New Year’s Day 2016

Those of you on the Resolution Ride this year unfortunately had to do without Mrs. Moy’s fabulous maple scones and hot coffee at the Junction. I’m sure it would have made a big difference because it was frickin’ cold on Mt. Diablo. Rather than play hostess Mrs. Moy decided he wanted to join in the fun and cycle up too. Here’s what happened.


We didn’t go with Different Spokes this time. Instead we (sort of) went up with Grizzly Peak Cyclists, which along with Valley Spokesmen, Veloraptors, and Diablo Cyclists is yet another club which celebrates the New Year by going up our favorite local mountain. We were going to escort some cycling friends who had just moved to Oakland from Colorado and were intrigued with going up Mt. Diablo with Grizzly Peak Cyclists. In their former hometown they had a New Year’s Day Polar Bear ride. Keep in mind this is in the high country of Colorado so their ride was often in snow and took place along a bike path that was snowplowed. And it’s at altitude! So going up Diablo seemed like just the way to begin a new year. But the morning of they bailed and Roger and I ended up pretty much going it alone. Our own Stephanie Clarke was one of the Grizzly ride leaders so it was much like doing a DSSF ride except bigger…and mostly straight. I was envious that Grizzly’s New Years Day ride had four ride leaders, all of them women including their club President. Way to go, Grizzlies!

The Grizzly ride was almost the same as Different Spokes’ but started at Pleasant Hill BART rather than Walnut Creek. Grizzly Peak, being a much larger club, had the luxury of several groups doing different routes: one group started in Berkeley and rode all the way up and back; another group started at Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek and went up the north side and back (the shortest route); and the group we were with went the southern route and descended by the north, about 40 miles. Nonetheless our group was probably about 30 cyclists. It’s rare that a DSSF ride has that many participants (Mt. Hamilton last November had 33). Someone had planned a convoluted route through the back roads of Walnut Creek instead of barreling down Danville Blvd. Since most Spokers don’t ride in Contra Costa very often, zooming down Danville is a treat, but for those of us who live over here Danville Blvd. is our Tiburon Loop. So the idea of taking a ‘back road’ was appealing exactly until we got lost the second time. How this could happen with four ride leaders is beyond me but our Grizzly group already was splintered by the first wrong turn, as only part of the group turned around to find the right way. By the bathroom break at Livorna we were down to about a third of the original mass. At that point Roger and I decided we’d be better off riding on our own so we made our way through Diablo and up Southgate.

As had been the case for more than a week the arctic fronts made for brisk temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. Fortunately there was no wind and the sun was out otherwise it could have been a real sufferfest. Climbing keep us borderline warm but as soon as we stopped the intensity of the cold was immediately apparent. The rangers had recently installed a series of warning signs to increase bicycle safety, “Do not pass bicyclists on blind curves!” Although I personally have not had a problem with wayward cars in all the years I’ve climbed Diablo, I have heard enough stories of close encounters and of accidents to know that it’s a real threat. (Last New Year’s we were schmoozing at the Junction when we witnessed a cyclist and a minivan trying to occupy the same space on the road.) The rangers were out enforcing it too: I heard a siren go off and a car get pulled over by a ranger just before the Junction. At the Junction there was a crowd—everybody was going up Mt. Diablo (that is, everybody who wasn’t either going up Hamilton or doing the race up San Bruno).

We ran into Allison Stone replete as usual in pink kit. Most of you probably do not know of Allison since you don’t ride often in the East Bay—she’s a hardcore, old school tourist and is seen everywhere on her bike it seems. For many years she’s led tours for BAC including some monster tours in the Sierras and Cascades. She always wears pink and has four panniers with bright, pink covers all of the time. Years ago we were touring down Big Sur and who did we run into but Allison doing a solo tour; we could see her off in the distance—a glowing pink dot. She always goes up Mt. Diablo on New Years and fills her panniers with goodies to dispense.

We also had the pleasure of running into Bill Bushnell at the Junction. Most if not all of you don’t know Bill, a former DSSF Ride Coordinator. He’s lapsed and is now involved with Western Wheelers. For quite a while Bill’s been riding a faired recumbent and definitely adheres to the Jobst Brandt School of Cycling, doing mega-rides all over California. I rarely run into Bill these days because my riding is in contrast quite pedestrian and to boot Bill lives in the South Bay. But this morning he was escorting his recumbent club up Mt. Diablo. It was quite a sight; I rarely see recumbents going up Diablo (in fact I never had until now!) as they choose to race up and down Danville Blvd. where it’s decidedly flatter instead. We caught up on news and then bid our adieus.

