I remember a few short years ago when the Devil Mountain Double (DMD) was a ride that I considered much too hard for me to complete. It has 18,600ft of climbing in 206 miles, and climbs up Mt. Diablo, Morgan Territory, Patterson Pass, Mines Road, the back side of Mt. Hamilton, Sierra Road, Palomares Road, and Norris Canyon – not a feat for the faint of heart!! I volunteered at the ride in 2007 and 2008, and then rode it for the first time in 2009, and again in 2010. It was every bit as difficult as I expected, but I was thrilled to get through it the first time that I rode it. The Quack Cyclists who organize the ride do an amazing job of support, and you’re well taken care of out there. Volunteering for the Quacks is a great experience too though, and it’s nice to be able to “give back” a bit to the sport. After doing the staff ride for the Knoxville Double (another Quack ride) last year and seeing what a great job they do with their staff ride, I decided to volunteer at DMD and ride the staff ride this year.
So on April 23rd I found myself up at the ridiculously early hour of 3:30am so that I could drive to San Ramon for the start of the DMD staff ride. The weather was forecast to be perfect – not too hot, not too cold (this ride can turn very miserable very quickly at either end of the temperature spectrum). There was a small group at the start (including some familiar faces – Kitty, Scott, Doug, another Joan), and we headed out at 5:30am. I wore a camelback backpack with some extra supplies, and I was riding my new white Specialized Ruby frame which I’d only ridden for the first time the week previous on a 100 mile training ride out to the coast and back. I was also still in the process of breaking in my newer pair of Specialized S-works shoes. What better way to christen my new equipment than to test it against the Devil!!
The first climb of the day is Mt. Diablo, and climbing it just after sunrise offers some nice views of the surrounding area. Mt. Diablo climbs over 3,100ft in just over 10 miles and has an average gradient of about 6.6%. My legs didn’t feel super “fresh” though, and it didn’t take long and my lower back started to bother me. When the first climb of a ride like this hurts, you know it’s going to be a long day….! I was about the 3rd or 4th rider to the summit (arriving completely winded since the last couple hundred yards are a ridiculously steep gradient of about 20% or something!). After catching my breath I started on the descent and got to see the other riders who were behind me still making their way to the summit. It was fairly chilly up at that elevation, and the wind was blowing a little bit, but not too badly. There was a rest stop at the bottom of the climb, and lots of smiling and helpful volunteers – I felt totally spoiled given that this was the staff ride!
Next up was the climb up Morgan Territory. I tried to stretch out my back while I was riding, and figured out that I was tensing up my shoulders with the backpack on, and that if I tried to relax my shoulders more my back didn’t feel as tight. The climb up Morgan Territory isn’t super steep (except for a couple sections nearer the top), and it was really beautiful with all the greenery and wild flowers. When I reached the top I took a few minutes to stretch out my back while restocking at the rest stop. At this point I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the rest of the ride and the MANY climbs that were still to come. I decided though that I wasn’t going to think any further ahead than the next climb/rest-stop. If I just focused on one section at a time, hopefully it would seem less daunting. I also started thinking of bailout options – I wanted to at least try and get over Mt. Hamilton, as then I could always call Mike to come and pick me up if my back was completely miserable. I finally left the rest stop and descended down towards Livermore. Unfortunately I got stuck behind some slow traffic on the descent, so ended up having to ride the brakes most of the way down.
Next up was Patterson Pass, which is a moderate climb (it gains about 1,000ft in 3.75 miles with an average gradient of about 6.3%). Last year when I did this ride there were head winds on Patterson, but this year it was very calm. There are a lot of windmills in the area, but none of them were moving – I was very happy about this! The very top of Patterson Pass is quite steep, but it’s only for a short section, and then you get to descend back down towards Livermore again and head over to Mines Road.
