Race Across the West, the movie!!

Mike did a great job putting this video of Race Across the West together! It brings back so many good memories!! Thanks again to all the stars of the movie – my awesome crew!!! Sandy, Mike, Jason, Diana, Sheila, and Peter – I couldn’t have done it without you guys!!! Now who wants to come back for 3 times the fun next year at RAAM! :)

Race Across the West Video from Mike Deitchman on Vimeo.

Posted in Race Reports | Tagged | Leave a comment

Race Across the West 2011 – The Gateway Drug to RAAM!

Race Across the West was my main event for 2011, and was the most ambitious event I’d ever signed up for – 860 miles that traveled through 4 states with over 40,000 feet of climbing and a time cutoff of 92 hours. I didn’t know exactly what to expect – I would be entering uncharted territory in terms of time and distance – but I did at least know that I would be embarking on a truly amazing adventure no matter how it all turned out!

But before I get too far into the story of how the race unfolded, let me take a minute to thank everyone who helped to get me to the starting line. I was extremely fortunate to partner with several sponsors this year, and each of them played a critical role in my RAW preparation. Specialized Women provided me with 2 Ruby bikes – and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how the bikes performed – they are truly engineered for performance and comfort! Having a bike is only the first step though – bike fit is equally important, and that’s where Curtis from Revolutions in Fitness came into the picture. He was able to setup the bikes to fit me and helped me to identify and work on some physical limitations I had in terms of flexibility and muscle imbalance. Bike and bike fit alone still aren’t enough though – the rider needs to bring something to the table in terms of strength and power, and that’s where Integrate Performance Fitness came into play. I attended twice weekly strength and conditioning classes at IPF starting last fall which made me stronger and faster on the bike by working on total body fitness. And last, but certainly not least, is the importance of recovery, and that’s where my massage therapist, David Ledesma played a hugely important role. My weekly deep tissue sports massage appointments kept my aching body functioning through all the long training. Each of my sponsors are leaders in their respective fields, and it was a great honor working with each of them and seeing how they each helped me to achieve this goal, so thank you Specialized Women, Revolutions in Fitness, Integrate Performance Fitness, and David Ledesma!

While we’re on the topic of thanking people, I can’t proceed further without thanking my incredibly supportive husband, Mike. He’s always there for me, and he’s always believed in me, even when I haven’t believed in myself. I couldn’t have done this without him, and I love him with all my heart!

And of course the thank you section wouldn’t be complete without thanking each and every one of my RAW crew members. I couldn’t have completed RAW without them, and I challenge anyone to come up with such a kick ass crew!! From Sandy, the best crew chief (“overlord”) you could ever hope to have; to Jason, the one-armed “handi-capable” mechanic and smart ass; to my brother Peter who came all the way from Nova Scotia and had boundless energy throughout; to my husband Mike who donned a grass skirt and coconut bra (among other “questionable” outfits); to Diana who entertained me with a variety of costumes as well; to Sheila who did her best to look after the aforementioned hooligans – YOU ALL ROCKED!!! I couldn’t have finished this race without you, and I couldn’t imagine tackling it with a different cast of characters – you all gave your heart and soul throughout, and I’m eternally grateful to each and every one of you!!!

Loading up the vans - lots of gear!

Ok, back to the race! Logistics for a race this long are almost as intimidating as the race itself! I spent a good week packing and organizing things, and was still scrambling at the last minute to get everything ready. The Saturday before the race the crew started to arrive. Sandy biked down from Arcata and had her own little adventure , and Peter flew in to SFO after being delayed for over 6hrs in Washington, DC. We picked up Jason from Oakland and all crowded into our condo for the night. Sunday morning we picked up the 2nd minivan rental (we’d picked up the first the day before), and Bob Corman was gracious enough to help us load everything into the vans. It seemed like we had enough gear to support a small army for a few weeks!! But when you need spares of everything in order to hopefully be able to weather any kind of unforeseen incident it all adds up. Finally we hit the road just before 10am for the long drive to Oceanside. The drive was uneventful apart from one moment where we just about lost a spare bike wheel off the top of one of the vans – fortunately it wiggled it’s way loose just as we were about to exit to a rest area, so disaster was averted and we moved the spare wheels inside the vehicle for the remainder of the trip.

Clowning around practicing water bottle hand offs

We arrived in Oceanside just after 5pm and went to the vacation rental that we would call home for the next 3 nights. The house was absolutely perfect for what we needed, and provided a great staging area for final preparations, as well as for crew bonding. Over the course of the next couple of days I discovered that my brother is a mighty fine cook!! We had dinners the likes of shish-kebabs, roasted garlic, 3 kinds of fish one night, pasta, and fruit salad; and breakfasts of eggs benedict and gourmet scrambled eggs with bacon. Sandy even got in on the act and we had fresh squeezed orange juice from oranges in the orange tree in the yard! Life was good! Monday and Tuesday included various meetings and inspections, and on Tuesday afternoon we picked up Sheila and Diana from the San Diego airport. We were now all set for show-time on Wednesday!

Nanook & Crew the morning of June 15th before heading to the RAW start

At the RAW start line in Oceanside, CA

The race started at noon on Wednesday, with riders being sent off in 1 minute intervals. I was slated to start at 12:19pm. The nice thing with a noon start was that I didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn. It was nice to be able to sleep in and enjoy that last little bit of pillow time since I knew that there would be very little from here on out! I was pretty overcome with emotion at the start – the enormity of what I was about to tackle was finally settling in on me. I think I even got a little bit teary eyed at one point! But soon enough it was my turn to start, and I was off on my bike.

The first 24 miles were unsupported, and there was a good little climb on Sleeping Indian Road that certainly made sure that you were awake and not sleeping!! As I headed away from the pleasantly cool overcast coast towards the clear and sunny inland, the temperature rose, and I started to feel the heat as I headed up the climb up Palomar Mountain. I wasn’t even 50 miles into the ride and already I felt a bit outside my comfort zone – not exactly what you want to experience this early in a ride this long!! But I just tried to remain calm and take things relatively easy, knowing that after these climbs there would be a long descent followed by a pretty flat section through the desert.

I finally passed the first time station, Lake Henshaw. From here the climbing was mellower, and it was starting to cool off a bit since it was late afternoon and we were at a bit of elevation. It wasn’t long until we hit the Glass Elevator – a screaming descent that drops about 3,000 feet down to Borrego Springs in the California desert. The top was fairly straight, and I had a tailwind, so before hardly even realizing it I’d picked up tremendous speed – I looked down at my cyclometer and saw that I was going over 51mph!! This was a new speed record for me. It wasn’t too long though and the road started twisting and turning a lot, and that tail wind suddenly became a fierce cross wind going into and coming out of the turns, so I slowed down substantially to stay in control of the bike. A couple turns in particular were extremely hard to maneuver, and I was blown across the road.

Then I came to a scene that you never want to see – some emergency vehicles, race vehicles, and race official vehicles…. I didn’t find out until later, but I guess one of the 2 person RAW teams (the team from my home province of Alberta in fact) had been involved in an accident – a jeep coming up the hill had crossed the road to enter a turnout on the other side of the road just as the cyclist came tearing around the corner, and he’d T-boned the jeep. I’m not sure the extent of his injuries, but it sounded pretty serious, and given the speed that I’m sure he was traveling at when the accident occurred, the fact that he was alive was probably a small miracle. In a year that has seemed to be far too full of tragedy with regard to bike vs. vehicle accidents, this was yet another jolting reminder of how fragile we are out there.

I continued on down the glass elevator, and as I dropped I felt the temperature rise. I was very glad that we were heading into the evening and that the temps would be cooling off and that we’d miss the extreme heat of the day in this area! At the bottom as things flattened out there was a brief section with a bit of cross wind where my crew started feeding me popsicles – anyone who’s ever seen me eat frozen foods knows that’s the one thing that I tend to eat slowly, so it was a challenge for me to eat the popsicles before they melted!!! Then eventually the road turned and I found myself with a screaming tailwind – woohoo!! I was cruising along at almost 30mph without hardly any effort!

Passing my crew in the California desert the first day

Just before 8pm I stopped for a quick break – it was time for a crew shift change, plus I’d been going for almost 8hrs in one pair of now salt encrusted shorts, so it was time to change into fresh shorts for the night ahead (my strategy to try and prevent chaffing issues was to try and change shorts fairly frequently). I also took this opportunity to eat/drink, and have Peter give me a foot massage. My feet had gotten surprisingly sore this early in the ride – in hind sight what had happened was that I’d had my shoes done up too tightly given the heat that I went through climbing up Palomar, which had really irritated my feet and made them sore. All my training this year had been in relatively cool temperatures, so I’d forgotten that when riding in the heat I need to leave my shoes a little looser. Oh well, what was done was done, and thank goodness Peter is as good of a foot masseuse as he is a gourmet chef!!

