Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Devil Mountain Double Century

Pre-Ride Brain Boondoggling

I had no idea just what I was getting into when I put this on my calendar as an event I might want to do.  I had no idea what I was thinking when I said, “Screw it, no more toddling around, I’m just going to sign up for this thing and see what happens.”

Some great things happen when we fight through our reservations and fears and tackle the things we’re afraid of, things we think we cannot do.  This was one of those things. 

The 2013 Devil Mountain Double Century (DMD) would be my 3rd different double century, the 4th overall.  I have done the Solvang Double twice, and the Davis Double once.  Solvang and Davis are two of the easier rides on the California Triple Crown calendar, ranked #22 and #23 out of 26, and are both given a difficulty of “Medium”. 

DMD?  #2 with a difficulty of “Radically High”.  But, it’s my backyard, the closest double on the Triple Crown calendar to me.  And it goes over one of my favorite places in the whole world, Mt Hamilton.  So, I had to try it.

That was the original goal.  I’m not that great of a climber.  It’s something I work on quite a bit, but it’s still not my strong point.  I knew going into this thing that I might not finish, and that would be OK.  It was time to push myself beyond my limits again.  You have to do that every now and then to keep an eye on just where those limits are.  Life is just no fun if you never tighten the screws, let loose and do something crazy. 

So, here I went.  206 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing.  Mt Diablo, Mt Hamilton, and Sierra Road.  As well as Morgan Territory, Altamont Pass, Patterson Pass, Mines Road/Junction, Palomares and Norris Canyon Roads.  I gave myself a 50/50 chance of finishing.  

The Ride Itself

There was a pre ride meeting at 4:55am and we would all ride out at 5:00am.  OK, most would ride out at 5:00am.  The fast riders would ride out at 6:00am.  But the majority of the ride rolled out at 5:01am.  The beginning was great.  It was cold, but I warmed up quick on the way to the base of Mt Diablo. 

My how quickly things turn from great to shit. 

At mile 8.7 there’s a Stop Sign where we turn right onto Mt Diablo Scenic Blvd.  I was riding in a pack, on the inside.  We began to make the right turn, and I must have either turned early or just cut it to much, because suddenly there was a gigantic hole in front of me, and I went right through it.  I managed to keep the bike upright while cyclists around me yelled “HOLE!” and “STAY LEFT!” and “WIDE RIGHT! STAY WIDE!” 

I thought I had made it through, another cyclist riding next to me actually said he was convinced I was going down and was surprised when I saved it and kept riding.  As he finished that statement, the air from my rear tire began saying goodbye.  I pulled over with a blown rear tire before mile 9.  Of 206.  Not a great start.

Lucky for me, SAG showed up quickly and let me use a floor pump.  Unluckily for me, in the confusion of trying to change a tire at night, I didn’t get the spare tube seated correctly and it blew out.  Two tubes down.  The SAG guy let me borrow one, and as I got it ready I noticed that my rear tire itself had a gash in it from the hole.  The tire was beyond dead.  Luckily (again) SAG had an extra tire and let me use it.  I took my time setting it up, made sure it was all seated correctly, and pumped it up. 

I was on my way, but not before I wasted 25 minutes sitting at the side of the road.  That meant 2 things.  1:  I was now 25 minutes down on a ride that I already didn’t know whether I could finish.  2:  More importantly, I was 25 minutes behind the rest of the pack.  I would be riding solo from here on out, playing catch up the rest of the day.  No pack, no drafting, no encouragement.  Just me, myself, and I.

Sort of an inauspicious start to the day.  I told myself to be patient and to sit and spin comfortably up Mt Diablo, which started pretty much right away.  Once I got going, I started to feel better.

At the top, I lost even more time due to a recumbent rider with a broken chain.  I had a chain tool, and of course I let him use it.  I filled my bottles, used the bathroom, got a stretch, and he still wasn’t done.  Another 15 minutes gone.  That put me 40-45 minutes behind my goal and the pack.

