Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My toughest ride to date ...

... and I can’t believe I rode the wholllle thing!

On Saturday the Death Ride team's training ride started from Steven Kent Winery in Livermore. From there we took Mines Road and rode up the backside of Mt. Hamilton to the summit. At the summit we turned around and retraced our route back to Livermore. All told it was about 93 miles and about 8000 ft of climbing.

I’ve ridden many centuries, and I’ve even done 5 or 6 double metric centuries (~125 miles). But I don’t think I’ve ever done 8000 ft of climbing on a ride, so I’ll venture to say that this was my Toughest. Ride. Ever.

I actually went back through my journal & blog to see if I've ridden anything comparable. The only ride I've done that comes even close to this in terms of climbing was the Calaveras-Mt Hamilton Whupfest I rode with Veronica a few years ago. I know the training rides are going to get steeper & longer, but this one is sort of a stake in the ground. As it were.

Here’s the trace from my gps – I forgot to start recording until a couple of miles into the ride, and the gps stopped recording partway up Mt Hamilton (it must have been reading my mind, heh heh), so it shows a few miles short. Oh well.

I’ve only ridden Mines Road once, many years ago, but never past the Del Puerto Junction. So after the Junction Cafe it was all new territory for me. Mines Road became San Antonio Valley Road which took us up the eastern side, also known as the “backside”, of Mt. Hamilton.

Well. Now I know what all the fuss is about that backside. It’s a much harder climb than the San Jose side. Presumably the road up the eastern side of the mountain was not built to accommodate horse-drawn wagons lugging telescopes to the observatory. Not to mention a middle aged slightly overweight woman on a bike equipped with a triple chainring and a dinner plate cassette. Oy. But I made it to the top, eventually – no small thanks to Coach Sarah who hung back with me. My pace still slows to a crawl when the grade goes above 6% or so, and the backside of Hamilton was at least 6%, often well above that, for over 5 miles. Gahhhhh.

But I made it to the top, eventually, and met up with the rest of my group at the summit for the return trip down. Soon after starting the descent we passed by my friends Veronica and Thom who were setting up their rest stop for DMD. I yelled out my hellos and kept going – great folks, they understood. More about DMD in a moment.

I'm (almost) never anxious on descents, at least I never used to be, but the descent down the backside of Hamilton put the fear in me. It was a combination of steep and curvy, with gravel & bumpy pavement in all the wrong places, and I needed to stop just before the cattle guard partway down to gather my wits. I even toyed with getting SAGed down the rest of the way. But after a little while I felt better and continued on.

Near the base of Hamilton, a great big jackrabbit ran alongside me for a ways. Maybe it was a jackalope. All I could think was “Pul-eeze don’t be darting into the road Mr. Jackalope!” If those big ears got tangled up in my spokes it could have been ugly.

And somewhere on Mines Rd, a deer bounded into the road in front of our paceline. It missed Susie by inches, inches I tell ya! :o

Two major organized rides were going on today along that same route – the Mt. Hamilton Challenge and the infamous Devil Mountain Double. The routes for these rides went in opposite directions; as we approached and climbed Mt Hamilton we passed the MHC riders descending and heading towards Livermore, and as we were heading back to Livermore we passed the DMD riders heading towards Mt Hamilton. Our group got lots of "go team" shoutouts, and occasionally we'd see someone we knew riding DMD or the MHC. Many of the riders were wearing jerseys from past epic studly rides -- I saw lots of DMD jerseys of course, but many Death Ride, CA Triple Crown, and TTwo jerseys (to name a few) were present & correct.

It was really lovely out on Saturday, clear and sunny, and not too warm -- especially by Mines Road standards! During the ride our group was trading stories about past rides we've done in this region when the temps were near or well into triple digits. Those of us who were on or witnessed last years' Mt. Hamilton-Sierra Road team ride (where, as Janet put it, Coach Sarah tried to kill off the entire team :D ) were especially grateful for the nice weather. The wildflowers were blooming, the streams were gurgling, the hills and pastures were a lovely green. Nice. I could have done without the bugs swarming around me as I was climbing, but hey.

The last few climbs on Mines past the junction heading back to Livermore really sucked. They don’t look like much on the elevation profile, but by the time we reached them I was pretty tired. Happily, they were over eventually, and then we reached a nice long stretch of slightly downhill grade which perked me up a lot. One thing I can say for myself, I seem to recover fairly quickly.