At the base of Mines Road where Lake Del Valle road splits off there was another rest stop. Here I had some V8 (for the sodium) and Mountain Dew (for the caffeine and a bit of a pick-me-up). I headed out again, and part way up the steeper climb just past the rest stop I saw Becky “The Princess” Berka heading down Mines Road. It’s always nice to see a friendly face out there! The climb up Mines Road always feels tougher than it should – although I guess it does come almost 100 miles into an already difficult ride. Finally I got beyond the steep section and into the flatter rolling section. It was a very pretty ride, and I saw a lot of cyclists heading in the opposite direction. One of them was Nicholas Rice-McDonald, a rider we know who’s done a lot of doubles and ultras, and who is training for Race Across America this year. On the flatter section of Mines Road I started to get a bit sleepy, so I was definitely looking forward to getting to the Junction and getting some caffeine. The weather was nice and cool, but I started to worry about rain since it was rather misty and looked like there was a potential for rain. A couple times I felt a few drops, but it never eventuated into anything more.
When I got to the Junction there were 3 other riders there who’d arrived before me. I was greeted by a volunteer who said I could order whatever food I wanted for lunch. The BBQ pulled pork sandwich was supposedly the “quickest”, so I ordered that (not wanting to waste too much time sitting around as the hours of remaining daylight dwindled). My sandwich arrived quickly, and I scarfed it down. I had a Mountain Dew, filled my water bottles, and was then on my way again, leaving before the other riders. After the Junction there are some rollers, as well as a couple of short steepish climbs. I finally reached the base of the back side of Mt. Hamilton, and immediately found myself in my easiest gear in “survival mode” trudging up the 6 mile climb which averages about 8.4% as it climbs over 2,200ft. Near the bottom of the climb 2 of the riders whom I’d overtaken at the Junction during lunch caught up to and passed me. We chatted briefly, and then I told them to go on ahead and “flatten out this mountain for me!”. I was still concerned about rain, as there looked to be some ominous clouds in the area, and it certainly wasn’t very warm. Near the top of the climb a car passed me and I realized it was Kat and Burn. I’ve met and ridden with Burn on several doubles, and Kat is usually driving SAG. He’s a real inspiration as he rides despite having MS. I guess they were volunteering for the evening SAG shift, but I didn’t know it at the time (and I didn’t see them again during the ride since they ended up driving some other riders back to the start). Anyway, I finally reached the summit, stopped to fill my water bottles, and put on some more layers before the descent (since I could tell it was going to be chilly). The valley down below seemed to be covered in a cloud layer, and over towards the Santa Cruz mountains it looked like it was probably raining. Further to the north it looked dark and ominous as well. I headed down just hoping that it wouldn’t get too nasty for the remainder of the ride. It was now already 5:30pm, so there were only a few hours of daylight left.
After descending Mt. Hamilton I stopped at a 7-11 to refuel before tackling the next climb (Sierra Road). Here I caught up to the 2 riders who’d passed me at the bottom of the climb up Mt. Hamilton. I bought a V8, an Orange Sunkist soda, and a Payday bar. I downed the V8, swigged some of the soda, and ate a chunk of the Payday bar before packing the rest in my backpack and hitting the road again. I rode with the other 2 guys until the base of Sierra Road. They were stronger/faster climbers than me though, plus I needed to stop a short way up the climb to take my vest off since I was starting to overheat again, so that was the last that I saw of them until Sunol. Sierra Road is a b*tch of a climb on fresh legs let alone hitting it 156 miles into a ride that has already included a lot of other difficult climbs. Sierra Road is about 3.7 miles long, climbs over 1,800ft and has an average gradient of about 9.4% (with some sustained sections well over 10%). The first time I’d ever done this climb was on DMD the first time I did the ride. In some ways I think it’s almost easier to do this climb as part of DMD when you’re already dead tired, as then at least you feel no shame in going as slow as you possibly can while remaining upright and still making some forward progress!! That’s exactly what I did – I inched my way up the climb at not much more than 3mph trying to conserve as much energy as possible and not over exert myself. At least this year I didn’t have to zig-zag any of the steeper sections (which I’ve done in the past while climbing Sierra as part of DMD). I finally reached the top at about 7:45pm. Since it was relatively overcast, it was already starting to get dark, and it was a bit chilly. I stopped to put my vest and arm-warmers back on, and swigged some more soda and ate some Payday bar before heading on my way.
