I don’t really recall how it all started. Maybe it was a suggestion from Jerome. Or a way to defy impending mid life. Perhaps I was just curious if I could physically and mentally deal with riding my Serotta all day to the tune of 200 miles and complete a double century without killing myself. Of course, it could also be that I get to see guys with great legs and asses all day too. Whatever the reason, I did my first DC in
2007 at the Solvang spring event. I proceeded to do two more last year, the Davis Double in May and August’s Mt. Tam Double. For completing this trifecta of rides, I earned the right to wear the Triple Crown jersey with its coveted California bear flag logo.
What surprised me about the DCs I did was how much I enjoyed them. There is a certain exhilaration in covering that much ground, seeing that much beautiful scenery and driving yourself close to physical exhaustion in the name of a single day’s recreation. I enjoy a good challenge, and with the amount of riding I have been doing, I find it just takes more effort to get a peak endorphin release. Call me an addict – I do double centuries to get a fix and because I can.
Yes, depending on which bib I am wearing, my butt may get a little sore, but I’ve actually found my feet bother me more from riding that long. Aside from that, I have been very fortunate in how little I have to complain about physically after finishing these rides, especially considering how little I stretch. I can honestly say, I haven’t gotten bored and I generally feel better toward the finish than I do at the 100-150 mile point.
Three card poker and butter cookies
The last weekend in March was cool and partly cloudy when I left for the 5 hour drive down 101 to the adorable little Danish-themed hamlet of Solvang. I arrived late in the afternoon, before Jerome and before registration opened. Since I had already walked around and admired the faux Scandinavian architecture last year, I decided to kill time at the Chumash Indian casino just outside of town. The place was kinda quiet when I got there, before the locals came out in search of a weekend night’s thrill.
I sat down to play three card poker for an hour or so. I am no big spender, so my $5 and $10 bets paled in comparison to the guy who breezed by with a group of friends and plunked down $300 on one hand. The first time he did this he lost, but nonplused, he came back a second time and won his money back and more with a three card straight flush. Emboldened, I increased my bet to $20 and promptly won $600 myself with three kings (gotta love those 30 to 1 odds). In about half an hour, I won a similar amount with another three of a kind. It was obvious this was going to be a good weekend! I rewarded myself with (yet another) bike jersey and some Danish butter cookies and checked in for the ride.
The Solvang DC is a relatively easy double with only about 8,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the entire ride. It starts in Solvang before sunrise (I started about 6am) and makes a large counter-clockwise loop though the beautiful Santa Ynez wine growing region, then up towards San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, which is the turnaround point.
Stretches of this ride are a little dull, and while I never get truly bored riding, I did resort to listening to my Ipod for a few hours, typically to high bpm dance or electronic rock on the long, flat stretches. I find I often pass solo riders and get passed by the occasional pace line (I am still not a big fan of riding in them). The winds heading toward the coast were a challenge, but once at Morro Bay, we were rewarded with a nice tailwind and a ride back down the coast to Pismo Beach, Guadalupe and Santa Maria that will make those who have done the ALC smile.
Recovery ride? No let’s go wine tasting
Jerome and I both had successful rides. Last year, I got a flat tire in the fields north of Guadalupe. Having a flat on a DC is really a drag when you need nearly all the daylight you can get. I was pleased that the five doubles I have done since have been free of mechanical issues.
To celebrate our accomplishment and my Chumash winnings from Friday, I treated Jerome (who has done more than twice as many doubles as me) to a steak dinner at the casino and taught him how to play three card poker. Beginners luck kicked in and Jerome won several hundred dollars at the game too. Flush with cash ($100 bills make me nervous) we recreated the movie Sideways on Sunday and bought a few cases of the area’s best Viogniers, Pinots and Syrahs.
On the drive back to the Bay Area, Jerome planted the bug in my ear about doing the Devil Mountain Double. I gotta admit I had looked at the DMD website, and even I was intimidated by the ominous tone of the difficulty and rigorous pace of the ride. After a week or so though, I figured I’d give it a try, so I registered for the ride and also made reservations for two nights at the San Ramon Marriott. Seems silly to stay at a hotel so close to home, but when you have a 4am wakeup call and plan on arriving back very tired and well after dark, who wants to drive back to the City?