Let me take a few moments here to describe the crew organization given that we’re at a shift change. I had 2 minivans and 6 crew members supporting me at RAW. The day was split into three 8hr shifts, and there were 3 different “roles” that always had 2 crew doing each of them. At any given time there were 2 people awake in the follow vehicle (the van designated to stay as close to me as possible throughout), there were 2 people awake in the crew vehicle (the van that would help scout out pull out locations, run errands, get supplies, step in when the follow vehicle needed to fuel up or take a bio break, etc.), and there were 2 people sleeping in the crew vehicle (we had an air mattress in the back where the crew slept). This rotation meant that in each 24hr period each crew person was “on-duty” for 16hrs and slept for 8hrs. Shifts were 12pm-8pm PST, 8pm-4am PST, and 4am-12pm PST. From 12pm-8pm Diana & Jason slept, Sandy & Peter were in the follow vehicle, and Sheila & Mike were in the crew vehicle. From 8pm-4am Sheila & Mike slept, Sandy & Jason were in the follow vehicle, and Peter & Diana were in the crew vehicle. And from 4am-12pm Sandy & Peter slept, Mike & Diana were in the follow vehicle, and Jason & Sheila were in the crew vehicle. Sandy of course came up with this schedule, and it seemed to work pretty well. What I liked was that I got to interact with pretty much everyone on the crew at some point or another. I’d selected my crew because I love interacting with each and every one of them, so I was really happy that I got to do so!

Back to the story though…. As I rode into the night the conditions remained favorable, and I was able to cruise right along. Even though it was dark, riding through the desert was pretty magical. We rode past the Imperial Sand Dunes, and in the moonlight they were still pretty cool looking (plus I’m glad it wasn’t during the day since I imagine the temperature would have been scorching during the day!!). We passed through the 2nd time station, Brawley, CA, just after 9pm, and then it was on towards Blythe, CA, where we arrived just before 3am. This was 235 miles into the race, and I’d found a pretty good rhythm during the night. The strategy was to try and ride straight through the night to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. I’d never made it through the first night of an event without sleep before, so this was my challenge. I didn’t really have too much difficulty staying awake – I think in part due to the fact that I had been able to sleep in the morning the race started, and was fairly well rested going into the race having had the couple of days in Oceanside leading up to the race to mainly just “chill out”. What also helped was that we had an external speaker system on the van so that the crew could play music for me – we’d borrowed the sound system from a friend, Paul Vlasveld, and Jason and Mike had spent the better part of a day figuring out how to wire it up to the van’s battery – but it was totally worth it as it made the world of difference in terms of helping me stay awake at night!

The next crew shift change happened just before we got to Parker, AZ, but as the sun came up, I started to really struggle to stay awake. Just before 7am local time we stopped and I tried to eat some breakfast. I was firmly entrenched in one of my low points for the ride – having ridden through the night I was now in a bit of a haze and struggling to keep my eyes open. I climbed into the van to eat since there were lots of bugs where we’d stopped, and while in the van I started shaking uncontrollably. I certainly wasn’t “cold”, as already the temperature outside was starting to climb, so I think it was just the exhaustion taking hold. The crew did a good job of kicking me out of the van and getting me back on the bike, but unfortunately now direct follow time had ended, so they could only do leap frog support. Now it was just me and the road, and I was fighting an incredible urge to sleep.

The stretch out of Parker was a long, gradual uphill that was into a headwind, and the temperature steadily rose. Not only that, but this stretch of road had fairly heavy traffic on it, and we’re talking about BIG traffic – a lot of semis. There wasn’t a very good shoulder for much of this stretch, and when there was a shoulder it was often unridable due to rumble strips. This stretch of road is one of 2 sections on the RAW course that I maintain are NOT safe to ride on without direct follow, and I will be expressing this concern to the race organizers. Normally you’re allowed direct follow during the daytime hours after the 1st day of RAW/RAAM, but this year the race organizers were unable to get permits from the states of Arizona and Colorado to do this, so there was no direct follow allowed except between the hours of 8pm-6am local time. I certainly hope that the race organizers will be able to rectify this in the future, because I for one will NOT do RAW (or RAAM) if direct follow is not allowed on these unsafe stretches of road.

But back to the race itself. Apparently by 9am it was already up in the 90s, and by midday the temperatures topped out at over 100degF. I combatted the heat by wearing white shorts, my lightest jersey, white arm-coolers (which I kept pouring water on to get the evaporative cooling effect), and tube socks filled with ice wrapped around my neck. Later in the day my crew also started feeding my popsicles to try and cool me from the inside out – they discovered a Mexican brand popsicle that was very much like a rice pudding, but it was oh so tasty and I ate several of them that afternoon! Between the heat, the headwind, and the heavy traffic, this section was pretty miserable. There were a couple of other riders and crew around me during this stretch, so it was nice to see other people out there. At one point Ann Wooldridge, one of 2 other solo women doing RAW, was very close to me, and in fact we went back and forth a couple of times. Her crew was extremely encouraging, so it was great to be near them. Finally I made a turn towards Salome, and things improved at least in terms of the wind.

I pulled into Salome just after 12pm local time, and although I really, really wanted to take a break out of the heat, my crew was having none of that. I was told that I would be allowed to take a break in Congress (just over 50 miles further), and not before!!! So I headed back out on the road, armed with another popsicle, and trudged along. The temperature at least didn’t seem to be getting worse, and since we were gaining elevation it seemed in fact to cool off a little bit (although it was still stinkin’ hot!!). In between popsicles on this section I got to eat quarters of a cheeseburger – boy oh boy did it taste good!! The first half of this stage went fairly well, until we turned onto a road that had awfully rough chip seal on it….. There was about 25 miles of this, and the constant jarring continued to beat me down physically and mentally. When Peter would ask from the side of the road what I wanted, my response was “A new f’ing road surface!!!”. But finally I entered Congress just after 4pm local time, where I knew that there was a waist deep wading pool waiting for my hot, tired, and achy body. The time station in Congress is run by the Bullshifters – a Phoenix bike club, and they set up a little oasis in the desert – such a welcoming sight! I got to the time station, promptly took of my shoes, socks, and jersey, and got into the pool of water (where I was once again fed another popsicle!). Boy oh boy did that feel like heaven!!!

Taking a dip in the wading pool in Congress, AZ while eating another popsicle

We decided that I was going to take an extended break here since the section after Congress had a lot of climbing, including the Yarnell Grade which climbs about 1800ft right as you leave Congress. It was still over 100degF, and I was pretty thrashed from the heat of the day and the rough roads. After my dip in the pool I changed into dry clothes, ate another cheeseburger, and then lay down for an hour nap in the air conditioned van. My crew then helped me to get dressed into clean clothes, lathered me up in sunscreen again, armed me with another ice filled tube sock and a popsicle, and sent me on my way up the Yarnell Grade. Altogether we were stopped in Congress for about 2 hours, but it was a much needed break. Although it was still almost 100degF when I started up again, parts of the climb were in the shade now, and the temperature was at least dropping. Although not a cakewalk, the climb up Yarnell wasn’t too bad, and there were some pretty cool vistas of the desert down below.

After dropping down the other side of the climb we stopped for another shift change and I took the opportunity to eat another meal. We then began the long climb towards Prescott, AZ, and I kept looking back to soak up the gorgeous sunset over the hills behind us. Now that I was out of the heat again I felt like I had my second wind, and I felt pretty good for most of the climbing. Then we reached what I thought (wrongly!) was the summit, and had a bit of a descent. What I didn’t realize though was that the road must have been following some kind of ridge line or something, as we seemed to keep dropping briefly only to have to climb some more. This went on for what seemed like forever before we got to the proper descent in Prescott. We pulled into Prescott just after 10pm local time where I took another break to get a foot massage, eat a can of ravioli, and down another iced mocha drink.

I headed out of Prescott which was a downhill for a while longer before another long climb. It was on this stretch that I once again began to battle sleepiness – nothing I seemed to do helped. A few miles before the top of the climb I had the crew switch the music that they were playing, and that seemed to help and I felt more awake for the last part of the climb. At the top we stopped for a quick bio break, and I put on a jacket for the long, fast descent into Cottonwood. Although I was awake at the top of the climb, the monotony of descending soon started to lull me into sleepiness again. On at least two occasions I stopped briefly in order to try and wake myself up since I was drifting off. Just before we came to Jerome, AZ I found myself in a little race with of all things, a skunk!! He (she?) had appeared out of nowhere on the side of the road, and rather than running off the side of the road he’d decided to start running full tilt down the road in front of me. I didn’t like the position that I found myself in – looking at the uplifted tail of a skunk – and immediately slowed down hoping that he would get off the road and let me pass. I know that as a rider I’m not allowed into the van very frequently as it is, but I knew darned well that if this skunk “marked me”, then there was likely no way in hell that I’d be allowed into the van again for the duration of the trip, and we were only just over half way! And although the smell of skunk may have helped keep me awake, I really wasn’t that desperate!! So Pepe continued his little sprint down the mountain side with no apparent desire to abandon this race, and I hung back and stared at his uplifted tail! Finally I pulled out as far to the left as I could (literally on the other side of the other lane) and left Pepe in the dust. If nothing else, it was a little bit of night time entertainment that got me awake and alert again for a little while!