The descent down Felter is pretty steep, and I’ve never really liked that section of road. Then you make a hard right hand turn onto Calaveras Road, and hit “The Wall”. Suddenly you find yourself climbing a very steep (but thankfully not too long) stretch of road, so if you didn’t down-shift before making the turn you’re in trouble. I’m always afraid of missing this turn too since it’s on a down hill and isn’t marked all that well. Plus I was approaching it as it was getting dark, making it more difficult to see. I did make the turn though, and got up and over The Wall. Pretty soon it was pitch dark though, so I wasn’t able to enjoy the views of the Calaveras Reservoir – in the daylight this is a very pretty section of road. At this point I was thinking about last year when I did this ride and had reached Sunol before it got dark – no such luck this year! After some rollers there’s a decently long descent, but there are a lot of hairpin turns on this descent. I quickly decided that I don’t like riding this road in the dark! Since my light is not a helmet mounted light it didn’t shine around the corners to where I was going, so I felt sort of blind trying to make my way through the tight turns. At one point a large bird (I think it was an owl or maybe a hawk) flew out of the bushes/trees right in front of my path which kind of scared me a bit too!
Finally sometime after 9pm I got to Sunol and was greeted by more wonderful volunteers! At this point I knew there were 2 climbs left (Palomares and Norris Canyon), but that they weren’t anywhere near as tough as the climbs I’d already completed, so I knew I was going to finish. I had some hot cup-o-noodle soup, as well as some other tasty morsels (including some delicious blueberries), and an iced mocha drink for some caffeine. The volunteers were also kind enough to pack some food for me for after I finished, and they sent it ahead with a SAG driver to leave at my car at the finish – talk about great service!!
I headed out from Sunol at about 9:40pm for the last 25 miles. It must have rained in the area earlier, as the pavement was wet, but thankfully it didn’t actually rain on me while I was riding. The first part of this section is probably one of the most dangerous sections of the ride – Niles Canyon road has a lot of traffic going at fairly high rates of speed, and there isn’t a consistent shoulder on the road (in fact there are a couple of sections with hardly any shoulder, and a couple of bridge crossings). Doing it in the dark and alone is rather nerve wracking, so I was super glad to get off of that stretch of road and onto Palomares even though that meant more climbing. In the past I’ve had trouble staying awake on this section, but the iced mocha seemed to have done the trick, and I never had any moments of sleepiness. I got up and over the Palomares climb, and then descended the other side. Then it was on towards the last climb up Norris Canyon. Just before I approached the top of Norris Canyon a car pulled up beside me and the woman in the passenger seat yelled out the window at me something to the effect of “aren’t you worried about being out here in the dark and getting hit”, and then something like “because you should be”. This angered me, and I wanted to explain to her that I had as much right to be on the road as she did, and that yes, I did know there were risks associated with riding, and that in fact a friend of mine had been killed by a hit and run driver only 2 weeks earlier while riding at night on a 600km brevet, but that there was no reason why it *shouldn’t* be safe for us to ride. But of course I couldn’t tell her any of that as their tail lights disappeared into the darkness ahead. Very soon after I crested the climb and it was then a quick descent back down into San Ramon. It was on this stretch that it did actually sprinkle a little bit, but at this point I was almost done and I didn’t care what the weather did.
I finally pulled into the parking lot of the San Ramon Marriott at 11:45pm, 18hrs 15min after leaving much earlier that morning. My ride time was 16hrs 42min. The 18:15 elapsed time was slightly faster than my first DMD in 2009 when I’d finished in 18:20, but slower than last year’s ride which I’d done in 16:52. Last year I had tapered for DMD and been well rested going into the ride, whereas this year I’d ridden a hilly century ride the week before, and not tapered. Also, this year my back had bothered me most of the ride, so just getting through it was a challenge. There were definitely moments early in the ride when I didn’t see how I could possibly finish, but by breaking the ride up into smaller sections and only focusing on the very next section/climb I was able to slowly knock those sections/climbs out one by one until there I was at the finish. And although it was a slower ride this year, I felt far less “beat up” after the ride than I have in the past. A lot of that has to do with the awesome Specialized Ruby bikes that I’m riding which absorb road shock so much better than my old bike, as well as the Specialized S-works cycling shoes which prevent my feet from getting “hot-foot”. The day after doing the DMD staff ride I was even able to get out and ride another 65 miles including climbing up Old La Honda – that would have been unthinkable last year or the year before after DMD! Then the next weekend I was back out there on Mines Road volunteering and getting to cheer on and support many friends who were doing the ride. So all in all DMD 2011 was a great experience, and I managed to “whip the devil” yet again!