Ride Recap: New Year’s Day Up Diablo

Top of the morning to you!

Okay slackers and slackettes, you missed a stellar day to go up Mt. Diablo! This ride often is the chilliest club ride of the year. We’ve seen snow and ice and often strong wind in previous years but not today—the high on top was in the low 50s. The wind was mostly calm although around a few corner exposed to the north we got gusts that gave us a taste of just how awful it could be. But upon arriving at the summit there was no wind at all. Speaking of the top, there was a high overcast but the vistas were grand in every direction. The view was remarkable but not like one year when we could see the Sierras with snow. The Bay Area was spread out beneath us from the Antioch Bridge and the wind turbines in the Delta to San Francisco.

Just Stephen joined Roger H and me in tackling the Diablo climb, a small group but perhaps more determined and intrepid? I’m still trying to recover from the after effects of a broken collarbone and Stephen had a stressful 2019. Both of us are resolved for better health in the coming year. We weren’t burning up the pavement but it didn’t matter—we were doing it. At Pleasant Hill BART it definitely seemed cold but it was nowhere near frosty. We meandered through Walnut Creek backstreets before hitting North Gate Road. I’m not sure which route gets more cycling traffic, North Gate or South Gate. But North Gate is longer and cyclists therefore are more spread out. Despite being longer I prefer it because the section below the Junction with its series of switchbacks reminds me of riding in Europe. We were occasionally passed by cyclists but there wasn’t a long parade; it was practically deserted. And having almost no cars made it a safe(r) and pleasant uphill! At the Junction where cyclsts coming up North Gate meet those who’ve taken South Gate, it was a smaller confab than usual—why did it seem like the crowd was reduced? The weather was great and I would have thought it would bring out the throngs. Unlike last year the rangers didn’t give out free coffee and donuts. Darn.

After a short pitstop we continued up to the summit. That’s when the cars showed up, line after line. But we didn’t have to endure them roaring past us with blind abandon. The heavy signage warning cars not to pass on blind curves seems to be working despite the lack of rangers in sight; in the past two years it seemed enforcement was everywhere. Car drivers politely waited until we got to safe passing zones. We were also passed by a few cars with road bikes on their racks. Huh? So their interpretation of riding up Diablo on New Years was quite liberal.

At the top, the last ramp is a thigh-crunching 16% and it caps what is otherwise just a long but reasonable climb. We arrived at the summit parking lot full of cars and even more cyclists. We took the obligatory pics to prove we made it. (But maybe we rode up in one of those cars, you say?) It was shockingly warm, not tropical but not wintery at all. After a snack we piled the layers back on to fight the chill of the descent and headed down for lunch. Fortunately the descent had a lot fewer cars than the ascent and we didn’t get stuck behind any. We dallied at the top for maybe a half-hour. In that time someone had set up a coffee stand at Juniper parking lot. I didn’t see any rangers so I’m guessing it was a private party. Darn, got up too early!

David Goldsmith wasn’t with us to give us a descending lesson but we moved downhill at a brisk pace regardless. It was just before noon and a horde of latecomers were making their way uphill on bike and in car. We were wise to leave early to escape the late morning crush of New Years greeters. I thought we were on the late side but it turned out the two Grizzly Peak Cyclists groups must have been well behind us because we espied their yellow club jerseys as we whizzed by. I didn’t see Stephanie Clarke but I did spot Alison Stone, she of the bright pink front and rear panniers (surely you’ve seen her somewhere in the greater Bay Area). Stephen mentioned that he saw David Sexton and Gordon Dinsdale heading up, apparently having slept in. In a trice we were back at the Junction and took the left to go to Danville. At Rock City the lots were already full and we saw picnic tables full of people. The descent below the entrance gate is quick no matter how timid you are; the sight lines are pretty good in general and you have generous stretches of wide open road. At the bottom we took the cut-through into Diablo and didn’t experience any harassment or nasty looks from the locals.

In Danville we headed to Homegrown, which is in the old La Boulange space. Roger and Stephen both had the hot pastrami and I had a spicy tofu bowl along with a cup of their vegetarian chili. And hot coffee, of course. After that leisurely lunch we rolled back to Walnut Creek where Stephen caught BART and we continued back to the start at Pleasant Hill.

So starteth the New Year with a beautiful ride.