Kayaking & Cycling: Lake Del Valle and Mt. Hamilton

On Saturday we headed to the east bay for a day of mixed training – Mike wanted to get a long open water swim done in preparation for the 6.2 mile swim he’ll have to do as part of UltraMan Canada in July, and I wanted to try and get some heat training in since RAW will be hot going through the southern California desert. We’ve had an unseasonably cool spring, and even the Livermore area which is usually hotter than the peninsula only had a forecast high of 70deg, so the heat part of the training was likely going to be a bust. Anyway, we headed to Lake Del Valle and arrived around 10am. I rented a kayak so that I could support Mike and he started swimming at 10:45am.

Mike swimming as a vulture circles above!


It was fairly windy already, and a headwind heading up the lake. It was a beautiful day otherwise though, so I soaked in the views and the relative serenity of being out in nature. Every half hour Mike stopped swimming to get some water and nutrition from me, and I was able to snap a few photos.

Mike pauses for a photo

We stuck close to shore and followed the edge of some of the bays off of the main channel of the lake. The wind was picking up, and when we headed back into the main channel the wind was so strong that I had to paddle pretty hard to stay in place and not get blown backwards. Luckily we weren’t in this section too long and then we turned to head back.

Mike approaches the turnaround of his 5.36 mile open water swim


The wind had picked up substantially though such that even in the side-bay it was really rough and windy. There were big swells on the lake, and it was challenging for Mike to swim and for me to not get blown into him while trying to stay near him. Finally we rounded a point for the final mile stretch and the wind was behind us. I had to back-paddle since otherwise I was getting blown down the lake much faster than Mike was swimming! Finally we reached the marina area and Mike had swum 5.36 miles in 3hrs 30min. We returned the kayak, and I changed into my bike gear.

The conditions had made the swim take longer than I expected, so it was already 2:45pm by the time I started. There’s a climb immediately as you leave Lake Del Valle, then you drop down the other side to Mines Road and start climbing again. It was warm climbing out of Lake Del Valle and the first section on Mines, but certainly not what I’d classify as “heat training”. Guess I’ll have to rely on my heat training coming from the Bikram Yoga that I’ve been doing recently. Mike started leap frogging me and taking some photos.

Climbing on Mines Road

Heading up Mines Road amongst the local patriots

Heading up Mines Road

The bottom couple of miles of Mines Road climb fairly consistently, but my legs actually felt almost-fresh – a feeling that I haven’t had in my legs for a while! With all the long rides I’ve been doing I’ve been feeling relatively run down and not particularly fresh and energetic on any of my rides recently, so the fact that I caught a glimpse of fresh legs early on this ride was a relief – hopefully if I plan the next couple of weeks carefully I’ll be maximally rested but still feel sharp when RAW starts in just over 3 weeks. The ride I had planned today wasn’t “easy” by any stretch of the imagination (climbing Mines Road and the backside of Mt. Hamilton has a lot of climbing), but it was short enough (compared to recent training rides) that it shouldn’t set me back and wear me out too much. I have the same plan for next weekend – some elevation training in the Mammoth Lakes area – hopefully some long climbs in the Eastern Sierras, but not super long mileage. Then it’ll be 2 weekends of really short and easy rides leading up to RAW – just enough to keep the muscle memory alive and a couple intervals for the same purpose, but “short and sweet” will be the objective.

Anyway, back to the ride at hand! Near the top of the steeper section of Mines Road I sent Mike on ahead to the Junction because I wasn’t sure when they closed and I wanted him to be able to get a post-swim meal in (since other than the Junction Cafe there’s nothing on this route in terms of civilization). The middle section of Mines Road is more mellow and some rolling terrain, then as you approach the Junction there are a couple of short climbs and some descents.

Short climb on the stretch of road heading towards Mt. Hamilton

Last climb before Mt. Hamilton


I pulled in to the Junction just before 5pm. I filled my water bottles and then headed out again towards Mt. Hamilton. There are some more rollers, and then a couple of sharp climbs on the way to the base of Mt. Hamilton. Then it’s 5 miles to the top and climbs about 2,000ft. If you count the last sustained climb before a quick dip and then the start of the main climb, it’s about 6.2 miles and goes up about 2,200ft with an average gradient of about 8.4%, so certainly not easy. When I’d done this climb as part of the Devil Mountain Double staff ride about a month earlier, I’d been in my easiest gear the whole way up, and it had still felt like a struggle. This time I was able to stay in my 2nd easiest gear, and although it was still a tough climb, I could tell that my legs weren’t as fatigued. I saw Mike several times on the way up, and a couple of sections of the road had chalk messages from when the Tour of California pro race came through here just a few days earlier. I’m sure the pace I was going would make me look like I was going backwards compared to the pros!!

Approaching the top of Mt. Hamilton - the Lick Observatory dome visible up ahead


Finally I reached the summit around 7pm. Unfortunately the valley was pretty hazy so the views weren’t as clear as they can be. I quickly topped off my water bottles and put on my vest before descending towards San Jose. It had already cooled off and I was quite chilled on the descent – I hadn’t brought arm warmers or anything with me since I hadn’t expected that I’d still be riding this late. We stopped a little ways down to take some photos, but the haze didn’t do them justice.

On the descent there were a lot of bugs in the air since it was approaching dusk. I went through several swarms and it was most unpleasant feeling! To make it worse, a lot of bugs got caught in my helmet, and as I continued to descend I kept feeling them crawl down my forehead and behind my sun glasses towards my eyes – ewwww, what a creepy feeling! It reminded me of the Star Trek movie with the scorpion like creatures that crawled into the character’s skulls! Whenever the road straightened up enough I would try to swat them off my face, but all in all it was a creepy crawly descent!

On the descent down the frontside of Mt. Hamilton

I finally reached the bottom of Mt. Hamilton around 8pm. I’d ridden 66 miles with 6600ft of climbing according to the altimeter on my cyclometer, and my ride time was 5hrs. There wasn’t much heat to be had, but it was still a successful training ride. It was a confidence booster to catch a glimpse of fresh legs, even if it didn’t last for the entire ride. The only downside to the day was the fact that I forgot to put sunscreen on my legs and got a bad sunburn while sitting in the open kayak supporting Mike’s open water swim – ouch!!! I’m now going to have a nice striped tan on my legs. Oh well – the color scheme matches my 2 Rubys – red & white!!

Post kayaking sunburn - color scheme to match my 2 Rubys - red & white!!

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