the Hammer products provided by the organizers. I'd put Perpetuum Moca flavor in one, plain water in the other, and taken a handful of Enduralyte tablets. This was a good strategy, but the 3-scoop-per bottle Perpetuum is good for calories, but a bit thick for hydration, so I was drinking the water too quickly. The solution, I realized, was to get more of my hydration by drinking a bottle of water at the stop, then refilling it. Riding towards Ygnacio Valley Road, the urban sprawl horror which began our eastward trek toward Morgan Territory, it was clear my water wouldn't last to the next rest stop, at the Morgan Territory summit. But it was still early, still cool, and I could afford to make the mistake at this point. But I resolved to drink at least a full bottle at every stop from here.
On Morgan I was still chasing the guy who'd passed me on the Diablo descent: I could see him ahead. The gap would grow or shrink with the undulating terrain of that curious yet spectacularly gorgeous climb, which seems to go on for far longer than its altitude difference suggests. But suddenly I saw him get off his bike and rotate his pedal. His chain was dangling, broken. Did I have my chain tool with me? I normally do. But while on a normal ride I'd have stopped to help, with the heavy support, including sag vehicle, I kept going. Perhaps I could have checked for the chain tool and given it to him, costing me at most 2 minutes. But this was a competitive, timed ride, and I knew it wasn't so long a walk to the rest stop, so I kept going.
The same can be said of gel wrappers. Too often I saw one on the road, hopefully dropped unintentionally, but I fear not. Pro cycling has recently clamped down in this, threatening to fine riders who are observed dropping wrappers on the road, or worse, tossing them into the brush. I can't comprehend why people think this is an acceptable behavior. But today, I left gel wrappers where I saw them, resolving to make up the karmic price by picking up more litter on my next untimed ride.
At Morgan rest stop I again did Perpetuum Moca in one bottle, water in the other, rapidly gobbling down some fruit slices as well. The volunteers were amazing, filling bottle, holding your bike. It really facilitates rapid stops. But with the warming temperature I'd decided to remove my wool undershirt. I'd planned on this by putting it over, rather than under my arm warmers, the latter my usual practice since it's more aerodynamic. But what I'd neglected to do was put it over my bib straps. So after removing my full-zip jersey (I'd intentionally worn a full-zip today since removing a partial zip with stuffed pockets is much more cumbersome) I had to pull the straps off from my shorts. Then I pulled off my shirt, put my jersey back on, struggled a bit with the zipper, then removed my knee warmers and hat, and was ready to go except I realized I'd forgotten to put my straps back over the shoulders. So off came the jersey again, I replaced the straps, and then back on with the jersey (which zipped up easily this time) and I was ready. I hate frittering away time like this and need to remember to put my undershirt over my shoulder straps next time. A volunteer had graciously provided me a bag and labeled it with my name and number for transport back to the start. I wasn't afraid about getting cold at any remaining point in the ride. I kept my vest, though, balled up in my pocket, although I'd not wear it again from there on.
The descent of the south side of Morgan Territory Road is a blast: high speed corners with descent sight lines. The air was really heating up at this point, and with just my jersey, white compression arm warmers, compression calf sleeves, light socks, gloves, and shoes I was warm.
At the bottom of the descent begins the arid portion of the route: the terrain of the Wente Road Race, Altamont Pass, and Patterson Pass before the long slog up Mines Road and San Antonio Valley Road to the Hamilton summit... a very long way. I made the T-left onto Manning without issue but was soon after overtake by a group of numberless riders. I was engulfed and found myself sucked along by their cumulative draft.
Now I had a conundrum. They weren't going that fast: I didn't want to intentionally slow to keep them ahead of me, but I wasn't sure if I should be drafting them since they weren't part of my event. So I moved to the front and set tempo, but they were right behind me, and soon a line came up to my left.
I decided then there was nothing in the Devil Mountain Double rules against drafting outside riders (except for racers at the Wente Road Race, which I was approaching). So decided to follow the crew. They seemed to be following the same route, as I could clearly see from the "DMD" arrows freshly painted on the road.