I suddenly had a new goal:  Time to suck it up and play catch up.  There are two cutoff points for this ride:  You have to leave Rest Stop 3 (mile 91) by 1:00, and Lunch (mile 116) by 4:30.  My goal was to make it to Rest Stop 3 in time.  It was time to push.  Hard.

The descent down Mt Diablo would be a lot better without the speed limit, I had to ride the brakes hard to keep it below 25.  But once I got to the bottom, it was time to open it up. 

Morgan Territory was pretty tough, but I was able to push through and even start passing some people.  Then we had some flat roads before Altamont and Patterson Passes.

Altamont was AWESOME.  A nice little tailwind let me do it wide open, climbing at close to 20mph.  That felt great. 

Patterson Pass was next.  Tough one, but not too long.  Now I was really catching and passing folks.  It was starting to get hot, and the little end bit at 15%+ gradient didn’t help.  But I made it over and then BOMBED the descent.  I was greeted with more flat roads at the bottom, which I can cruise pretty well on, before turning onto Mines Road and beginning the long trek up to Mt Hamilton.  But first, Rest Stop 3!  I MADE IT!  Quick refill, quick snack, and I rolled out at 12:35.  Still more work to do, it was time to continue my game of leap frog.

Mines Road was great.  Lots of climbing, some descending, but fairly consistent, right up my alley.  Also hot.  No problem, just keep cranking.  Made up a lot of time here, passed a LOT of people.  Got to lunch, which was at Junction (Mt Hamilton fans, you know…) in plenty of time.  Now it was time to start heading up the mountain.  Sit and spin, you can make it.

There was a mini stop somewhere in here, and I started noticing the same riders resting.  I had found the riders at my level.  Now the only question was, just how far was I going to go today?  Was I really going to attempt Sierra Road at mile 150, after 15,000 feet of climbing already?  At that moment, my answer was no, my new goal would be to make it over Hamilton to the next Rest Stop at Crothers Road and reassess my goals. 

At the top of Hamilton I met a guy that I had been riding with on and off for probably 20-30 miles.  Jason.  He was thinking the same thing, about probably not finishing, and about rethinking his goals at the Crothers Road Rest Stop. 

So, we started our descent down Hamilton.  I figured this very well might be the last leg of this ride, so I would enjoy it.  We made it to Crothers Road at around 6:30.  Had some Cup-O-Noodles, V8, and a Coke.  Jason and I made the decision to keep pushing, and if we rode together, pushing each other and supporting each other, we might stand a chance of finishing. 

Of course, the next major hurdle was Sierra Road.  Whoever planned out Sierra Road, I have some questions for you:  Mainly, why the hell did you run it STRAIGHT up the side of the mountain?  Yeah, that hurt.  But we got to the top where the next rest stop was at 8:15.  With 47 miles to go, we knew it would be at night.  And it would be quite a while.

Lights went on, the vest went back on, and we started pushing.

This portion of the ride was what I can only describe as “terrifying”.  I’m not a fan of riding at night, especially back country roads with lots of tree cover.  It was PITCH BLACK out on Calaveras, luckily Jason and I road together.  I guarantee, without a doubt, if he had not been there I would not have attempted that road.  Not a chance. 

But I did, and we pushed through and made it to the Sunol Train Station Rest Stop.  They had chili dogs.  And hot tea.  Yeah, we chilled here for a bit. 

27 miles to go.  Niles Canyon Road, Palomares Road, Crow Canyon Road, Norris Canyon Road.  All had some climbing, all at night.  Some was nice, through towns, with street lights.  When I say “some”, I mean almost none.  The vast majority was out on country roads.  But, Jason and I kept pushing.  We were patient, took it easy, and just kept cranking.

Then it happened.  His light was dimming and going out, so he turned it off up one of the climbs and we road side by side to save what battery it had left.  I turned my light up to full power, which I now know was a mistake.  It went out.  It shut off like, well, like a light switch.