Sunrise over Diablo
Compared to the Solvang DC which has nearly 500 participants, the DMD is a small event. A group called Quack Cyclists puts on this ride and they do a spectacular job. I’ve never felt so pampered on an organized ride before (except maybe for the massage tent at ALC). It was surreal to see riders filing out of their hotel rooms and down the corridor to the elevator bank before the 5am mass start.
The ride started with the 150 or so riders riding through the streets of San Ramon and Blackhawk to the base of Mount Diablo. There is something quite peaceful about riding in the dark, but before we had finished more than a few miles of the ascent up of the south approach, we were greeted by sunrise over the East Bay foothills. It was perfectly clear and the day promised to be a very warm one for late April.
Ten Advil and a bottle of Endurolytes please
The Devil Mountain Double may well be the toughest single day ride in California. In 206 miles, it climbs Mt. Diablo, Morgan Territory, Altamont Pass, Mt. Hamilton, Sierra Road, Palomares Canyon and Norris Canyon. That’s nearly 20,000 feet of climbing in one day. For comparison, the well-marketed Death Ride is a measly 125 miles with only 15,000 feet of climbing.
The wind gods were smiling on us, as we did not face strong headwinds though Livermore and had a nice tail wind on the long grinding ascent up Mines Road and to our lunch stop at the Junction Café. This place is really more of a dive bar / motorcycle hangout in the middle of nowhere, but they do serve burgers, fries and cold drinks. I had met the owner while playing cards in Tahoe before last summer’s Death Ride, so I say hi to her every time I stop by.
I thoroughly enjoyed the burger, potato salad and several cans of V8 (salt is an endurance rider’s best friend) at lunch as well as a few Advils and more Endurolytes. I like to think of it as better riding through chemistry. I probably overdid it on the ibuprofen though, ingesting something like ten of them throughout the day. I thought of this as I lay in bed Sunday morning and couldn’t feel my feet…
The best lemonade ever!
The Junction stop was the second of two time cutoffs for the DMD. Participants needed to be at that point by 4pm at mile 115 of the ride in order to continue. I was merrily on my way up the backside of Mt. Hamilton around 2:30 for the rest of the ascent up to the 4,200 foot summit. The last five miles were an incredible grind. By this time, it was hot, I am sure well into the 90s and the average grade for the last five miles is around 8%, with several sections much higher.
There were actually two or three times I needed to get off my bike in the shade just to rest for a few minutes. After the longest hour of the day, I arrived at the rest stop just before the summit and enjoyed several juice boxes of Trader Joe’s all natural lemonade before the long, satisfying descent down Hamilton to San Jose.
After another rest stop, our final big test of the day loomed: the three-mile climb up the way steep Sierra Road. This one has small stretches of pavement that exceed 20% grade and an average over 10%. By this time (155 miles into the ride), the riders were scattered far apart. In fact, I only saw around five riders the whole second half of the ride. I arrived at the top of Sierra after 6pm, with the temperatures finally falling a little bit. This rest stop, called “pet the goat” featured its own mini petting zoo along with hot cups of noodles, a common feature at the later rest stops on double centuries for its combination of carbs, salt and warmth.
With the last big challenge out of the way, completing the DMD was just a matter of time and cranking out another fifty miles. Energized, I sailed through the scenic Calaveras Reservoir area and on toward the last rest stop at the Sunol train station, arriving there just as the sun set at 8pm. I was feeling good and didn’t even get off my bike before pressing on.
Palomares after dark
The whole section between San Jose and Castro Valley is another of my favorite riding areas. Niles Canyon, despite its narrow shoulder, is an enjoyable and fast ride and the climb up Palomares is truly a favorite of mine. I have done it so many times, I felt very comfortable riding it in the dark. My headlight provided a sufficient beam of light, but I was curious what kind of wildlife was peering out at me from just beyond the road surface. I thought of the DSSF group ride we did several years ago which had more than five flats in this area. The idea of trying to change a flat in the dark was a bit unnerving. Please god, I thought, no flat tires tonight!