We pulled into Cottonwood around 2am local time and it was time for me to take another sleep break. I quickly ate another meal, and then was out like a light. I slept for about an hour and a half before being woken again to head out on the next stretch to Flagstaff. Sandy said that the plan was that I would try to ride 250 miles that day (Friday), getting to Monument Valley around sunset, so that I would then only have about 100 miles to do the next day. This sounded a bit ambitious and I didn’t know whether it would be possible, but I liked the sounds of it (since it meant I should finish on Saturday sometime). It was about 4am as we headed out, and it wasn’t too long before I got to watch the sun rise over the Arizona landscape. The ride from Cottonwood to Flagstaff was extremely scenic as we passed through the likes of Sedona. There was a lot of climbing on this section, but nothing terribly steep, so with the breathtaking scenery and the cool & refreshing morning air it was a fairly pleasant ride. I started getting a craving for real food though, and in particular a breakfast burrito. All the crew could find at this hour was a McDonalds somewhere near Sedona I presume, but the 2 breakfast burritos that Sheila gave me tasted heavenly! I immediately put in a request for more burritos in Flagstaff, as well as orange juice – for whatever reason I had this huge craving for orange juice, even though I’d never had it on a ride before.

The approach into Flagstaff, AZ on day 3

Mike posing on a sign between Sedona and Flagstaff

We arrived in Flagstaff just after 9am local time. This was a monumental place in the race for me, as it was 536 miles in, and I was now about to cross the threshold of what my previous longest ride had been (Race Across Oregon which was about 537 miles) – I was now entering uncharted territory. There was a very strong tail wind leaving Flagstaff, and I knew there was a long 40 mile descent coming up, which I was looking forward to after the long climb from Cottonwood to Flagstaff. We stopped just before the descent began so that I could fuel up again – I had 2 more breakfast burritos, and a couple of water bottles full of orange juice – very refreshing!! Then began the long descent towards Tuba City. The first half of the descent was uneventful – there was a huge shoulder, and I was able to just cruise along with the tail wind and the downward grade. The sun continued to beat down on me and I was thankful that I had my arm coolers on.

Then things began to get sketchy…. What had been a 4-6foot wide shoulder suddenly disappeared completely in sections, or when there was a shoulder it was mainly occupied by rumble strips. We were on an incredibly busy thoroughfare road mid-day, and there was lots of traffic barreling by at what must have been 70-80mph, much of it being large semis and RVs. I’ve never felt as terrified and unsafe on a bicycle as I did for the 20+ miles on this road leading up to the turnoff to Tuba City. I was forced to take the lane for large chunks of time since there was no shoulder, and I was just hoping and praying that the traffic barreling up behind me would see me and give me some space – especially the semis since as they pass at that speed they create a vortex of wind that can make it hard to hold a straight line. At one point I was riding on the white line and there was a semi within inches of me that was getting passed by another semi – my guardian angels must have been VERY busy on that stretch of road!!! This is the 2nd stretch of road on the RAW course that absolutely needs to allow for direct follow during the day (the 1st stretch being the one out of Parker, AZ), and I will not do RAW (or RAAM) unless direct follow is allowed. We take calculated risks every time we get on our bicycles, but riding these 2 stretches of road without direct follow is unnecessary and irresponsible risk. After finally getting off of this stretch of road (and having a great desire to get off my bike and kiss the ground for having survived it!) there were a couple of rollers into Tuba City. There were some interesting rock formations and colors in the landscape around Tuba City. I got to Tuba City just before 1pm local time.

I really wanted to make it to Monument Valley before dark so that both my crew and I could see Monument Valley in the daylight, but doing the mental calculations on my bike I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be able to make it (especially given that I didn’t know how far it was past the next time station in Kayenta, which was over 70 miles away). I started trying to focus all my energy on getting to Monument Valley, and pushed my pace harder than I would have otherwise. Thankfully the wind was favorable on much of this stretch, so I was able to go at a pretty good pace. I had been falling a bit behind on nutrition (on the sketchy section earlier it was all I could do to focus on riding when I had no shoulder so there wasn’t much opportunity to eat or drink – although I had downed some chicken nuggets and iced tea), and a lot of the food the crew was offering me wasn’t all that appealing, so I asked them to find me a “real” burrito (i.e. not a breakfast burrito which I’d already had 4 of that day). A while later they handed me something in foil that resembled a burrito, but wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting. It had a tortilla, refried beans, and a lot of cheese, and was particularly tasty, but I’d never had a burrito like it before. I found out later that it was “The Bomb” – a 900+ calorie monstrosity that they’d purchased from a gas station – not exactly what you’d call “gourmet”, but it certainly hit the spot and went down easily. I ate half of it then, and the other half later on that section. Thankfully this road wasn’t as busy as the road I’d been on previously, but it was still lacking a shoulder in a lot of sections, which was frustrating because I had to keep crossing over the rumble strips to get in/out of the shoulder as it disappeared and reappeared. One section of the road also had a lot of expansion joints, so I became fairly miserable for periods of time, and my goal of reaching Monument Valley before dark seemed to be evaporating. Finally I hit a bit of a downhill section which was probably about 15 or so miles from Kayenta – the scenery also got a lot more stunning and I found myself looking around in awe soaking up the views. There were a couple of short rollers, but the final push into Kayenta was pretty fast. Along the way I lost a front light though – it bounced off while crossing the bone jarring rumble strips that I had to keep weaving across as the shoulder disappeared and reappeared.

Leaving Kayenta, AZ, heading towards Monument Valley

Heading into Monument Valley

I pulled into Kayenta at about 6:40pm local time. Since Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings though, there wasn’t that much time until the sun set, and I was still over 20 miles from the end of Monument Valley. So after a quick pit stop I was on my way again, and I decided to give it all I had – I suddenly found myself literally time trialing my way down Monument Valley!! There was a brief section with a bit of cross/head wind, but then the road curved again and I had a tail wind. I was in my hardest gear pushing as hard as I could go – frankly I was amazed I was even capable of this given that I had almost 700 miles on my legs already! I knew that pushing this hard certainly had it’s risks – I might start cramping, or totally exhaust myself, but with 2 full nights and a full day of time before the cutoff and less than 200 miles to go, I figured I should be able to absorb and survive a little setback if it happened, and I wanted to see Monument Valley damn it!!!! Finally we crested the last little rise and I could see the formations that I knew Monument Valley was famous for. It was still light out, but I think we were about half an hour past the time at which the rocks would have still shown their color – there just wasn’t enough sun in the sky to illuminate them as I’d hoped we’d see them. Looking at the scenery through my orange tinted glasses I was able to see a bit more color, so I waved the van up beside me so that I could hand my glasses to Peter so that he could look through them and see the difference (since he studied geology in university I know seeing all this cool scenery was a highlight to his RAW crewing experience). Alas the handoff did not go as planned, and suddenly my glasses were bouncing along the pavement….. I stopped, and the van went ahead and turned around to go back and scour the ditch for them. I put my bike on the side of the road and started walking back up the road looking for them. Just when I thought all was lost, I spotted the lenses perched precariously on the pavement (it’s amazing that they hadn’t been run over by another vehicle!), and after I collected them, it wasn’t long till I spotted the rims too – phew, disaster averted (although I did have backup glasses so we could have managed had we not found them). But this little stint probably cost us 15-20min, and it was getting darker and darker. I rode down the rest of the hill towards the Utah state line where the crew van was waiting (it was time for another crew shift change). Although we didn’t see Monument Valley in all it’s splendor, we at least got to see it, so the hard effort all afternoon was worth it. Now I could back off and go at a more manageable pace!

There was a climb out of Monument Valley which was rather tame, then there were a couple of ups and downs before a screaming descent into Mexican Hat, Utah. Along this stretch I ate burrito #6 for the day – this one was from a restaurant in Kayenta and it was mighty tasty as well, particularly the guacamole on it! We arrived in Mexican Hat at 10:24pm local time (we were finally in a new time zone – woohoo!).

Next up was Montezuma Creek. Sandy said that there were some “rollers” on the next section – I’m not sure what her definition of “roller” is, but apparently it’s different from mine!!! Or at least when I have over 700 miles on my legs what she calls a roller doesn’t feel like it anymore!! The “rollers” were steep little suckers, and I had to keep dropping into my triple chain ring. My butt was also finally starting to get a bit more bothersome (probably in part from the time-trial efforts earlier in the day where I was putting more pressure on my butt). On this section I downed burrito #7 for the day – another one from the Kayenta restaurant. I think I’d finally hit my max intake of burritos for the day, and shortly thereafter there was an emergency bio break!!

We finally got to Montezuma Creek at 2:24am local time. The follow vehicle had peeled off earlier to go on ahead and set up for a sleep break, so the crew vehicle had stepped in and followed me the last few miles. I wasn’t sleepy yet though, so I saw no point in stopping and sleeping. There was less than 100 miles to go, and I could smell the barn!! I figured we might as well keep rolling until I got sleepy. I did take a short break though to change shorts, ice my butt (yes, I filled a ziploc bag with ice and sat there with no shorts on icing my unmentionables – ultra cycling doesn’t involve much dignity, especially by the time the 3rd night rolls around!!). I also ate some pizza, yogurt, and an iced mocha.