However, all of a sudden I saw such a marker indicating a right turn, onto Broadmoor from Dalton to avoid riding on busy Vasco Road, while the crew was clearly continuing straight. I veered to the right to make the turn, then was relieved to note that I'd been in the last in the line. That could have caused a crash if I'd been mid-pack.
Soon I was on Altamont Pass Road, which despite the name is barely a bump, then onto Grant Line Road where we finally joined the Wente course. I had to pause here at the request of course marshals to let two racers by, then I continued on. But not long after I was overtaken by a race pack. I stayed to the right to give them plenty of passing room. "What category are you?" I asked. "55+ cat 4" was the immediate response. It shows how popular masters racing is if you get a full pack of 55+ cat 4's. I immediately wondered if I could hang with these guys despite having ridden so far already, but I pushed those thoughts away and cruised at a steady pace to let them by. But we came upon two other Double riders on the right. "I need to pass these guys", I said, and pointed to the left. "Don't mix up with us!" a rider sternly warned, but I assured him I wasn't going to do that. I got past the two other double riders without incident and soon the cat 4's didn't need to deal with me any more, as I was off the back of their group.
Midway Road took me away from the Wente course, then Patterson Pass Road. Approaching it, I passed the sag vehicle ont he side of the road, initially occluding what was apparently an emergency water stop. I was by it before it I had time to stop. I was almost out of water, so could have used a fill, but I recalled there would be water on Patterson Pass itself (a "mini-stop") so pushed on.
Patterson Pass is a relatively minor climb in the Devil Mountain Double but it's memorable. After a relatively steep climb you appear to reach the top, but then after cresting, the truly steep portion looms ahead. This is "Oh My God" hill, and well named, or perhaps "Holy Shit Hill" is more appropriate. I've done Patterson several times, and indeed it is on the 2013 Low-Key Hillclimb schedule, but I was still a bit surprised this time. Fortunately, however, the water stop was at the crest of the prelude climb, so that gave me an excellent excuse to recover a bit before the steep bit.
No drink mix here, but they did have water, so I drank two full bottles and then filled both. I also downed a handful of Enduralytes and ate several slices of fruit. That this was a "mini-stop" as opposed to a full stop shows the high level of support at this event.
After being refreshed, the climb to Patterson Pass was easy. Then it wasn't much more than 10 miles further to the Mines Road stop. Patterson Pass Road led to Cross Road to Tesla. Cross Road was again part of the Wente course, but I encountered only two riders who were cruising, obviously dropped by their pack, so I had no issues.
Tesla crosses Vasca. Approaching the intersection, there's a prominent "DMD" arrow pointing straight through the intersection. So on I went. Despite this, I have a borderline neurotic paranoia about navigation, so I checked my Garmin Edge 500. "Off course" it said. Now it often says this: the GPS on the Garmin Edge 500 isn't good enough for its navigation algorithm. But for some reason I panicked. I pulled over and fumbled for my route sheet, which I had to remove from the plastic baggie since we'd moved to the second half, which was hidden by the fold. During this fumbling I was passed by a smiling rider, so put the sheet back in my pocket and followed, but he zipped through light I then just missed. This disturbed me because it was more time frittered away. I should have stuck with what I should have known was the route longer. And instead of fumbling with my route sheet I could have gone to either the line drawing page or the waypoint page of the Garmin. But I don't think super-clearly on rides of this distance.
