My goal this year has been to complete a brevet series (200k, 300k, 400k and 600k) to qualify for riding the Big Wild Ride 1200K in Alaska in August. Having completed a full series last year, I knew this goal would be challenging given the time constraints of running the shop. DNF-ing my scheduled 600k in Lompoc in May only made this goal more challenging! So, I decided to sign up for the Davis 600k…a beautiful course up the Feather River Gorge with mild climbs and 170 miles of completely flat riding on the Sacramento River delta! I was looking forward to an easy course that would allow me to meet my goal without too much stress (not that riding 375 miles is ever easy…).
Much to my chagrin, the Davis Bike Club changed the course two weeks before the event to the difficult ride that I completed this last weekend (did I just give away the ending?). The new course, as I found out later, is offered every four years to prepare riders for Paris-Brest-Paris. With two incredibly difficult climbs right in the middle of the course, the goal was to wear the rider down and show them that they could still succeed. Very admirable goals for the Davis Bike Club, very frustrating goals for someone who just wanted to finish the qualifiers and move on! 🙂
Given the evening start, I decided to try a new strategy this time, and I drove up with another rider on Thursday night. We slept in on Friday, spent the day getting our things together, and then I got another nap in the afternoon. This left me feeling refreshed and rested at the start at 8pm.
The ride starts across the Sacramento delta and I ended up in my usual position, riding solo between the lead group and the back group. As I started up Putah Creek Rd. (apparently a well-known road to cyclists in the area, confirmed on the return leg on Sunday as I noted dozens of cyclists riding the other direction), I could see the tail lights just up ahead of me, and I eventually caught up with Elaine, a local cyclist from Silicone Valley. We spent the next 20 miles yakking and enjoying a beautiful night – the weather was moderate and there was a beautiful almost-full moon lighting up the hills around us as we headed up into the foothills. Elaine was a fantastic tour guide, educating me about the orchards we were riding through, and the upcoming climbs that we would tackle. She beat me up the “dam” climb and Cardiac, but I generally caught up on the descents off of these steep but short 500-footers. Travelling along highway 128, we finally reached our first control at mile 45. I got caught up in fixing someone’s front derailleur, and Elaine left a bit before I did.
The next section took me around Lake Berryesa and down into Napa Valley to Calistoga. There were some memorable moments on this section. Notably, I found out what a flock of peacocks sound like when you wake them at 2am! Not a happy sound! More like a group of angry women, screaming at the top of their lungs. Cruising through Napa was great, though. The signs from the wineries were lit up, the roads were empty and the terrain gently rolled away under me. Arriving in Calistoga, I was greeted by a friendly group of volunteers who definitely won the award for “best coffee.” It was so good, I added a cup of it to my bottle of Cafe Latte Perpetuem…perfect! I left Calistoga alone, knowing that I had one short climb before rocketing across Sonoma on my way to Cloverdale. The Garmin 800 was guiding me perfectly, and I found my own company quite enjoyable! 🙂
I am often asked “what do you think about when you are spending so much time riding?” I think it really depends on the ride. Riding at night without companionship can be a little mind-numbing. It’s almost Zen-like…I don’t really think about anything. It’s easy to get caught up into negative thinking, so I make a huge effort to stay away from that. Let’s face it, if you spend too much time thinking about riding 375 miles in under 40 hours, you will soon realize how absolutely stupid it is! It’s kind of like asking why you would climb Mt. Everest? Yep…because it’s there. Instead, I try to focus on short-term goals…the top of the next climb, the next control (and what kind of food are they serving?), etc.
Anyway, I arrived in Cloverdale around 4:30am, and enjoyed a cup of Chevron coffee and donuts with a couple other riders who arrived before me. We all left together under the first glimmers of dawn to attack the six-mile climb outside of Cloverdale. This was a great climb, but my companions quickly got away from me. I chugged up the road, enjoying the emerging dawn and reminding myself how much fun this would be to descend later. Occasionally, I thought I heard my companions up above me, cheering as they crested the next part of the climb. I finally reached the top, did my own victory dance, and began the descent down Mountain House Rd., one of the worst roads on the course!