We headed out from Montezuma Creek knowing that we’d soon be passing into our 4th state – Colorado. There were quite a few cows along the side of the road – and I was glad that my crew confirmed that they were in fact there and that I wasn’t hallucinating (yet!)! We made a left turn onto a road that we’d been warned had “some” gravel on it. Well, again, I guess my definition of “some” is a little bit different from the race organizers!!! What followed was a seemingly never-ending stretch of what I’d call a full on gravel road!! There were a few sections that were more manageable, but there was a very long section that had a lot of loose gravel on it. This did not make me a happy camper, especially when I had to climb in the gravel and was trying really hard not to spin out on my road tires, or descend in it and hope like heck I wasn’t going to bite the dust! FINALLY we reached the end of the gravel, and the road improved.

"People are crazy" - need I say more!

Mike and Sheila who were supposed to be sleeping started making appearances on the side of the road. At one point Mike was running down the side of the road wearing nothing but a Speedo and a Santa hat waving a flag and yelling loudly – appropriately the song that was playing on the sound system at the time was Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”, which includes the lyrics “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy!”. Apparently my husband had gone crazy – again – earlier in the ride I’d spotted him in a grass skirt and coconut bra! Anyway, I guess they realized that I was going to finish earlier than expected, so they skipped the later part of their sleep break to help cheer me on.

As the first glow of morning twilight started to appear in the sky I requested one last country song (since I knew that Sandy and Jason were going bat shit crazy having to listen to 3 nights of country music – but hey, it was working in terms of keeping me awake!). The song I requested was Justin Moore’s “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”. I had been riding RAW in memory of a friend of ours, Jim Swarzman, who was killed while riding his bicycle on a brevet in April of this year, and it seemed appropriate to listen to this song and think of him as I caught my first glimpses of the Colorado countryside. It was a very emotional moment, and I felt Jim’s presence with us as I was getting ever so close to the end.

At 5am local time we did our final crew shift change, and Mike and Diana were once again in the follow vehicle. I knew that they both like country music, and Diana managed to find my favorite Dixie Chicks songs (“Cowboy take me away” and “Wide open spaces”) and played those as we meandered our way through the Colorado countryside. It seemed extremely fitting since we were passing by a lot of farms. This hour passing through the quaint farming countryside in the earliest light of the day seemed very magical, and in many ways I felt like I was “home”.

Unfortunately though direct follow came to an end at 6am local time, and then began my own little mental adventure…. I’ve never reached a point on a ride where I’ve hallucinated before – sure, my eyes have played small tricks on me and shapes in the dark have taken on strange appearances, but I’ve never experienced what I was about to experience. I started seeing things that weren’t there, and I started losing the perception between what was real and what wasn’t. It was a very surreal feeling and extremely disconcerting – it was like I was in a semi-conscious dream state. I was aware that things “weren’t right”, but I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. I’d look at the side of the road, see someone or something, then blink and look again and there would be nothing there. A few times I found myself slowing down and starting to clip out of my pedals because I thought my crew was there on the side of the road only to realize that there was no one there. At one point I even started to ride off the road and ended up in the sand on the side of the road as I’d drifted off to sleep. I also started experiencing waves of deja vu – there were a couple of short but relatively steep hills, and the 2nd one I honestly wondered if I had somehow gone backwards on the course and was tackling the same hill a 2nd time. A few times I even started panicking a little bit because I didn’t know if I was still going the right way, and I didn’t know where my crew was. The next time I saw them I told them what I was experiencing and I asked that they stay as close to me as possible and help me through this. I was at least aware of the fact that I was messed up mentally and was going through a mental disconnect, but I couldn’t distinguish between what was real and what wasn’t. In hindsight I think there were a couple of things that compounded to cause this mental breakdown. Obviously the sleep deprivation was the main cause since I had only slept for 2.5hrs since Wednesday morning and it was now Saturday morning. In addition to that though, I think my caloric intake had dropped a bit since I hadn’t eaten a whole lot since Montezuma Creek, and I think that contributed to the sleepiness. Plus the stark contrast going from having direct follow and a van right behind me playing music and talking to me and engaging me to being all on my own in the dead silence of the morning I think also contributed to my mind shutting down. Anyway, I limped along trying to focus all my might on getting to the next time station in Cortez.

I finally pulled into Cortez, CO at 7:56am local time. The vans were gassing up at a gas station and they’d bought food from McDonalds for me. I wolfed down a breakfast sandwich, two potato patties, and yet another breakfast burrito – apparently I was hungry!!! I immediately started to feel my brain start to reconnect, and after having sunscreen reapplied I headed on down the road. There was only about 45 more miles to go, but they weren’t an easy 45 miles – we were about to climb to the highest elevation on the RAW route – about 8,400 feet. The sun was starting to beat down on me again, and I could feel the effects of the altitude. I suspect that had I slept a little bit the night before I might not have felt the altitude as much, but at this point that was neither here nor there – I just needed to pedal a few more hours and I’d be done! The Colorado landscapes were absolutely breathtaking – the hills and fields were bright green, and reminded me of the summer time back home in Alberta. Plus you had the backdrop of the mountains which were still glistening with snow on the peaks. Although I was suffering on these climbs, at least I was suffering in an absolutely gorgeous setting, which made it that much easier. The climbs seemed to go on forever, but finally we got to the top. I stopped and gathered all of my crew around for a big group hug, as I thought it was very symbolic to stop at the highest point of the route this close to the finish and thank them for all that they had done for me!

Green landscape heading towards Durango, CO

Last climb towards Durango

After our big group hug I set out again, and a little bit further up the road Mike gave me a daisy which I tucked into my jersey. There was a brief little descent and one last little climb before the final 10 mile descent into Durango. The descent was absolutely gorgeous with the mountains all around me, and I just tried to soak it all in and savor the moment! We pulled into the time station in Durango and confirmed that I had no time penalties, and then we set out for the last 2.5 miles, which were uphill to the Fort Lewis College campus. I really didn’t appreciate having to climb the last couple of miles, but it’s not like I had a choice – the finish line was at the top of the hill!

Finally I got to the finish chute, and was surprised to see quite a number of people there cheering me on. It was a pretty special moment, although I think I’d already had my emotional outpouring earlier in the morning as I’d watched the sunrise. My crew all gathered around and we hugged again, and then I had to endure what seemed like endless picture taking! It was extremely special sharing these moments with my crew since I absolutely could not have asked for a better crew, and I absolutely could not have been so wildly successful without their help!! I had the easy job out there – I just had to pedal my bike – Sandy, Mike, Jason, Peter, Diana, and Sheila were the ones who got me from Oceanside, CA to Durango, CO, so THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

After pictures we headed to the awards banquet which was underway, where we got some great food and I got to collect a couple of trophies. I’d won the overall women’s division (and the RAAM media guy, Vic Armijo, wrote a pretty cool article about me), and in doing so was the first woman to complete Race Across the West in the 4 years that it’s been happening. I also won female Rookie of the Year, and ended up collecting Queen of the Desert as well (they’d selected 2 stages representative of the desert and the woman with the fastest combined time on those two stages got the award – similarly they had a Queen of the Mountains award which the other woman finisher, Ann Wooldridge won). I also had the honor of meeting Dani Wyss, the men’s champion for RAW, and former 2 time solo RAAM winner. He finished in an amazing time of 2 days and 29 minutes! When I was somewhere between Flagstaff and Tuba City, he was crossing the finish line! He was so fast that he beat all of the 2 person teams, and all but 2 of the 4 person teams – WOW!!! What an amazing athlete, and genuinely nice guy! The next day I also got to meet Ann Woolridge, the other woman who finished, and Lorena Salas Ramos, who came oh so close before having to abandon the race in Cortez, CO. Both are extremely classy women, and it was an honor to race with them!

So for you number crunchers out there, here are the various stats from my ride that may be of interest to you. My overall time was 2 days, 22 hours, and 58 minutes – far faster than I had ever hoped to finish!! Of those 71 hours, almost 62 of them were spent on the bike, so I had about 9hrs off the bike total. 2.5 of those off-the-bike hours were spent sleeping, and the remaining 6.5 were the cumulative effects of all other stops (things like eating, bio breaks, shorts changes, etc.). My elapsed time pace was 12.08mph, and my riding pace was 13.9mph. My max speed was 51.3mph (descending the Glass Elevator on day 1). The total elevation gain over the 860 miles was over 40,000 feet, with the max altitude reached being 8,400ft (just before Durango). During the 3 days I consumed about 19,000 calories, which is about 270cal/hr, and I drank about 1364oz of fluid, which is about 19oz/hr. I also took about 10 ibuprofen during the course of the race. I ate 8 burritos, 2 slices of pizza, 2 cheeseburgers, several cans of beefaroni/ravioli, 1 can of chicken soup, some chicken nuggets, countless rice crispy squares, several Go-Gurts, lots of watermelon, 1 PayDay bar, at least 7 popsicles (2 the first day, 5 the second day), lots of water, V8, orange juice, iced tea, and iced mochas/coffee, and various other odds and ends throughout!

As for how I felt, it was certainly a roller coaster ride, but overall I would have to say that in many areas I had fewer problems at RAW than I’ve had at any of the 500 mile events I’ve done. Definitely my butt held up better than it has on any 500 mile event, so I think I’ve finally found a good shorts/saddle combo (Assos shorts, and a Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow saddle). I had absolutely no back or muscular skeletal issues – and my neck/shoulders didn’t get sore at all which I was quite shocked about! I had problems with my feet, but I think that was from having my shoes done up too tightly the first day. My hands got sore and went a bit numb, but not as badly as I’ve had on some other shorter rides. I accomplished something I’ve never accomplished before, and that was riding through not one, but two nights without any sleep (prior to RAW I’d never even made it through a single night without taking a nap).