I was soon the Mines Road, which has a preliminary section then there's a left on the main section which goes towards Mount Hamilton. This is where the next stop is. It wasn't long since Patterson Pass, but I wanted to make sure I was topped off, so drank, added this time plain Sustained Energy instead of the flavored Perpetuum to my "calorie bottle", and refilled with water. I was super-pleased to find some dried prunes of which I ate two and saved a few more in my pocket, popped more Enduralytes, and finally remembered to ask for some sun screen ( the exposed fringes of my arm were beginning to burn). I was pleased to see Ruth and Marco Palimeri there, a famous local tandem team. Marco had a "Hoodoo 500" T-shirt on, and he told me (as I was spraying on the sun screen) how he'd ridden that in a 2-tandem relay, alternating 30-minute pulls for 500 miles. I was super-impressed, but didn't want to spend any more time here then necessary, so after a sprint to the porta-potty to pee (I thought it would be bad form to pee on the side of the road close to the rest stop) I was back on my bike not sure I was ready to tackle the long slog to the Junction, which is lunch.
Mines Road is truly desolate. Parched, exposed earth abuts the long, gradual climbing which dominates the next 25 miles. Vultures fly overhead, and at one point I passed two next to a dead squirrel on the road. One was plucking at the squirrels exposed, bloody flesh while the other extended his wings. All the while, the temperature creeped upward. I was glad I'd done this in March, on Murphy Mack's Spring Classic ride, because I had a good feeling for the magnitude of it all. But in a way, the Zen quality of just slogging along on a single straight road with no navigation concerns makes the distance pass easily, and I arrived at the rapid descent to the junction.
The lunch stop was crowded. And with two tables here, one for sandwiches, the other for the Hammer product. With the crowd, it was relatively slow reaching the Hammer table, since I wasn't interested in the sandwich stuff. The Sustained Energy wasn't going down as smoothly as I'd hoped, and I wasn't feeling the urge to switch back to Perpetuum, so I decided to switch to gel and Heed. Due to an unfortunate over-consumption of Hammer Gel a few years ago at the MegaMonster Enduro, I haven't been able to stand much of the fruit-flavored stuff, but I quite like the chocolate, so went with that. But after half-filling my flask with gel then half with water to thin it (the gel is too viscous for easy removal from the flask) I was slightly distressed to see the two appeared nonmiscible: the water remained fully separated from the brown gel sludge in the bottom. I didn't want to waste time with it, so put the flask into my pocket.
I was leaving when I decided to add more gel to the flask, having experienced a bit of doubt I had enough to get me up the challenging climb of San Antonio Valley Road. So back I went, adding a bit more gel. Then I was leaving again and decided I needed more sun screen, my upper arms starting to weep from the burn which was appearing there. Evidently the spray-on stuff didn't survive the sweat. But I asked at the sandwich table and was told the sun screen was back at the Hammer table, and didn't want to make the trip a third time so set off. I was able to deal with the sun burn by pulling my sleeves higher, exposing previously-spared sections of my wrist instead. I resolved to absolutely make sure I got sunscreen at Crothers, the next stop.
The mile markers on the road clearly show it's 19 miles from the stop to the Mount Hamilton summit, but I knew from experience it's only around 5 miles from Isabel Creek, the bottom of the final climb. That left 14 miles of rolling terrain before beginning the climb proper. I remembered how painful this section was riding the opposite direction in the Mount Hamilton Road Race: punchy climbs taken at full blast after the 18+ mile climb from San Jose to the top, then a frightening descent on twisting roads down to Isabel Creek. But eventually I arrived there.
All of this time I noted my Garmin temperature number rising, first significantly passing body temperature where the diffusive heat flux switches from outward to inward, then to the magical 100F point. It maxed out at a remarkable 100.4F as I began the climb. I could only hope that it would start to drop a bit as I gained altitude. 100.4F seem hot, and it is, especially living in San Francisco regularly makes it cold 12 months a year: it's a very rare ride I don't start in knee warmers and a long-sleeve undershirt if not more. But I also knew there's a huge difference between 100.4F measured in the sun and measured in the shade. When I lived in Austin, I would have been sucking down the coolness of 100.4F in the sun, especially given the virtual complete lack of notable humidity. There wasn't much air movement, which hurt, but this was a far way from the "blast furnace" feeling I well remember from living in Texas.
