Monday, May 26, 2014

MDR 2014 day 1: Campbell/San Jose to Carmel

Day 1 of the Memorial Day Ride...


The night before, after having bought food at the local Trader Joe's to eat for supper, after an invitation from my host I opted instead for the $20 meal option at the AirBNB and it was well worth it. Dinner was an excellent selection of vegetarian Indian food, and breakfast was hot almond milk, grains, and ripe peaches. Both were delicious, and excellent, nutritious food for the ride. The bed was super-comfortable, I slept well, and I awoke after a solid 8+ hours.

I packed my bike and headed over to the start, arriving precisely at the 7:00 recommended arrival time. Yet there was already a solid crowd there. There were plenty of familiar faces: MDR has a very high return-rider rate, and I think some occasional riders made a special point to be there for this 25th. There were only three first-timers.

I removed the panniers and rear rack from the Allaban, transferred the contents to the duffle bag I'd had in my handlebar bag for the ride from the train station but had instead just carried on my shoulder this morning, then put the rear rack in one pannier, that pannier in the other, and put it on a shelf in the garage. Hopefully it would still be there on Monday when we should return. For the tour my clothes were now packed into my duffle, my laptop was in my small backpack, and the backpack was also stuffed into the duffle.

I got a few comments about my bike which was clearly out of place among all the carbon race bikes. It was almost all top-level stuff, Cervelo, Trek, Willier, Felt, Guru, Teschner.... Dura-Ace (including a few Di2) and Red... plenty of carbon rims, including a pair of Lightweights. I've seen less on pro bikes. In contrast, here I was with my steel rig, 32 mm tires on steel rims, and a big handlebar bag. In all, there were approximately 56 riders. There were 2 steel (mine and Ben's very nice Colnago), two aluminum (Lyvia's Rock Lobster and the Co Motion tandem), 3 Ti (Moots, Serotta, Merlin), and 48 carbon fiber.

Lightweight rims

KNC cranks

My bike. Panniers are visible, stashed to upper left. Hopefully still there when I get back.

Eddie documenting the action

Janine issuing instructions to the unruly mob

After all the usual pre-ride activities and announcements, those of us who weren't driving one of the three support vehicles (two food vans + 1 luggage van) clipped in and rolled off. The first clip-in on a tour like this is always a bit surreal.

leg 1: to Watsonville Road

It was an uncharacteristically mellow roll out of the urban sprawl, mostly along Camden Ave. After a considerable distance of this massive investment in car addiction that is suburbia we reached Harry, marking the start the start of the "Uvas Reservoir" section of the route. Harry quickly leads to McKean and there the real fun begins.

There's two small bumps on McKean where for some reason the front riders put in a big effort. Peter, a front group mainstay, was immediately out of the saddle. It seemed reckless to be burning matches so early in a challenging 95 mile ride, so I cruised here. Last year this resulted in my missing a split at the following traffic light, not seeing the front group again until the first rest stop at mile 27 (Watsonville Road), but this time the light was red, so all the efforts were wasted.

Eventually I found myself following the wheel of a guy riding a gorgeous Felt AR0 who was leading the pack on his aero bars. I glanced back and there was a gap. I continued to follow as he happily pulled along as Peter, Mitch, another Los Gatos rider, Jeff (who was riding strong) and Pucci bridged. A few people I'm used to seeing in the front group, including the tandem of Mike and Janine, were missing (I later learned the Go Pro which had been mounted to their bike detached after drooping into the rear tire, getting ejected to the roadway). But we started trading pulls.

McKean turns into Uvas, and Uvas leads to Watsonville, the first rest stop @ the intersection. Uvas is a narrow road, with little shoulder. Traffic is only moderate, but the traffic there is is too frequently a heavy truck, making single file a must. A few times Pucci came by on my right rear, looking for a mini-echelon, which made me uncomfortable given the traffic issue. Once I overlapped wheels of the rider in front, which when he slowed caused me to slow suddenly, causing Pucci on my wheel (not overlapped at this point) some justifiable distress, but overall it was smooth. I don't do group rides as much as I did at one time, and I get rusty on little details.

End game approached and I started thinking about the sprint to Watsonville Road. I was leading, ready to peel off, when first one, then immediately another car passed. I looked back to make sure it was clear and saw a bike trailing us. What is a solo rider? The tandem? In any case they were too far back to be a concern.

But it wasn't more than a few seconds before I drifted to the back of the line and slotted into position, still recovering from my pull, when I got confirmation it was indeed the tandem. It came blasting by on the left, immediately getting a gap, and causing Peter and another rider to chase. But it was hopeless. The timing was perfect, because Watsonville was just ahead. The tandem took it.