So all of this combined begs the question that I’ve already been asked countless times since I finished RAW – “are you going to do RAAM next year?”. Well……I don’t see how I can’t toss my hat in the ring given how wildly successful RAW was on so many levels. I don’t know whether I would have had another 2000+ miles in my legs/mind/body, but I certainly wasn’t at my limit when I finished RAW. I had the mental breakdown the final morning, but I don’t think that would have happened had I taken a sleep break that night, which I would have done had I been racing RAAM instead of RAW. I’ve always pushed my limits and tried progressively longer and more difficult events while searching for my limits, and I didn’t find my limit at RAW, so the logical thing to do is to search for my limits on RAAM next year. There are a couple of things that would have to happen to make that possible though. First and foremost, I won’t ride RAAM if something isn’t done to address the unsafe stretches of road that I had to ride on in Arizona after Parker and before Tuba City. Second, I need the blessing of my husband (but I think that one’s in the bag since I’ve already asked him!). Third, I would need to put together a crew that’s as awesome as the one I had this year at RAW! I have some tentative commitments from a few folks, but RAAM is obviously a lot bigger commitment given that it spans 2 weeks instead of 4 days. I would definitely take each and every one of my RAW crew for RAAM if they were available! Anyway, if all the stars align just right, hopefully I’ll be on the RAAM starting line next June!!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how RAW became my gateway drug to RAAM!!! RAAM has been a pipe dream of mine for quite some time now, but until I finished RAW it seemed just too unfathomable and beyond my grasp. It’s still a HUGE challenge, and certainly not something with any guarantees – it is after all over 3 times as long as RAW! Plus you’re at the mercy of the weather conditions – this year we were pretty lucky – I could show up next year and it could be awful conditions – that’s just part of the lottery you enter when you commit to something like RAW or RAAM. But I’ve never felt so confident in terms of making the decision to attempt RAAM as I do now. So stay tuned as I hopefully begin this journey towards solo RAAM in 2012!!

In the meantime though, I’m going to savor the accomplishment of completing Race Across the West – no small feat on it’s own! I had a fantastic race, and truly enjoyed the overall experience. A final thanks to all of my crew and sponsors for helping me to achieve this goal!

Posted in Race Reports | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Race Across the West Online Coverage Details

So the time has almost come – on Wednesday June 15th I’ll start Race Across the West with the intention of riding from Oceanside, California, to Durango, Colorado (860 miles). Below are a list of places that you can get updates online during the race (which has a cutoff of the morning of Sunday June 19th).

Race Across the West Website:


RAW Race Leaderboard:


At some point I believe the RAW website will have a link to official media blogs, which will include written updates as well as video updates.

RAW GPS Athlete Tracker (requires Adobe Flash 10.3)


In the top right corner you can filter who you want to see. Note that there could be instances where this is not accurate – for example if the unit stops working or the battery dies, so don’t get too concerned if it doesn’t show any progress for a while. In these cases the RAW website should still be getting updated with regard to which time stations have been passed, so cross reference it.

Joan’s Blog/Twitter/Facebook:
Mike will be trying to provide updates as time permits and as cell coverage permits. All Twitter updates will also be sent to Facebook and my blog. Going to my blog you should get a comprehensive view of all the Twitter activity:



Hopefully Mike can relay messages to me that are posted on Facebook or my blog. Knowing that I have so many friends cheering me on is a huge motivator! Thanks for all of the support!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

An Epic Memorial Day Weekend in the Eastern Sierras

Mike and I both love the Eastern Sierras and the area around Bishop – it’s just a long way to go for a weekend trip (a 6hr drive if Tioga Pass is open, longer if you have to go via Sonora Pass or Carson/Monitor Pass). So the Memorial Day long weekend at the end of May seemed like a perfect opportunity to head out that way, and being 2.5 weeks before the start of Race Across the West it seemed like good timing – do some shorter rides but still get a good workout in, and get some elevation acclimatization. At this point I’d given up on getting any heat training since spring and summer seem to have bypassed California. Of course that didn’t mean that I was expecting snow storms and sub-freezing temps (which is what we got)!!

Anyway, we headed out Friday afternoon, and thankfully Sonora Pass had just opened that day, so we were able to take that route. We left the bay area around 4:30pm, and with a stop in Oakdale so that I could finish up work we finally pulled into Mammoth Lakes just after midnight. It was cold and windy, a bit of foreshadowing for what was to come.

Saturday morning we decided we would do a loop from Mammoth Lakes to the top of Rock Creek Road and back – it looked like it would be about 60 miles round trip and would go up the highest paved road in California (according to Mike’s guide book about cycling climbs in California). The weather was nippy and windy, and a storm system was supposed to be moving in later in the afternoon so we wanted to be done before the winds got “unsafe”, plus I had to be online for work at 5pm. We set out from Mammoth Lakes and were screaming along with the downhill and the strong tail wind (great, I thought to myself, that meant a head wind coming back which was likely to have intensified even more by then…..). We got off Highway 395 and onto the Crowley Lake loop which took us to Tom’s Place. Just as we passed Tom’s Place I heard a loud popping noise from my bike. At first I thought it was just my derailleur slipping or something (it hadn’t been shifting great lately, and definitely needs a tuneup before RAW). We turned the corner onto Rock Creek Road and the start of the 9 mile climb, and I could tell that something wasn’t right. I looked down at my wheels thinking maybe I had a flat tire or something. It didn’t look like I had a flat, but something wasn’t right, so I stopped to look closer. Sure enough, I had broken a spoke on the drive side of my rear wheel! Even after opening up the brakes the wheel couldn’t spin without rubbing on the brakes. I was incredibly bummed out, and wondered if my weekend of cycling in the Sierras had just come to an unfortunate end. I told Mike to continue on and do the ride, and that I would wait at Tom’s place, try to call some bike shops in Mammoth to see if any might be able to fix my wheel later in the day, and intended to have Mike come pick me up after finishing his ride. I called a couple bike shops and got that lined up, but then I couldn’t stand the idea of sitting waiting for 4+ hours doing nothing. I started playing with my wheel and brakes to see if I could get it to spin without rubbing the wheels. I tucked the broken spoke behind a spoke on the non-drive side so that it wouldn’t flop around, and although I couldn’t get the brakes to stop rubbing I finally decided “to heck with it, I’m going to at least start riding up the climb and see what happens”. Since it was a 9 mile climb I wouldn’t be going much faster than 6-8mph, so even if something catastrophic happened, I would be going so slowly that I shouldn’t get hurt. I figured I could always wait at the top, or start to walk down or something, but at least it would give me something to do other than sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting to be rescued!

So I set off up Rock Creek Road, a 9 mile climb with about 3,000ft of elevation gain that goes up to 10,300 feet total elevation. The bottom section I was definitely laboring, and it was pretty steep, so I quickly dropped into my easiest gear in order to not put too much stress on the already maimed rear wheel. I was starting to wonder if I’d done the wrong thing, but being as stubborn and ornery as I am, I kept going. The road leveled off a bit, but on these sections the wind was howling down the mountain, so although the gradient was less, it wasn’t much easier riding since I was fighting a vicious head wind. There was also more traffic on the road than I’d been expecting – I didn’t realize that there were some lodges and several campgrounds up the road. About a mile and a half from the top I saw Mike coming down the other way. He stopped and I told him my plan – that I was going to go to the top, and if I felt safe descending slowly I would, and that I’d continue to limp along towards Mammoth so that he could come pick me up. He continued down the climb and I continued up. The road pitched up again near the top, and I was definitely feeling the effects of the altitude (amplified by the headwind and the fact that my brakes were rubbing on my wheel while I rode – nothing like a little extra resistance training!).

Top of Rock Creek Road, 5/28/11

I finally got to the top, and there was lots of snow around, and the lake near the end of the road was covered in ice. It was however a beautiful view up the valley into the mountains. The end of the road was marked by a large wall of snow. I propped my bike up against the snow and took some pictures. The ranger came by and offered to take my picture, so I graciously accepted his offer, and we chatted for a bit. It looked like this was the end of the paved road, which was supposedly at 10,300ft, but now I’m not so sure since someone else who did the ride that weekend posted that it was only 9,900ft at that point. Regardless of whether it was 10,300ft or 9,900ft, it was still pretty darned high! It had taken me about 2.5hrs to climb the 9 miles – certainly not very fast, but given the conditions and the fact that I wasn’t trying to kill myself off with super hard efforts this close to RAW I wasn’t too upset.