Still, I felt the effects, and my power here was at least 15% below what I wanted. Was this terminal fatigue, or was it an effect of the heat? I hoped the latter, and that would prove to be the case. The mileage markers ticked by slowly... first 4 (near a memorably tight turn from the road race descent), then well after I thought surely I'd missed marker 3, it appeared. The grade was unrelenting, never super steep, but in the heat, a steady 10% or so was mentally challenging. I passed several riders standing on the side of the road. Indeed, this is where I succumbed in 2000, stopping several times along the way, and it was much cooler that year. I suffered, but never exceedingly, so I knew I was already on my best DMD ever. I just needed to not blow it, as there was still much to come.
The road levels out after mile marker 1, and soon I was at the crest. I was almost sure we didn't take the out-and-back to the true summit where the observatory is, but I scanned the road carefully for markers to be sure, then checked my Garmin for off-course warnings. None. And so I began the descent.
Mount Hamilton Road has a reputation as a technical descent but I find it easy in comparison to Diablo. The pavement quality on the upper portion is the worst I remember it, but below this it's freshly paved and smooth. There were numerous gravel patches, bits of rock broken away from the mountain side, and in one case I hit a rock with my front tire, but the 25 mm tires handle that sort of thing fairly well, and I didn't puncture. I would have really hated to have flatted at this point, since I was doing well and wanted to continue making good time.
The Hamilton descent contains two significant intermediate climbs which sometimes cause distress to tired riders. But I know these well and expect them, so to me they provide a nice break from the monotony of what would otherwise be a long descent. I was able to pass several riders on these rises, which I rode strongly. The contrast to 2000 was remarkable, where I was in death march mode at this point, virtually crawling to the Crothers stop.
That year instant soup at the Crothers stop had revived me, and I was thinking of getting some this year for nostalgic purpose. But other than having been out of water since the early stages of the descent, I was feeling good, so after turning off onto Crothers Road (I heard at least one rider missed this turn, despite it being well marked: I've made a similar error in Terrible Two), I did the short climb to the house hosting the stop without problem.
Pulling in there a rider was enjoying the very soup I'd been contemplating. But it was full of noodles and looked like slow going. So I decided in the name of expediency I'd have to pass on that, sticking with the usual Hammer options. I was also able to hose down my handlebar, which had become sticky due to various incidents with not-fully-screwed-down bottle caps and a bit of a misfire on a gel flask. The Crothers stop is absolutely incredible. They not only offer to do things for you, they passionately require it. And prominently displayed were two options on sun screen: spray on and squirt on. I was really relieved to have the latter, and took the time to apply it not only to the exposed portions of my skin but also portions near the edge of my arm and calf sleeves. I also did my previously neglected ears and neck. It was getting late: it was already after 4 pm, and the sun was past its peak, so maybe this was somewhat horse-left-the-barn territory, but I preferred being safe since I'd already gotten burned on my upper arms. All things considered though, I ended up doing fairly well on the sunburn side: I've been much, much worse.
I left fairly quickly and prepared myself for the next challenge: Sierra Road. I knew Cara was volunteering at the Pet the Goat stop just past the top fo that climb (historically named, as the series of goats at the farm near the stop have all since died). This inspired me to make good time, as I looked forward to seeing her there.
Soon after rejoining Mount Hamilton Road from Crothers, though, my Garmin gave an extended "off course" error. This lasted for probably a mile before eventually going away. I can only think it was confused by the short out-and-back. It's a good thing I was 100% sure of my navigation at this point. Or rather, 99% since I am never completely sure about my navigation...
From the bottom, we turned left for a short distance on Alum Rock Road, then wound our way to Piedmont, which leads to Sierra. It was a bit surreal riding this road because I knew what lay ahead. It also reminded me of the Tour of California two years ago when the riders did a similar route, where Chris Horner crushed all on Sierra. I had no crushing plans for this one: just surviving.