And the final descent into Livermore was wonderful - it helped me get my descending mojo back, and helped me forget how miserable I was about 20 miles back.

The ginormous Cadillac margarita I had afterwards at a taqueria in downtown Livermore helped even more ...
Smiley from millan.net

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Back in the Groove

I haven’t been updating this blog lately. Not for lack of things to say, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to say them out loud.

I’ve been having a really tough time with my Death Ride training this time around. My Inner Voices have been in full-on “who are you kidding” mode and getting on my case for being the slowpoke.

What was really bugging me was that, on account of my being so slow, the coach and the other people on the team who were stuck riding with me have had to start out at a stupid-early time, and continuously wait for me on the top of climbs, that sort of thing.

Well, to cut to the chase, after a particularly miserable ride last Saturday, I think I’ve finally gotten over that.

Last Saturday’s crappy ride, coincidentally (or not), was over the exact same route that I crashed on exactly a year ago, starting from Olema and heading out to the Pt Reyes Lighthouse and back by a very meandering, very scenic and very hilly route. It's a gorgeous ride, but this time around, I felt like crud from about mile 10 -- which, since it was a 68 mile ride, made for a very long day. I seriously wanted to pull out at the first SAG stop about 25 miles into the ride. Coach Sarah (filling in for Coach Peg), my mentor Maggie, and the incomparable DHK managed to find the right combination of sweet-talking and taunts to keep me going. Actually, what really did it was Sarah’s direct order: “You start my ride, you finish my ride”. Uhhhh, okay.

And it actually did get better. I’ve been noticing that on long rides I seem to get stronger over the course the ride. Well, relatively speaking. Since I was nearly at rock-bottom at mile 25 that’s not saying a whole heck of a lot, but it was enough.

Mount Vision near the end of the ride was pretty hideous, but I eventually made it to the top. I was very worried about the descent – down a steep, curvy road with bad pavement. My confidence in descending is still lacking, and this wasn’t looking good. A SAG driver (not Lee) pulled up just as I reached the top, and I asked him if I could get a lift to the bottom. Just then Coach Karen appeared, and she encouraged me to give it a try. Which I did, and it wasn’t that bad after all, although I was braking a lot and had a lovely case of crab hands to show for it by the time I finally reached the bottom. Yay for my new KoolStop brake pads, they were champs.

After Mt Vision, the only part remaining was the short, moderately steep descent down Sir Francis Drake Blvd towards Inverness. Which is where I crashed last year.

Our group was pretty much back together by then. First we passed by the clearing where I’m told the helicopter ambulance landed to take me to Santa Rosa (nope, still no memory of that). Then the descent started. Wow, the pavement WAS really chewed up there – I got a bit of perverse reassurance from that; maybe I wasn’t a total klutz! :D I was very cautious on that descent, but I wasn’t scared, I just stayed in the moment and didn’t dwell much on what happened last year. Partway down the descent we passed Kurt who had pulled off; come to find out later, he hit a pothole (they were hard to avoid) and had flatted both tires, ugh. Maggie pulled off to help him but I kept going, I wanted to be out of there.

When I reached the bottom of the hill and onto smooth pavement, and it was pretty clear I was going to finish this freakin' ride on my own power, I gave my companions a thumbs up. And then I got a bit teary-eyed. I managed to keep that under control, no way in hell was I going to crash at that point! The last few miles were blessedly uneventful, although they seemed to take forever. But I finally finished, booyah.

Here's last Saturday's ride:

Although I was very very happy to have completed that ride in one piece, I still wasn’t sure I was going to stay with the DR team. It took a bit more soul searching to finally come to terms with the fact that, yeah, I’m fairly slow, but not horrendously so, and my group members are OK with starting out early and hanging back with me. They're a super-supportive, fun bunch of people and I really enjoy riding with them (that includes DHK, but don’t tell him that, OK? He has enough of an ego already and he doesn’t need to know that he’s one of the reasons why I recommitted). So, here I am.

As it turns out, yesterday’s ride went really well for me. Oh, it was freakin’ hard, no mistake about that. I was still slower than snot, it still put the hurt on me, but I dealt with it much better. More on that later.

In the meantime, suffice to say it’s good to be back in the groove. :)