Top of Rock Creek Road, 5/28/11

Top of Rock Creek Road, 5/28/11

I then set about descending. The road wasn’t very technical, so I figured it would be safe if I could keep my speed fairly low – I initially was going to stay at 10mph, but ended up going about 15mph down the climb (and even crept up to almost 20mph a few times before I realized it and was able to slow down again). I could only really use my front brake (since my rear wheel was so out of true – it was wobbling violently and was mesmerizing to look at), so I just kept things under control and took my time going down the hill. It looked like it would have been an awesome descent if I could have “let er rip” since it was a fairly straight road and I had a tailwind. The bottom was definitely a bit steeper (reaffirming my earlier suspicions when I’d been suffering up that section), and it tested my ability to maintain my speed with only the front brakes. I finally got to the bottom and texted Mike to let him know that I was now about to head out onto Highway 395 and head towards Mammoth. There was more downhill towards Crowley Lake, so I again got to ride my brakes. Then I started hitting the head winds and cross winds……

The wind was definitely picking up, and there were a few sections near the Mammoth Airport where I almost got blown off the road with a couple cross wind gusts! I kept trudging along though, and finally got to the turn off towards Mammoth. I stopped again to text Mike and let him know that I was exiting 395. From 395 into Mammoth is mainly uphill, and the wind was pretty much a straight on fierce headwind. I slogged forward, and finally saw Mike a couple miles from town. At this point I figured there was no point “quitting” – I was so close that I might as well just finish, so I just rode to the bike shop. I ended up with just over 56 miles of riding in 5hrs ride time (thanks to having to go slow on the descents, and then fighting the wind the rest of the ride) and about 5,000ft of elevation gain, most of it at over 7,000ft elevation.

We went to Brian’s Bicycles, and were super impressed with the service we received! Brian (the owner) immediately set to finding a spoke for me and repairing the wheel and truing it. We were probably in there for close to an hour, and all the parts and labor were only $22! So if you ever need bike services/supplies while in Mammoth, I’d highly recommend checking out Brian’s Bicycles. In the winter he’s a Cross Country Ski store, so keep that in mind too!

We headed back to the hotel and quickly changed and then headed to the Looney Bean coffee shop so that I could logon and finish work. I had a mocha which was particularly yummy and hit the spot after a day out in the cold and wind, and some banana bread with chocolate chips in it – also very tasty! Then we headed to the hot springs just south of Mammoth and east of the airport. Shepherd’s hot spring was full, so we backtracked to “The Tub”. There was someone in it, so we waited until he left (let’s just say that he was traveling “light”, which meant not even a speedo….!). After he left we got in, but were surprised that it was only luke warm – that was very unusual. We still soaked for a while and took in the great views of the Sierras and the storm that was moving in over the crest.

Snow in Mammoth Lakes, 5/29/11. Note that Mike is wearing flip-flops!

After dinner we soaked up some more heat by using the outdoor jacuzzi at the hotel – at this point it was snowing and blowing pretty good – hard to believe it was almost June!!! Then the power went out at the hotel……great! Sunday morning the power was still out, so it meant for a cold shower – brrr!!! There was an inch or so of fresh snow on the ground, so no biking today! We instead decided to drive south to Bishop and then drive up to South Lake and Lake Sabrina and hopefully do a bit of hiking there. We stopped at the Looney Bean again for coffee (and a cherry scone!), then headed to Bishop where we stopped off at Schat’s Bakery – a must stop when in the Bishop area!!

Mike at Lake Sabrina, 5/29/11.

Rocky trail at Lake Sabrina, 5/29/11.

We drove up towards South Lake and again entered a snow storm, and the temps quickly dropped below freezing again…. At South Lake we couldn’t really see anything – it was completely socked in. So then we headed to Lake Sabrina. It was a bit clearer there, so we decided to explore a little bit and hike around the lake. We made it to the end of the lake, but then couldn’t find a way to cross the inlet creek, plus we weren’t sure if the trail was passable on the other side of the lake since there was more snow on that side, and it was on the side of a mountain. So we back tracked the way we came. During our hike the clouds came and went and came again, so one moment we could see the mountains, and the next we couldn’t! The wind picked up on our return, and it started snowing a bit again. It was still a nice 3+ mile hike at about 9,000ft elevation though with some nice views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Mike in front of a typical rock formation at the Buttermilks, 5/29/11.

We then headed back towards Bishop and stopped off at the Buttermilks – an area where a lot of climbers congregate for climbing and bouldering. We drove around the backside of the main formation and then climbed/scrambled our way to the top. We saw a rattlesnake curled up under a rock at one point – good job it was cold and he was too lazy to bother us!!

Rattlesnake at the Buttermilks, 5/29/11.

Mike at the Buttermilks, 5/29/11.

From the top we had some great views of the White Mountains on the other side of the valley, as well as the mountains behind us. And the climb had been non-technical enough that even chicken me had enjoyed it! It would have been great to have stayed and explored a bit more, but we had to head into Bishop so that I could get online for work again, so after soaking up the view for a while we headed down again. Going down was much faster than going up!! We just slid down the scree/sandy slope – it reminded me of descending down the scree slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2007 with Katie and Carson.

After re-caffeinating we grabbed pizza and wings at the Pizza Factory in Bishop and then headed north to the hot springs again. This time there weren’t as many people at Shepherd’s, so we waited there and ate our dinner as the sun set over the Sierras. Then at dusk the others left the hot springs and we were able to get in – yay – this one was MUCH warmer!! So we soaked in the hot water and watched the stars come out over the Sierras in the sub freezing temperatures – what a great way to top off the day!

Squirrel enjoying his breakfast at Convict Lake, 5/30/11.

Sunday morning we got up and visited Schat’s Bakery in Mammoth before heading south towards Independence where we were going to do the Onion Valley Road climb – the hardest climb in California according to the book Mike had. First though we stopped off at Convict Lake just south of Mammoth to eat our pastries from the bakery and soak in the great views. There was a squirrel there that was also enjoying the view – of our pastries!!! He was a brave little fella, and even darted onto my foot. Mike was mean and put out his hand pretending he had food in (when he didn’t), so the little guy bit his finger!! Serves him right! ;)

From Convict Lake we headed south to Independence. It was much clearer than the previous day, so we could see the mountain ranges on each side of the valley. The climb up Onion Valley Road is 13 miles long and climbs 5,200ft (going from about 4,000ft in Independence up to 9,200ft at the top), and the last 10 miles are a steady gradient above 8% – yowzers! The bottom 4-5 miles of the climb are deceptive – it doesn’t even look like you’re climbing much since it’s a sloped valley floor that’s so common in the desert as it leads to the base of the mountains, but we could tell from our exertion level that we were definitely climbing!!

View from Onion Valley Road, 5/30/11.

About 5 or 6 miles in we passed a couple of campgrounds, and the road got significantly steeper as we started up some long windy switchbacks. All the while I was wondering where the heck the road went, because we were literally heading towards a mountain wall that looked impassable!! Where the heck was this road going??? Then I caught a glimpse of sunlight flash off a vehicle that had passed us a while back, and I could sort of make out the huge switchbacks that were heading literally up the side of the mountain!! Wow! As we got up higher it continued to get more and more scenic as we got views of the rocks, trees, mountains, and snow up ahead. This stretch of road was probably one of the most scenic climbs I’ve done in California – totally worth the effort!!!

Finally we got to the top, a little valley at 9,200 feet elevation. What a spectacular climb! It had taken about 2.5hrs to climb 13 miles, but climbs like this are what make riding a bike so incredibly invigorating and make you feel alive!! We stopped and took some pictures and put on some more layers of clothing for the descent.

Onion Valley Road is VERY windy!!

View descending Onion Valley Road, 5/30/11.

The descent was even more spectacular than the ascent. Seeing the windy road cut back and forth across the mountain side was pretty amazing. No wonder we couldn’t really see where the road was going when we were climbing – the road was literally right above us!! We stopped several times to take pictures and soak in the views. We finally got back to the car with 3hrs of ride time for 26 miles and 5,200ft of climbing. In terms of “difficulty”, it was certainly not easy, but I find steeper gradients over shorter distances to be more difficult – so to me, a climb like Welch Creek is probably harder. Long climbs like this though with steady gradients I happily drop into an easier gear and just spin up them since endurance is what I’m better at as opposed to brute force strength/speed (although 8% is harder to “spin” – but still easier intensity wise than 18%!). The Onion Valley climb though is a MUST DO if you’re a cyclist in California – it truly was an amazing climb and descent!!

Near the bottom of the descent of Onion Valley Road, 5/30/11.

We loaded up the bikes and then continued heading south where we stopped in Lone Pine for pizza to refuel after our epic climb. Then we continued on with the long drive home, stopping in Weedpatch outside of Bakersfield so that I could get online for work again. There we met a fellow who saw our bikes and started chatting with us – turns out he’d crewed at the 508 and RAAM before, so it was cool to chat with him. Turns out he was from Canada originally as well (so he’d noticed the maple leafs on my bike and the McGill shorts that I was wearing). We finally hit the road again after 8:30pm for the long drive home, arriving after 1am.

All in all it was an epic weekend in all regards – amazing climbs on the bike, weather adversity in terms of wind, cold, & snow, bike adversity in terms of a broken spoke, beautiful scenery everywhere, bakeries, coffee shops, & hot springs! Certainly one of the better all around weekend trips we’ve done – we’ll definitely have to try and do this more often and explore some of the other epic climbs that are in the Eastern Sierras!

Posted in Training Reports | Leave a comment

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!!