Up and down, up and down, I finally emerged outside of the Fetzer Winery. On Friday afternoon, I had lunch at the Davis Food Co-op, and I bought a 1/2 pound piece of Vegan chocolate cake to bring with me on the ride. Oh, was it good! I sat down in front of Fetzer winery and had a couple bites of cake and started stripping off layers – it was warming up as the sun came up over the mountains! I then set off for the 17 mile trek to the Ukiah control at mile 160. This was beautiful countryside with many vineyards, cows, horses and greenery. The headwind sucked, but that’s life.
I finally arrived in Ukiah around 8:30, and was greeted with the best food of the ride! Scrambled eggs and Vegan, Kosher bacon (okay, not really) was topped off with a bagel and cream cheese and sun-dried tomato and basil wheat thins (oooh, those were good!). Topped it off with some good coffee and whatever else I could stuff in my face, and I was set. I knew I was coming up on the hardest part of the ride, but didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. Instead, John, Mel and I took off to climb over Highway 253.
The climb on the inland side of the 253 is only four miles long. However, it is a sustained 10-11% grade. I felt like I was doing leg presses, despite my 27t chainring and 32t cog in the back. Mel took the early lead when I stopped to strip off several layers of clothing. John had turned back to go get his forgotten brevet card, but eventually caught me about 2/3 of the way up the climb. This was hard! I watched my altimeter and tracked my progress by counting off 100-foot marks…700, 800, 900, 1200, 1800, 2200…I finally reached the top (and quickly started down the other side before I had too much time to think about it).
With thoughts of my kids, I stopped to take some video of these horses on the way out to Dimmick.
The road to Dimmick Campground included some great scenery, but a strong headwind and aggressive drivers once we got into the Redwoods. The road was pretty bad, as well. I passed John on this section, and tried to catch Mel. He beat me into the control by about 5 minutes. We were now 188 miles out! After a quick lunch, I headed back out and decided that I would take a 15-minute nap on the lawn of the first winery I saw. 10 miles later, I finally found one, and enjoyed luxuriating in the sun to the soothing sounds of traffic and the knowledge that my phone would ring loudly in my ear in 15 minutes. Once back on the road, I enjoyed the tailwind all the way back to Boonville, where I filled up with water before the long climb back to Ukiah. I just kept telling myself that all I had to do was finish this climb, and everything else would be easy in comparison.
This return climb was brutal. Technically it was easier than the other side, but it was longer and hotter. I stopped multiple times to enjoy more chocolate cake, a banana, water, all the while trying not to throw up. Ah, the joys of cycling! I the top, I truly felt like Superman, ready to just cruise through the next 155 miles. While there was still some climbing to come, the terrain trended downward and I was hoping for some tailwinds. Did I mention the weather was absolutely perfect?
I arrived in Ukiah with one thought…lasagna. They didn’t have any, so I had to use my imagination. I must admit, though, grilled cheese sandwiches were great, and I joked it was the best tasting lasagna I had ever eaten! I had two! 🙂
Ukiah involved one nice snafu. On the outbound leg, I had used a power strip with my Garmin charger to add a bit of juice to the Garmin before heading over the climb. I expected to charge the Garmin up some more on the way back, and bring the charger with me for use in Cloverdale while I was sleeping. Alas, the charger (and power strip) were missing! Oh well, I guess I would actually have to use a route sheet, although I remembered the route almost in its entirety. So, flying blind, I headed for Cloverdale.