Surprisingly as we closed in on the summit the temperature wasn’t dropping all that much and the wind, which was a constant 30 mph the day before, was dead calm. On the upper reaches we saw snow on the side of the road but it was otherwise clear of ice. Just days before the rangers had closed the road to the summit because of ice. I was having a not-so-great day. After not riding much this fall, at the last minute I decided to do the Rapha Festive 500 on a lark. With well more than 300 miles in my legs from the previous week, I was pretty much dead meat from the start. Slogging up a constant 6% grade was turning out to be grueling rather than inspiring. Of course that last hundred yards just below the top at 18% were the pièce de résistance and I completely groveled up it, slipping into the lowest gear I had. But we made it!

As we rolled into the parking lot we ran into the remnants of the Different Spokes group—David, Nancy, Gordon, and Ellen. It seems that the others, whoever you were, had already intelligently forsaken the top for warmer climes. Oh, and the view at the summit was near-spectacular, with no clouds in sight and bright sunshine in all directions. The Bay Bridge and Mt. Tam could be seen in the distance but I had been secretly hoping the air would be clear enough to see the snow-capped Sierras. Alas, it was not to be—a bit too hazy from all the chimney soot it appears. Roger had lugged up a thermos of hot coffee, which we relished as we were rapidly cooling down in the brisk air. If the State Park were to install a food stand and coffee hut at the top, it would be an additional revenue stream for the beleaguered park and a perfect way to cap off a mighty ascent.

The Spokers were also planning to head down Northgate so we all left together. Unless it’s one of those freak winter days when it’s in the fifties, descending Mt. Diablo on NYD is, strangely enough, the most uncomfortable part of climbing over 4,000 feet. The cold air cuts through whatever you’re wearing and exposed skin aches from the piercing chill. Sweat soaked clothing becomes a massive swamp cooler for your body. Roger and I came prepared. We each had brought an additional layer—a wind- and waterproof shell—as well as neck gaiters. Since I chill easily, I had also brought a pair of Rainlegs repurposed as “Windlegs” to keep my thighs warm. Needless to say we also had neoprene booties. A typical summer weekend day has a fair amount of car and bike traffic to and from the summit, but New Year’s really brings the crowd out. So we descended sanely keeping our speed under 25 mph (incidentally the speed limit is 20!). Both cyclists and cars were on their best behavior perhaps due to the rangers being out in force. In any case we weren’t interested in going mega-fast because it just made the chill worse. Each thousand feet of descent brought a slightly warmer temp although not pedaling much meant we were going to get cold regardless. The road has also quite noticeably slipped due to soil instability, with at least one section in immediate peril of collapsing, so it was at times a bumpy ride. That’s another reason why it’s more fun to ascend rather than descend by Northgate! In a trice we were back on the flats.

Typically the Resolution Ride descends by the north so that we can descend southward to Danville and get some grub. Unfortunately on New Year’s almost all the eateries are closed in Danville, Lunardi’s Market and Chow being the notable exceptions. Descending on Northgate allows you to enjoy the eateries at the Ygnacio Plaza Shopping Center instead. The place to go on a chilly day was A Sweet Affair Bakery, which had hot soup. Personally I was dreaming of the wonton soup and roast pork at China Village but I got outvoted. We had to ‘settle’ for hot French onion soup. Surprisingly Ygnacio Plaza had quite a few open restaurants including the Peet’s, a burger joint, High Tech Burrito, and Mountain Mike’s. I guess closing on New Year’s is yet another ‘holiday’ that is eroding away to become like any other day. I can’t remember what Nancy was eating but David and Gordon were chowing down on the Navy bean soup and some hot dip sandwiches when we left. Refreshed and warmed we were slapped in the face by the cold air exiting the bakery. But with just a few flat miles back to Pleasant Hill BART it was a piece of cake!

For those of you who think that Mt. Diablo is just a bridge too far and would not attempt to ascend it on New Year’s or any other day, we need an alternate way to inaugurate the year. Tiburon loop again? Nope, too trite. Lake Merced loop? Nope, not even a reach. We need something inspiring and challenging yet not overwhelming. Maybe Mt. San Bruno? A late start would avoid the annual race and it would give some folks a chance to wake up and get over their hangovers. Now we just need someone to lead it next year…