Sierra Road begins suddenly and dramatically in the still residential section near its bottom. The grade change, from 0 to 14% virtually instantly (see the profile here), is a shock. You learn instantly whether your legs are good or bad. And mine, surprisingly were good. I got past this opening steep pitch without any crisis. I knew more steepness followed, but on Sierra the steep stuff is never sustained for long, so having gotten past the opening bit I knew I'd be fine.
As I climbed, I noted my Garmin was reading in the high-80F's. Although sweat was freely dripping off my nose, the air was refreshing in comparison to San Antonio Valley Road had been. My average power for the main climb was 182 watts (Powertap), and this included recovery portions where the grade was relatively small. On the steeper portions, I was pushing it into the low-200W's without problem. This gives me some hope I'll be able to do an Old La Honda in the 280+ watt range, with fresh legs, a power level I'll need if I want to meet my Strava goal of sub-18 minutes I set for myself on that climb.
Anyway, I enjoyed the climb of Sierra, not only because I was so pleased to have recovered from the difficulty of San Antonio Valley Road, but also because of the wonderful views from the climb, the beautiful day, and also because I knew Cara was at the rest stop not far from the top.
As I reached it a rider ahead on whom I was gaining gave a victory salute, relieved to have finished what on paper is the most challenging climb of the ride. I reached the top soon after, and the Garmin flashed "top of Sierra".
It was a bit more rolling-climbing to Pet the Goat, something I suspect my new companion failed to admire, but soon I saw the sign, then the stop. Cara initially didn't see me but when she did she hurriedly got her camera ready to take photos.
She was especially excited to give me food and water, but really it hadn't been long since Crothers, and other than water and some fruit slices I didn't need much. They did give me my "Pet the Goat" pin (which I handed to Cara to take for me) and my bag with lights. Cara was excited by how well I was doing, but I noted I'd hoped to get here by 5 pm, and it was now much later. She told me it was only 5:11 pm, which surprised me: I'd obviously made quite good time from Crothers. I decided on the spot to take the front light but not to take the time to put on the flashing rear light. I figured at this point I should make it in during daylight but a few flat tires, perhaps a crash, maybe even a late bonk and delays could push me into darkness, and I didn't want to be stuck in the canyon roads in the dark without light. So I spent the minute or so attaching my light, hoping that wouldn't cost me any places.
At Pet the Goat, Cara Coburn photo
I thanked Cara and the other volunteers, and set off, feeling invigorated and ready to finish off this thing, which had now entered end game. Only 45 miles to go.
I blasted down Felter, knew to downshift before the sharp turn onto the steep lower portion of Calavera, cruised through the rolling hills of Calaveras (giving thumbs-up to the finishing riders of the Mount Hamilton Challenge, riders I'd already seen going the opposite direction on Mines Road), then smoothly navigated to the Sunol rest stop. It all seemed to go very quickly.
But along the flat stretches of Calaveras leading to Sunol, I came across a lone rider moving very slowly, staring at the ground. I passed him, thinking that was the end of it, but then sensed a rider behind me, and it was him. No problem: I continued on. But then he rolled past and took an extremely powerful pull. Just sitting on his wheel was difficult. Incredible. Was this the beginning of a 2-man time trial all the way to the finish? Would I even be able to take useful pulls with this guy? Finally I pulled next to him, ready to try, and complimented him on his strength. "I have my moments," he replied, then immediately faded behind. Ah, well. In a way it was a relief to not have to match his pace, although having someone to work with would have helped my speed considerably.
At Sunol I made a quick stop. I really didn't need much since I had my gel flask and 1.5 of the two Pro Bars I'd started the ride with. I indulged in an orange slice in addition to the water I took. They complemented me on the efficiency of my stop and I was off. Next challenge: Palomares.
But first I had to survive Niles Canyon. Niles Canyon Road follows the rail line, and is super-flat. But it's a 2-lane road with high-speed traffic, a main through-way to Fresno and on to the Palo Alto. Niles became a bit more dicey recently when rumble strips were put along the center of the road. These were designed to discourage riders from crossing the center line. This is good to avoid head-on-collisions, but also discourages drivers from giving cyclists enough room when passing. Additionally there's a few narrow bridges where the shoulder disappears. Really the deal with Niles is the cars should be slowed down. I felt good to be here when it was still bright out: many riders would be here at dark.