You may recall that I was really looking forward to the descent into Cloverdale. I left Ukiah at 6:30, resigning myself to the fact that I probably would not cover the 30 miles with climbing in under three hours. Rather than perseverate, I just started pedaling. The nice tailwind shot me across the first 17 miles in well under an hour! I started the climbing up Mountain House Rd., trying to enjoy the beautiful evening. My only company was a CHP officer who drove by a couple times and waved. As I approached the top of the fourth and longest climb, I realized that I would actually make it in time to descent in the dusk. Awesome! Debra Protho, the woman I drove up with, also pulled up in a SAG wagon to let me know she had DNF’d the ride (to be honest, I was rather surprised at the high DNF rate on this ride…over 25%). I fired up my Surefire light, and started bombing down this awesome, technical, windy descent into Cloverdale. It was really exhilarating, and by the time I reached Cloverdale, I really wasn’t all that tired.
Cloverdale kind of sucked. I tried to get about 1.5 hours of sleep, but (a) the Control staff were a bit loud outside, and (b) three riders came into the room at some point like a herd of elephants. Sleep alluded me and I woke ready to just get going. The next section was supposed to be pretty easy…it was midnight and I was ready to ride through Sonoma and Napa in the dark again!
About eight miles out of the control, I caught up with John (previous companion) and Clyde. They asked me to slow down a bit as they were unsure of where to go, and I was happy to have some company. Together, we rolled along at a relaxed pace, enjoying another beautiful night.
Calistoga had great coffee again, but I can honestly recommend ever eating Cup-O-Soup Macaroni and Cheese! A group of riders were heading out, including John, Clay, Elaine and a couple on a tandem, and I left with them to enjoy the rolling hills of Napa. This part was enjoyable and fast, but as we started up the climb to Lake Berryessa, I got more fatigued and tired. During the final long climb up Sage Canyon, I stopped for a couple minutes to close my eyes and re-group my thoughts. The sun was just starting to come out, it was cold, misty and beautiful, but I was tired! I finally rolled into the last control as a couple of the other riders were starting to leave. I sacked out in the back room for a half hour, and awoke with renewed vigor to finish this ride in style!
I couldn’t check into my hotel until noon, and it was now 7am. I only had 45 miles to go, of which 35 were flat! This one was in the bag, and I went into tourist mode as I cruised through the hills, riding Cardiac and the “dam” climb in reverse. The morning was warming up and it was going to be a glorious day!
I was really excited to see this section during daylight…on the way out I could tell it was beautiful, but in the morning light it really came alive. The hills were green and brown, the canyon walls descended to the river, and the descents were decadent! After the last descent, I enjoyed a nice cruise down the river valley, through the Putah Creek Wildlife Area. There were many people enjoying the river, camping, and checking out the tree farm.
I stopped at the Pleasant Valley Road turn to strip off some layers and lather up the sunscreen, and enjoyed all of the birds in the nearby trees. It was now a mere 30 mile ride to Davis along Putah Creek Rd., with a receipt control about 12 miles from the finish. I was definitely in tourist mode now and was looking for a stand to pick up some fresh-picked strawberries. I couldn’t find one that was open, but found a neat bridge to explore.
There were many cyclists up and down Putah Creek Road…all friendly and responsive to waves from a grundgy recumbent cyclist. One even stopped to make sure I was okay when I had pulled over to check my email. How nice! I finally arrived at the finish line at 10:58am, with an hour to spare! I promptly fell asleep. 🙂
A few post-ride thoughts. First, thanks to the Davis Bike Club, Dan Shadoan (their RBA) and all of the volunteers for putting on an outstanding ride! Support was fantastic and everyone was cheerful, enthusiastic and helpful. If you ever have the opportunity to ride with this group, I recommend it highly!
Second, I feel that getting a good nap in before the ride meant the difference between success and failure for me. While I was tired, there were few times that I was so fatigued that I didn’t feel I could continue, and at no point did thoughts of DNFing even enter my head. Coming in to an event like this well-rested is imperative.
Navigating with the Garmin saved me so much time and effort. The Garmin 800 was great to use and provided really useful information along the course. I can’t imagine going back to route sheets.
When doing an event this long, it is important to be really well-organized and comfortable on your bike. Knowing where everything was saved time and energy needless digging around looking for something…I’m normally not the most organized guy in the world, but I try to be on a brevet!
What a great ride. I look forward to seeing you out there!