Now, I have to tell you about a bit of luck.  I read somewhere that lots of riders used a high powered light for full darkness, but for dawn and dusk they would use a cheaper, weaker light that lasted much longer.  I almost didn’t put it on that morning, but at the last second I figured, meh, I’ll pop it on and see.  So, I had my powerful, expensive, super nice light AND my old, cheap, AAA powered light that lasted dozens of hours.  It sucked, but it gave us something to get through.  His light fading fast, my light illuminating a small circle of road in front of me.  10ish miles to go.

We took a small break right before the last climb up Norris Canyon Road, and while we chatted on the side of the road, my Garmin Edge 500 finally died.  Well, it made it longer than it should have.  It was rated for 16 hours of battery life, it made it over 18.5.  But, with under 6 miles to go, it was dead.  All of our electronics were failing us. 

But, we were pretty much there.  Once we were over that last hill, it was a short, straight, bomb down into San Ramon and back to the San Ramon Marriott. 

I couldn’t believe it.  A ride I gave myself a 50/50 chance of completing before I started, loosing 25 minutes to a botched road side repair, 15 more to helping another rider with his chain, not being a strong climber, having my light go out on a pitch black country road.  All the problems I ran into seemed to be matched by some good luck, perseverance, the will to finish at any cost, and a cat named Jason Mills. 

If it wasn’t for him, there is no way I would have finished.  And vice versa.  We pushed each other, helped each other through our bad luck and benefited from each others good luck. 

We pulled in to the San Ramon Marriott to finish the ride at 12:14am.  I was freezing, I was tired, everything hurt.  My legs were screaming at me, my feet throbbed, my back hurt, my neck was sore.  I was cold in that way that feels like you will never defrost again.  Chilled to the bone. 

None of that mattered, I felt like I floated down the hall into the victory dinner room.  Lasagna.  Salad.  And a big bottle of orange juice.  I think it was orange juice.  Whatever it was, it tasted glorious.  It tasted like success.  I was too tired and sore to really realize what I had just been through, but I knew that I had finished, and that is all that mattered.  I did it.  I was done.  I had made it all the way back.

Now I know where my limit is.  Now I know that I can push myself to that next level.  I think I’ll leave it here for a while.  But, eventually, I’ll have to push that point again.

Just how and with what, I don’t know.  Some day I’ll have to figure that out.

For now, my next ride is in 3 weeks on May 18th.  The Davis Double Century.  If I finish it, I will have completed my first California Triple Crown.  But for the moment, I will continue to relish my current success.  And maybe go lay down again.

I still hurt.  All over.

Now for numbers.  My Garmin died with about 6 miles to go, but I mapped those 6 miles into MapMyRide to estimate what I missed and to get the full picture.


201.4 Miles
19,153 feet climbing
8,175 calories
18:36:37 total time

Garmin + MapMyRide:
207.2 Miles
19,658 feet climbing
19:13:00 (have to wait for organizers to release official finishing times)

Or, just view the whole Strava Report.

Time to go lay down. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013


"Do one thing every day that scares you."

 Eleanor Roosevelt.  Smart lady.

It’s been a long time since I was genuinely afraid of an upcoming bike ride. 

The first time I road around Lake Tahoe, in 1997 or 1998, was one of them.  I had never ridden more than 50 miles, and the Lake Tahoe ride was 79 miles at 6,000+ feet elevation.  Oh yeah, I did that on a mountain bike with mountain bike gearing, knobby tires, the whole deal.  Took me almost 10 hours, but I finished.  I remember having 20 or so miles to go sitting in a carport at Harvey’s Casino in Stateline hardly able to stand.  I pushed through and made it back to the campsite, sat in a chair and did not move for hours.

I really had no idea what I was doing that day.  I remember riding with baggy shorts, a tee shirt, a regular backpack overloaded with water, way too much food, a change of clothes, cold weather gear, I had everything.  For a 79 mile ride.  I brought an MRE for lunch.  Tuna casserole.  With pound cake. 