After the descent of Palomares, it was up and over Niles Canyon and back to San Ramon for the finish of this epic ride. I was pleased to finish before 10pm, less than 17 hours after the mass 5am start. My average speed was just under 14 mph and I was very happy to place in the top 1/3 of those who started and 52nd among the 112 riders who finished. After enjoying a plate of pasta and collecting (another) jersey, it was off to shower and bed.
The hotter than 100 200
My third DC for the spring was the Davis Double on May 24th. I was interested in doing this ride again because last year the route was changed the morning of the ride due to a brush fire and, instead of a loop, it was an out and back. Instead of fires this year, we just had incredible heat. When I arrived in the wonderful college town and bike friendly city of Davis on Friday evening, it was still well into the 90s, and I was ecstatic to sleep in a room that felt like a refrigerated box for the evening after several days of Bay Area heat wave. I was on my own for this ride-if you can believe it, Jerome had something else to do besides biking-his San Francisco French acting debut.
Saturday was an extraordinarily hot day, with temperatures topping out at 102 along the route. The ride was well supported, with ten rest stops, but I still decided to wear my Camelback in order to make sure I could stay hydrated. I have never had so much to drink on a ride before! Due to the excessive conditions, I was careful to keep my heart rate below 150 on the steep parts of the climbs and focused less on my speed and more on just trying to staying cool. The Davis DC is the most popular double, with over 725 participants this year, but on this day, there were many riders who sagged and did not finish.
Five miles of butterflies
The Davis DC is actually a beautiful ride, once you get through the fast (averaging over 20 mph) first forty flat miles of agricultural fields and into the foothills at the border of Solano and Napa counties. We were on the first serious climb of the day, well before 8am, toward Monticello Dam and our second rest stop (I skipped the first one – the only one I skipped all day).
There, just after the Napa County sign, I was greeted by a most unusual riding experience-five miles of dense monarch butterflies. When I say dense, I mean it – think The Birds but with smaller creatures with gossamer wings. Let me tell you – butterflies sting when you hit them going downhill at 30 mph. Still, this was preferable to the swarms of gnats encountered on last year’s Mt. Hamilton Challenge or the numerous tarantulas crossing the road on David Gaus’ autumnal Quen Sabe rides.
After skirting around Lake Berryessa, we headed northwest to Middletown and Clearlake. This stretch featured the toughest climb of the day, the steep ascent up Cobb Mountain, with 2,000 feet of climbing in just five miles. Triple chain ring time on this hot day! After an enjoyable rest stop featuring Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits, it was time for a little more climbing and then a wonderful descent down to our lunch in Clearlake. While I was able to eat a bit during lunch, for the most part, the day was so hot that it was difficult to stomach food, so most of my calories came from Perpetuem, fresh fruit, sodas and V8s.
Stretches of the Davis DC reminded me of rides I have done in Colorado – long, straight stretches of well-paved descents. I maxed out at over 50 mph on one of them. The scenery in Napa, Lake and Colusa Counties on this ride is spectacular and I look forward to creating a group ride out of part of it that is less than 80 miles long.
Ice ice baby to go
Happily the 9,000 feet of climbing on the Davis DC is concentrated in the middle and pretty much over after Resurrection. While it was relatively speedy ride (17.1 mph) for me, the hot air currents definitely were a drag on my time. At the final two rest stops, I enjoyed several more cold hose downs and even rode the last 25 miles with only my bib on. Not only was it cooler to ride in the late afternoon that way, it also helped to blend those sharp farmer tan lines.
So when friends ask me what I’ve been up to lately, I guess the correct answer is a lot of biking. In the space of two months since mid-March, I’ve done 15 rides and more than 1,500 miles of biking, including three centuries, three double metrics and three doubles in that time. Maybe this year I have over-trained for ALC…