Posted in Training Reports | Leave a comment

2011 SFR 600km – San Francisco to Fort Bragg and back!

Having never done a brevet before this year, going into last weekend’s San Francisco Randonneurs Fort Bragg 600km I found myself on the verge of earning my first “Super Randonneur” award through RUSA (Randonneurs USA). This is when you complete a “series” of brevets in one year – a 200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km. A brevet being an unsupported ride where you must arrive at specific controls within a time range and you collect evidence of this (often by purchasing something and collecting a receipt). In February I did the SFR Two Rock 200km, in March I did the PCH SLO 400km and Davis 300km, and here I was signed up for the final piece to the puzzle – the SFR 600km on May 7th/8th. This was also to be one of my last long training rides before Race Across the West (RAW) in mid-June.

Mike was supposed to be doing the ride with me, however unfortunately he’d been out of commission the last month due to injury after finishing the American River 50 Mile Trail Run. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to ride with him for this adventure, however I was thrilled when he said that he was going to drive up to Fort Bragg and be at some of the controls. He would only be able to provide support for me at controls, but knowing that he was going to be out there was very comforting, especially since brevets are unsupported and there is no SAG support or anything if something goes wrong. I knew several other riders who were doing the ride, but I’ve never been much of a large group rider, and many of the people I knew doing the ride were either faster or slower than me. Also, many were planning to take a long sleep break, whereas I wanted to try and minimize my sleep in order to get additional sleep deprivation training before RAW.

Saturday morning we were up at 4:00am so that we could get to the start and sign in before the pre-ride meeting at 5:45am and the start at 6am. When we arrived it was extremely windy, so it became apparent that wind was going to be a theme for the ride. I signed in, got my brevet card, and collected a wrist band in memory of Jim Swarzman – a friend and fellow ultra-cyclist who was tragically and senselessly killed by a hit and run driver while participating in a 600km in southern California a month earlier. The ride was dedicated to him during the pre-ride meeting which brought back a flood of emotions. Then 6:00am came and we were off, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning light.

Saying hello to Kitty before the start of the SFR 600k

At the start I was trying to stay with Jason, Becky, and Melville, but when we hit the first hill Melville and Becky quickly disappeared into the distance, and although Jason wasn’t too far in front of me, he’s a much faster descender so I knew after he crested the hill in front of me that I wouldn’t see him again unless he got caught at a traffic light. I settled into my own rhythm, and continued through the urban areas of Sausalito, Fairfax, and San Anselmo. Just as we were about to leave the urban area on Sir Francis Drake Blvd I stopped to take my vest off since I was overheating a bit. At that point a large group passed me including Michele Santilhano and her friend Kim. I joined that group and rode with them to the first control in Point Reyes, chatting with Michele and soaking up her words of wisdom (she’s an incredible ultra-athlete who completed Race Across America last year, and has done many ultra-running and ultra-swimming events as well). The pavement on Sir Francis Drake is awful, and then on the climb out towards Highway 1 I noticed my back starting to tighten up…..ugghhh! When we got to Point Reyes Michele showed me some back stretches to do on the ground which I would find myself doing at almost every control throughout the ride. Point Reyes is one of my favorite controls since it’s the location of the Bovine Bakery and all kinds of tasty baked goods! I love their “Fruit Slippers” (essentially a fruit turnover), as well as their cheese twists for something more savory. The flavor of the day for the Fruit Slippers was raspberry, so I got one, plus I got a cheese twist for later in the day.

I headed out from Point Reyes with Michele and Kim, and we rode and chatted some more through the Nicassio area and up to Petaluma. I was expecting the wind to be worse on this section, but thankfully it wasn’t bad at all. On this section we passed Tim Woudenberg fixing a flat, then he passed us, and then we passed him again fixing another flat not too far up the road – talk about bad luck! We arrived in Petaluma around 10am at the next control. After a quick stretch/food/water break we were back on our bikes and heading towards Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. The headwinds started to pick up on this stretch, and I continued riding with Michele and Kim and a few others. We joined with a larger group just before Healdsburg, arriving at this control around 12:30pm, 88 miles into the ride. Here I grabbed a sandwich and iced tea for lunch, plus ate my cheese twist that I’d bought in Point Reyes earlier in the morning. While eating I saw Kitty and Clyde and some others arrive. Everyone was still in great spirits and enjoying the day.

I headed out from Healdsburg with Michele and Clyde, but Michele’s strength shone through as she powered ahead to catch onto a bigger group in front. I continued to ride with Clyde as we headed north towards Cloverdale. The wind was much worse on this stretch, and was a very steady headwind. Clyde needed to stop in Cloverdale to get some new batteries for his tail light, plus it was a good idea to stock up anyway since there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of opportunities on Highway 128 heading out towards the coast. I grabbed a Mountain Dew while Clyde got his batteries, and that helped to rejuvenate me. We headed out from Cloverdale and as we got into the hills we were protected somewhat from the wind, but there was a lot more climbing. It was really scenic on Highway 128 though, and it was nice to get away from the more urban areas around Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Healdsburg. On this stretch I saw Mike drive by – it was nice to see him and know that he was on his way to Fort Bragg. We stopped again in Boonville to restock, and then continued on to Dimmick Campground and an “unofficial” control at mile 154. We stopped there and restocked around 6pm. This was the one supported stop on the ride, so we took advantage to have some hot soup before heading out towards the coast and Fort Bragg – it was cool, overcast, and seemed to be threatening rain. When we got out to the coast it was still daylight so we got to enjoy the rugged coastal views as we rode on what seemed like a roller coaster of ups and downs. We finally arrived in Fort Bragg around 8:30pm just as it was getting dark. I was looking forward to something hot to eat/drink, but unfortunately the Safeway was out of hot soup, and the Starbucks had closed early – boo! I did get to see Mike though and get some moral support. Nothing was all that appealing in terms of food, and then I was rushing to try and leave with a group, so I ended up making a mistake and not eating enough. I had a bit of potato salad, and a cookie from the Mendocino Cookie Company that Mike had bought, but probably should have taken the time to eat some more.

As I headed out in the dark with Clyde and our newly found riding friend Jesse, I started getting very sleepy. The flashing tail lights on the other bikes were hypnotizing, and I found myself unable to stay awake. I was also struggling to keep up with Clyde and Jesse on the rollers. I think part of the cause of this was the fact that I hadn’t eaten enough in Fort Bragg. At one point Jesse was kind enough to offer me a carrot of all things! He said that he found things like carrots and apples to be great food on long rides and that they helped him stay awake. I figured “what the heck”, and graciously accepted his carrot. I was surprised at just how well it did work in terms of waking me up – at least for a while. The crunchiness was quite stimulating, so this helped me stay awake. Then as we approached Dimmick I rode and chatted with Jesse as Clyde got further ahead. It was about 10:40pm when we arrived in Dimmick the second time, now 208 miles into the ride.

Given how sleepy I was already, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to keep riding through the night without a sleep break, so I decided that I would stop and sleep for an hour or so in Dimmick since that’s what Clyde and Jesse were planning to do. As soon as I arrived at Dimmick though I grabbed my drop bag and changed into a dry set of clothes. Then I ate some hot chili, and got into Mike’s car and slept in the front seat for about an hour.

Eating chili at the Dimmick rest stop

When Mike woke me up I was surprised to hear that Michele and Kim were in the camp – I had thought they were in front of Clyde and I, but I guess they missed a turn just outside of Healdsburg and so had been behind us. I was also happy to hear that I had missed the rain – apparently it had rained while I was sleeping. Mike got me some hot chocolate with instant coffee in it, and then I prepared to head out with Michele and Kim and Ian (Clyde had already gone on ahead to try and catch Kitty and Mick who’d come through without taking a sleep break – I’m not sure about Jesse). Michele and Kim were planning to stop and sleep in Philo, about 15 miles out of Dimmick, but it was nice to at least ride with them for an hour or so. I chatted some more with Michele, and she was so encouraging and enthusiastic! Pretty soon I was wide awake and feeling pretty strong again. I said goodbye to them in Philo and continued on my own.

About another 5 miles down the road as I entered Boonville my light started to flash, indicating that the battery was starting to get low. I stopped and swapped batteries, and then continued riding. After Boonville the climbing began, and I passed a couple of riders. There seemed to be a dense fog in the area, and it was like riding through a heavy mist. After a while the monotony in the dark started to make me sleepy again, so I started trying to sing out loud and talk to myself to stay awake. I started belting out “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”. Surprisingly it was quite effective in terms of helping me stay awake since it involved doing math (even though it was extremely simple subtraction – when you’re in a sleep deprived and physically tired state even that can be stimulating!). Eventually my brain again began to shut down, so I stopped and downed a 5 Hour Energy shot that I’d carried with me. I then continued on and started to sing “Amazing Grace”. I thought the lyrics were somewhat appropriate in terms of “save a wretch like me”!! I kept singing this aloud for a while, and then started interleaving it with “Silent Night”. I was racking my brain trying to think of other songs that I knew the lyrics to, but for whatever reason I was drawing a blank. I started a couple of Great Big Sea songs, but kept resorting back to Amazing Grace and Silent Night.