Wow, the things I learned on that ride… 

The next was the first time I did AIDS/Lifecycle in 2009.  Not so much for the miles, but just because I didn’t know what to expect.  I was riding in a 7 day tour alone, not knowing a single other person there.  I did get some great advice from friends that had ridden the event before, and that helped a huge amount, so I made it through that week surprisingly easily.

Next was my first double century, last year’s Solvang DC.  Again, I had no idea what to expect, and again, I was taking part alone.  I had upped my training the year before and had a great year, so I wanted to stretch into that next distance level.  At the time my long ride was 180 (2 laps around Lake Tahoe, with a kicker out to Truckeeand back) but it would still be a looooong day.  And I knew that the weather was not going to cooperate.  A15-20 mph headwind for 60+ miles on the second half of the ride was going to be the death of me, I just knew it.  Again, it was a long day, but I made it.

Fast forward to right now.  The Devil Mountain Double Century is in two days.  206 miles with 21,000+ feet of climbing.  The distance I have done, but that is more than twice the amount I have climbed in one ride.  Last year’s Davis Double Century had 9,500+ feet of climbing over 202 miles, and my South San Jose to Santa Cruz ride has around 9,000 over only 135 miles.  But 21,000?

For the first time in a very long time, I am starting a ride in which I don’t know if I will finish.  My training has been great, I have been climbing better than I ever have the last couple months, breaking old personal records on all kinds of local climbs.

But seriously, 21,000. 

Mt Diablo, Mt Hamilton, and Sierra Road. 

I’ve done everything in my power to be ready for this event.  My training has been great, much smarter than years past.  I have everything I need.  I’ve done everything I can to prepare.  I know what to do to get going, and I am confident enough in my abilities and what they contribute on the ride itself that I have some decisions I will make on the road, and I am OK with that. 

I think I know what I’m doing, even though in reality I know I don’t.

So, it’s time again to push myself beyond previous limits.  Hopefully in a few years I will have other mind blowing distances that I will be preparing for.  Distances that seem crazy and impossible now, that will scare me when they get closer, but will all be part of the natural evolution and development of an endurance cyclist.

After all, if you told me in 1997 after that 79 mile ride around Lake Tahoe that felt like it damn near killed me, that I would be riding in a 7 day, 545 mile bike tour that I now considered “easy”, not to mention multiple double centuries per year, I would have said you are crazy.

Two days.  In two days I will be on the bike, probably already suffering.  And in for a LONG day.  

I can't wait!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

How Not To Draft A Stranger

I’m shy. 

Certainly quite the introvert. 

To be perfectly honest, sometimes I find myself doing things the hard way or going the long way around simply so that I don’t have to interact with someone else.  For example, I will put myself in more pain on bike rides by staying solo rather then asking someone if it’s OK to take a draft.  Or worse yet, when it comes time to pass, I will turn myself inside out to get a bit of a distance ahead of them so they don’t tag along with me, “joining in” on my ride.

I’ve always been like that.  Nothing wrong with it, I actually prefer it that way.  I’m happier sometimes by myself then with people. 

On my ride yesterday, as I was heading up Highway 9 between Los Gatos and Saratoga, I caught up to an older gentlemen on a really nice bike.  I didn’t want to bother him, so I hung back 20 yards or so in order to not bother him and stay out of his draft.

After abut a mile and a half, I wanted to pick it up and get going, so I accelerated, called out, “On your left!”, and made my pass.  Another mile or so up the road, I felt a hand on my left shoulder.  It scared the crap out of me since he didn’t call out and grabbed me with no warning, which damn near put us both on the ground (no crash thanks to my bike handling skills from my mountain bike roots), and yelled, “When someone is right behind you, it’s not polite to empty your nose on them.”  Before I could even think of a response he gave me a (probably friendly) push forward and disappeared behind me.