I was gapped by the chase. I tried to limit the damage, but finished 4th (counting the tandem as one). I think two others were behind me.

leg 2: to Wastonville

After an uncharacteristically long stop, I rolled out in a lazy chase of the two Los Gatos riders (Mitch and Michael, I think), until I was joined again by the remaining riders from the first group from leg 1. The main feature of this leg was the climb of Hecker Pass. Hecker is a moderate-grade climb which peaks out at between 1300 and 1400 feet of elevation. Pucci took the lead here, setting a nice tempo, with Peter suffering a bit of asthma and breathing hard on my wheel. It was just the three of us. I expected Peter would drop off, but instead, approaching the summit (the county line, the distance to which is indicated with mileage markers on the roadside), he surged ahead. I moved from Pucci's wheel to his wheel, and followed him to the summit sign.

The were were in a cloud, a misty rain wetting the roads, creating cool and slippery conditions on the twisting descent westward. I stopped to put on my jacket, then rode very slowly on the upper portion of the descent, unhappy with the wet roads.

Further down, the roads dried a bit, and I increased my speed. The handling of the Allaban with the handlebar bag was slightly, only slightly uncomfortable. I reached the bottom at the first turn-off and the other 6, including the two Los Gatos riders we'd passed on the climb, were waiting along with the lead food van. I arrived just after Jeff, who'd been the sixth.

leg 2: to Watsonville

We set off on the flat roads from here to the second rest-stop. The pace was mellower than on Uvas. Our way passed Reservation Road, which is part of Ford Ord which has hosted several bike races I've done before, including Sea Otter Classic and the old district championship race. Following this, I didn't recognize some of the highways on which we generally rode here from the last time I did this route, and then I realized the last time I'd ridden with Wes, who does a longer, more scenic option. I was following the route sheet mounted in my map holder, shouting out instructions to whomever was leading. I vowed if I did this again I'd do Wes's route: riding on highway shoulders with traffic on the wrong side of 60 mph isn't fun.

At one point I stopped to remove my jacket, still on from the descent. I began to chase, and noticed my speed on the Edge 800 was stuck at 45.7 kph. Wow -- a pro level chase! But it quickly became obvious this wasn't my present speed, but rather the display was frozen from some point in the distant, faster past: probably on the descent. I power cycled the computer and ended up losing all of my data from the beginning of the ride as a result.

Finally, after two "wrong" turns on the leg, one keeping us on a busy road longer than planned (Lakeside), one taking us to a short dirt path after we stayed on Portola too long (which was fun), we eventually reached the second rest stop, at 55 miles. There wasn't any sprint for this one.

As I waited at the stop, I realized this was now the longest ride I'd done this year. And still 40 miles to go... I was feeling a bit grim.

leg 3: to Laureles Grade

The two Los Gatos guys stealthed away from the rest stop. Four of us: Peter, me, Pucci, and the guy on the Felt AR0 rolled out together somewhat later. My legs were definitely waning, and when Peter initiated a rotating paceline, I shouted "I'm done" and waved them on. But Peter and the others waited, and we returned to a mellower pace. I was then able to help take pulls.

This leg passed through Elkhorn Slough, a gorgeous section which is just as pretty when viewed from the Coastal Starlight Amtrak route, which I unfortunately won't be taking this year (it only really works if there's a critical mass of riders doing it, and the completely unreliable schedule leaves little margin for getting back to the Ritter's house in time on Monday). But I soaked it up during the ride.

After leaving the Slough, however, the rest of the leg is dull. We finally arrived at Laureles Grade, which was the site of the 3rd stop and the base of the most challenging climb of the day: shorter than Hecker, but much steeper.

leg 4: to Carmel

The tandem arrived, and she proposed doing an alternate route up Laureles. This was remarkable, a wonderfully scenic narrow, traffickless route ending in a gate, beyond which it turned into a semi-paved narrow path. The grade was never steep, and indeed it reduced the total climbing, cutting off a peak traversed by the main road.

I waited for the tandem and Peter, then we began the descent together. But here's where things went very bad. The gusting cross-winds interacted with my handlebar bag to create a very unstable feeling on the busy, high speed descent. I was forced to slow considerably, a bit spooked by the feeling of my front end exerting a will of its own, and lost the other two bikes.

The rest of the way was a long slow slog into the headwind on Carmel Valley Road, a highway by any definition, albeit with a bike path. I finally arrived at the hotel, exhausted, and set about getting ready for the next day: protein drink, snack, bike clean, etc. My room wasn't ready for several hours, until 4:15 pm. I took advantage of the delay to visit a nearby bike shop and buy some chain lube and a green (not black) Park spoke wrench for the wheels on the Allaban. The wheels were fine, but if I broke a spoke on the road, a spoke wrench is the difference between a successful day and hitchhiking.

Dinner was the Trader Joe's food I'd purchased for the AirBNB but hadn't needed. That worked fine: rice cakes, rice tortillas, Guacamole with Greek Yogurt, Greek Cheese, and almond butter.

Here's the Strava record. Note the massive data loss between the beginning and Hecker Pass descent. Total distance should be around 154 km.

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