I reached the turn to Palomares, a climb Low-Key did in 2008. My pre-ride plan had been to eliminate the 250 watt limit starting here, although I knew it was hopelessly optimistic that I'd be able to exceed it at this point. I remembered what it was like climbing this in the fast group at the Low-Key climb, and it was full-on top-throttle the whole way, a total blast. I wasn't close to that this time, obviously. But while I did the first half at close to 200 watts, I was able to ramp it up in the second half. Strava data are here.
After reaching the top of Palomares, I could smell the finish. It's a fast descent which follows, then a few flattish miles to the end of the road. This marked 10 miles to go.
And back to suburban hell. Palo Verde Road bridges to E Castro Valley Blvd, the super-wide super-highway. Intersections with gated communities are signaled with traffic lights, creating needless delays for relatively light cross-traffic (I saw none). After 1.7 miles of this horror, I turned onto Crow Canyon Road. I have always considered Crow Canyon to be one of the climbs of this ride, but really it's hardly a bump: there's many more significant bumps along the way which are clearly not counted. Then comes the turn to Norris Canyon.
The Norris Canyon, on the other hand, is a legitimate climb. I felt good here, and went as hard as I could. Indeed, my power was solid. Two riders appeared ahead on the road, one further than the other. I thought I had a chance to catch the first, but the second was out of reach. But the climb was longer than I'd remembered from 2000, when I'd surreally climbed it in a group back when lights were much, much weaker, and I was able to pass both. I then hit the descent as hard as I could, slowing at stop lights, but I got stopped by a red light with what is typical of suburbia, a seemingly endless red cycle. They build the roads so you can drive 70 mph on local streets, but then they put traffic lights at virtually every major intersection, and drivers spend lose all the time they gained with the ridiculously high travel speeds. I kept glancing back to see if the guys I'd passed would catch me, and in fact one was approaching as the light turned green, and I sprinted off. The evidence shows the wait was only 40 seconds, but it seemed forever so close to the finish.
Soon I was at Bishop and the final right turn from where it was 0.7 miles to the Marriott and the end. But here was the final challenge of the ride: how to find the check-in? I turned into the Marriott but wasn't sure where I was. I asked a guy nearby where the Marriott was and he said "this is it!" pointing to the adjacent building. Then I remembered the stairs I was looking at from 2000 and 2002, went down the stairs, and through the door. I'd entered the building on the opposite side! So I sprinted to the salon where the finish was. A rider was slowly walking there. I asked him if this was the check-in and he said yes. It was one of those clumsy moments where I was running, he was walking, so I pulled ahead him at the last second to check in first. I sort of felt like a jerk for doing this but I figured he was probably one of the riders I'd pulled away from and I felt justified in checking in ahead of him. But this wasn't a race, right?
But I was done. I changed, found a shower in the fitness center, then went back for some delicious lasagna. I chatted with riders for a bit until Cara arrived to pick me up. All in all, I was very pleased with how things went. I was the 37th finisher (and was also number 37, which is prime number, so that's all very lucky) but I'm not sure how many of those who finished ahead had started at 5 am. Results should be posted here.
In the end, fear was my friend. It kept me from going out hard, it kept me focused on hydration and nutrition, and it contributed in many ways to having finished strongly. Could I have gone faster? Very likely yes. But it's way, way better to go out a bit too easy and lose a little time then to lose a huge amount of time falling off the sheer cliff that is the dreaded bonk.
Next? I'm thinking of the Alta Alpine 8-Pass Challenge, which I've not yet done, although if I can do both that and the Terrible Two which preceeds it by only two weeks I qualify doe the "Triple Crown Stage Race". That seems like a bit much, however, but I've already underestimated myself a few times this year, this day included.