OK, yes, I did it.  I am the king of snot rockets.  I can hit a sign post 10 feet off the road at 30 miles per hour.  I might send off a couple hundred on a single ride.  Gross habit?  Yes.  Necessary?  No.  Fun?  Absolutely.  And it is my fault that I did it without checking to make sure the coast was clear.  I do the same thing when I moo at cows.  I always check to see if the coast is clear after I have already made a fool of myself.


Cyclists, if you are going to draft someone, especially a stranger you don’t know, have never seen before, and will more than likely never see again, it’s common courtesy to ask them if it’s OK to take a draft.  Or, at the very least, let them know you’re there.  It’s a safety thing, first off.  I will ride differently knowing there is someone inches from my back tire.  I will ride more defensively, I will call out road hazards, I will brake earlier, I will give more space around hazards and obstacles knowing there is someone behind me that can’t see them.

If you don’t let me know you’re that close, do NOT assume I will just know.  Moving at 25+ miles per hour I can’t hear much else besides wind noise, and I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.  You have to tell me if you want me to know.

If you don’t care whether I know you are there or not, you don’t get to get mad when a snot rocket leaves my nose and sprays you in the face.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

AIDS/Lifecycle Fundraising Letter #6

AIDS/Lifecycle Fundraising Letter #6

Hey all, quick one today.  I am VERY close to my minimum fundraising goal of $3,000, and there is a challenge the folks at AIDS/Lifecycle are running this week:  Raise $500 between April 1st, and 11:59PM, April 5th, and I get a pair of ALC12 socks!  (I really need new socks…)  At the moment, I have $275 more to raise and I’m there! 

Of course, my personal goal is still $5,000 by June 1st, which gives me a little more than 8 weeks left to reach.  Only 8 weeks to go and I will be getting on my bike with 2,500 other riders and 500 volunteers and riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  All in the name of doing what we can to eliminate HIV/AIDS.

That’s where you come in.  If you have already donated, thank you so very much.  If you have been waiting for the right time, now would be one of them!  Any amount helps save lives, be it $5, $50, or $500.  Anything you can spare goes directly to HIV/AIDS research, support, education and awareness. 

Just click this link to go to my personal fundraising page, and from there click “Donate to support Erik!”  Or, better yet, forward this message to anyone you think might be interested in this cause.  The more people we can get the word out to, the better!

Again, any amount you can spare would be greatly appreciated, not only by folks that depend on it for their very survival, but also every one of us.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all effected by this pandemic, which is why we say, “We'll keep riding until AIDS and HIV are a thing of the past!”

Thank you in advance for you support, however you choose to do so.  Thanks!

Rider # 3492

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 Solvang Double Century

On Friday, March 22nd, I pulled into Solvang early and got to see some great old friends, hang out in a neat little town, eatwonderful pastries, got horrible service and ate quite possibly the worst Mac and Cheese I’ve ever had at Firestone Walker Brewery.  And then crashed early.

The next day, Saturday, March 23rd, was the Solvang Double Century.  I had much less training time and miles under my belt, so I was really unsure how it would all turn out, but I did know one thing:  The weather was better.  Sunny in the 70’s and 80’s, a strong wind going the right way this year.  I was planning on beating my time from last year by a bit, but I wasn’t sure how much.

I started a bit later, I figured since the wind and weather was much better than last year, that I would do it a bit quicker, so I planned on rolling out at 6:00 instead of last year’s 5:15.  Of course, paranoid on being late to anything like I am (damn musician’s mind) I set alarm clocks like crazy.  A wake up call, six alarms on my phone and four more on my tablet.  Eleven alarm clocks. 

And when did I wake up?  Seven minutes before the first alarm went off.  So, I was up and eating early, which is fine, I told myself I would take my time getting ready.  Apparently I didn’t listen to myself, because I was ready to roll at 5:10.  So, I chilled for a bit, got bored, and took off.  My hotel (Pea Soup Andersen’s, I highly recommend) was a bit less than a mile from the start line, so I headed out, made some adjustments to my light and everything I was carrying, and went through the timing gate at 5:37 AM. 

I started the ride about ten to fifteen minutes later than last year, but my goal remained the same:  At all costs, no matter what, I would finish before the sun went down.  Last year I didn’t, and that was the worst part about the ride.  So this year, I would be done before sundown.  Goal set.

The first leg, the first forty-ish miles, was great.  A bit of steady climbing, what I’m good at, and long trains defined the start.  I got into a good pace line early, and we cranked all the way to the first rest stop.  There were anywhere between five and twenty people in it, and the bulk of the work was done by four or five people, me being one of them.  That was fun, sitting at the front of a pace line cranking away, doing 25+ mph knowing I was pulling people along with me.  Fun stuff.  When we pulled into the first rest stop, one guy walked up to me and said, “I can’t believe how strong you guys are!”  That’s right, stroke the ego.

However, I made my first mistake of the day soon after that at rest stop one.  Water/Hammer refill, quick stretch, update Facebook, and out.  ¼ mile down the road my body decided it had to pee.  Now.  So I turned back knowing the next rest stop would be a couple hours away.  The line for the Porta-Johns took about 20 minutes, which really bit into my total time.  Lesson learned for next year.

After the first rest stop, I was riding solo for much of the rest of the day.  Fine by me, that’s how I train, so that’s how I’m comfortable.  I spent much of the day spotting other riders up the road and seeing if I could catch them.  Most of the time I did, I only got passed a few times, which felt good.  The legs were definitely on that day.

Between the first rest stop and lunch (and a bit after), we dealt with on and off headwinds, sometimes as strong as forcing me down onto the aero bars and cranking as hard as I could to keep 10 mph.  Once we hit lunch, it was crazy tailwinds all the way to rest stop five.  At times I was all by myself, no drafting, doing 30 mph in the flats. 

After rest stop five we started getting to the hills heading back into Solvang, but before we got to them we hit a private road that was not maintained.  Actually, that’s not true.  It clearly was maintained, there were piles of asphalt all over the place, I’m assuming to fill potholes and cracks, but leaving the opposite.  It felt like cobbles, quite painful.  So, I saw a group of riders about ¼ to ½ mile ahead of me, and imagined myself as Tom Boonen and started to kill it to catch them.  I eventually did, right as we started to hit the hills. 

The hills towards the end of the Solvang Double Century are SO MUCH easier in daylight!  I was able to push pretty hard climbing up, passing several people, and since I could actually see, I was able to really open up on the descent. 

I rolled back through the timing gate at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton at 6:30 PM, at least a full hour before the sun went down!  Goal achieved!  I shaved a full hour and a half off last year’s time, finished in daylight, and was back at my hotel, showered and looking for dinner before night. Which of course was at the Pea Soup Andersen's restaurant.  Couldn't come all the way down and not get some of that yummy soup! 

Overall, an incredible day.  The legs felt great, I was still able to push quite a bit in the flats and hills at the end, and my post ride soreness was nowhere near what it was last year.  So overall, the 2013 SolvangDouble Century was quite a success.  Numbers:

Start Time: 5:37:05 AM
End Time: 6:31:50 PM
Total Time: 12:54:45
Moving Time: 11:30:30
Miles: 201.1
Feet Climbed: 7,614 feet
Calories: 7,184

Next year’s goal:  Close down that gap between total time and moving time.  Much of that was the Porta-John delay at rest stop one, but I should be able to shave a bit off at every rest stop and finish in under 12 hours total next year.  GOAL SET.

A couple days later I signed up for the Devil MountainDouble, a 200 mile ride on Saturday April 27th, starting and ending in San Ramon, with around 20,000 feet of climbing, going over Mt Diablo, Mt Hamilton, and at mile 150, Sierra Road.  Time to work on the climbing legs!

And, as I write this, I got a confirmation email from the good folks at Devil Mountain Double confirming my registration.  I’m in.  I really, really, really, really, really, really, need to start working on climbing.  This ride is going to hurt.  A lot.  IAt this point, I honestly don’t know if I will finish.

But the challenge is part of the fun!