Eventually I got to the last long climb before the descent towards Cloverdale. This climb seemed particularly steep near the top, and I was really looking forward to getting it over with. I finally descended into Cloverdale where I arrived at the Starbucks at about 5:05am, just after they’d opened – talk about good timing!! A couple other riders had arrived just in front of me. I ordered a breakfast sandwich and a vanilla latte and quickly scarfed them down and topped off my water bottles before heading out again. I saw some other riders in the general area as I departed as they stopped at the various businesses to stock up and collect receipts for the control. I figured that I would see some of them later in the morning, and I headed out of Cloverdale just as the dawn was breaking – I was now 260 miles into the ride – only 116 miles left to go!

This next section involved backtracking over the same roads that we’d come out on from Healdsburg the day before, only this time I had a tailwind instead of a head wind! It was quite peaceful and pleasant watching the sun rise as I headed through wine country, riding past all the vineyards. I made it to Guernville along the Russian River at about 8am, surprised that I’d not seen a single rider on the stretch from Cloverdale. This stop was 294 miles into the ride. I bought a Mountain Dew at the Safeway and drank that and ate part of a sandwich that I’d carried with me since Fort Bragg the night before. I took off my jacket, vest, head band, and long fingered gloves and then headed out on the road again.

The next stretch on the Bohemian Highway had some really rough sections of road, and a couple of what seemed like steep climbs (although I’m sure they probably weren’t that bad – it was just the 300+ miles on my legs that were complaining!). I started to see a lot of recreational riders on the road as I got closer to Valley Ford. They would go whizzing past me looking fresh and strong, and I would wish I had a sign on my back saying how far I’d ridden so that it would explain why I was going so slow!!! As I passed through Valley Ford and then headed out towards Tomales Bay on Highway 1 the wind continued to pick up. It wasn’t a head wind, but it wasn’t really a tailwind either. In many sections it was a cross wind that did have a tailwind component to it. The road is rather twisty around Tomales Bay with some quite steep rollers, so I’d round a corner on a fast downhill and suddenly find myself blown around by the cross wind. I finally made it to Marshall and decided to stop for some clam chowder – the Marshall Store has some of THE BEST clam chowder around!! I quickly downed my chowder, put on some sunscreen, and then was on my way again towards Point Reyes.

I got to Point Reyes just before noon and was greeted by Mike. This was 340 miles into the ride, and over 300 miles since passing through the previous day. I quickly unloaded some of my nighttime gear that I didn’t need anymore, and visited the Bovine Bakery again. Today’s Fruit Slippers were mango, so I again got a fruit slipper and a cheese twist. Mike told me that there was a RAAM finisher sleeping in his car – it was Tim Woudenberg. I guess he’d been having stomach problems and was sprawled out on the sidewalk looking rather uncomfortable when Mike had arrived, so he’d offered to let him sleep in his car. After eating part of my Fruit Slipper I was on my way again for the final 35 miles. I could taste the finish!!

The ride around the Nicassio reservoir had some strong headwinds, but then it turned back into a tailwind/crosswind as I got onto Nicassio Road. I chatted with a guy on this section who was training for the AIDs Lifecycle Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He was blown away when I told him I’d been riding since the previous morning and was over 340 miles into my ride. The climb up Nicassio Road felt steeper than it should have, as did the climb on Sir Francis Drake Blvd, but I continued on. All the stop signs going through San Anselmo and Fairfax were frustrating, but I did stop at them. Along here another rider (Masa) caught up to me – he was the only rider I’d seen since leaving Cloverdale earlier that morning. He’d gotten to the Guerneville and Point Reyes controls just behind me, and had finally caught up to me on this stretch of road. He rode on ahead of me, but I kept him in sight and it was nice to have someone else around who was part of this same epic adventure. We finally got to Sausalito and were greeted with some spectacular views of San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was about the clearest I’d ever seen it (probably because it was so windy!!). The climb up to the bridge was the final climb, and I was glad that I was almost done. As I crossed the bridge it was incredibly windy – mainly a crosswind coming off the ocean from the west. There are a couple of places that you have to turn to maneuver around the towers, and I had to stop and walk around those corners because the wind was blowing so fiercely that I couldn’t turn my bike into the wind and make forward progress and maneuver the tight corner.

Finally I reached the other side though, and the finish!! I arrived at 2:37pm, which was 32hours and 37 minutes after I’d departed the morning before. My ride time for the 376 miles was about 26hrs 40min, so I had about 6hrs off the bike. Two of those hours were in Dimmick on the return trip when I’d changed, ate, and slept for an hour. The other time was distributed amongst the various controls and other restocking stops. It turned out that Masa and I tied for 12th place out of 58 finishers. I was shocked that I was that close to the front, but I guess many of the riders who were faster than me ended up behind me because they stopped and slept longer. All in all it was a great experience, despite the ups and downs (literally and figuratively!), plus I earned my first “Super Randonneur” distinction for completing the brevet series! Now it’s time to start tapering and recovering for Race Across the West which will be here before I know it!

Posted in Race Reports | 2 Comments

2011 Devil Mountain Double Staff Ride – Whipping the Devil One More Time

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!

My white Specialized Ruby amongst the California poppies on my ride the day after DMD

Posted in Race Reports | 1 Comment

2011 San Luis Obispo Wine & Waves 400km – Remembering Jim

I wish it was better circumstances that prompted me to finally get around to composing this post, but sadly it is a senseless tragedy that has finally prompted me to write up my story about the PCH Randonneurs San Luis Obispo Wine & Waves 400km brevet that Mike and I did on March 12th. It was on this ride that we got to know Jim Swarzman better. Sadly he was killed early this morning by a hit and run driver while participating in the San Diego 600km brevet. As such, I’ve been thinking about that SLO 400km brevet a lot today.

We actually heard about the SLO 400km at the SFR 200km brevet when we were hanging out chatting with friends at the finish. Phil, who we met back in 2008 when we did the LA Grand Tour Triple Century and he tagged along with us for the last 80+ miles and who we see at pretty much every double century or brevet that we do, told us about the event and said he was planning to do it. He said he’d heard the course was pretty scenic, and that it combined aspects of the Central Coast Double with the Solvang Spring Double. We mentioned it to Jason, and before we knew it he’d convinced a big group of local randonneurs to sign up. At first I didn’t think we’d be able to do the event because we had tickets to the Banff Mountain Film Festival that weekend in Los Altos, plus I was on-call for work, but I managed to swap coverage weekends with a co-worker and we went to the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Berkeley the weekend before and sold our tickets to the Los Altos shows so that we could sign up for the SLO 400km with all the cool kids!

We headed down to San Luis Obispo on Friday evening as soon as I could get away from work. Unfortunately that wasn’t until about 8pm, but at least we didn’t hit a lot of traffic on the way down so I think we rolled into SLO around 11:30pm. We got up shortly after 5am to get ready for the start at 6am. The nice thing about this course was that you did an initial 175 mile loop that brought you back to the Motel 6 start/finish before heading out for the final 74 miles. So this meant having an opportunity to change clothes and gather extra supplies for the night loop, so not having to carry quite as much during the day.

There were lots of friends and familiar faces at the start as there was a very large NorCal contingent – Jason, Bryan, Michael, Kitty, Becky, Ken, Phil, Michele, Clyde, Roland, plus probably others who I’m forgetting. And then there were familiar SoCal faces as well – Josh, Kerin, and of course Jim & Nicole. We all rolled out together as a group at 6am and worked our way through the streets of SLO before getting on Highway 101 to head north out of town. The climb up Cuesta Grade on Highway 101 came fairly early in the ride, and although it pitched up in a few places and there was a headwind, it wasn’t too bad. From there we got off 101 and we meandered our way north through Santa Margarita, Atascadero, and Templeton towards Paso Robles, and then continuing north to San Miguel, the first control 45 miles into the ride. Since this was the first control there were still a lot of riders fairly close together, so the store was rather packed with cyclists and the locals were probably wondering what the heck happened to their quiet, sleepy little town! I grabbed an oatmeal raisin cookie at this control which was quite yummy, and we chatted briefly with Michele before she headed out with Jim and Nicole.

From San Miguel we looped back south a bit along 101 before heading west into wine country around Paso Robles. It was a beautiful sunny spring day and the hills and fields were lush and green. We checked in at the secret control along this section, and then we eventually popped out on Highway 46 which we then took all the way out to Highway 1 along the coast. On the climb up Highway 46 we caught up to and passed Jim and Nicole, and I rode with Michele and chatted with her about how my RAW training was coming along. At the top of the climb up Highway 46 there was a support vehicle with some sodas, V8, and water – wow, I totally wasn’t expecting to be pampered like this on a brevet!! Brevets are for the most part self-sufficient, so this was a nice treat! I had a V8 while I waited for Mike to catch up. Jim and Nicole crested the climb close to when Mike did and then continued on down while Mike stopped and grabbed a soda. Then we started the long descent towards Highway 1. The views up here were absolutely spectacular – you could see all the green hill sides, plus the ocean and Morro Bay in the distance. It’s moments like these that you live for on your bike! Part way down the descent I saw Jim pulled over taking some pictures of the scenery – just a typical Jim moment – capturing the moment. It was fairly windy on the descent, and we were just hoping the wind along the coast wasn’t going to be too bad. The wind is typically out of the north, and we knew we had to go all the way up the coast to Ragged Point, so we were expecting head winds on this section – and there were no surprises, there was a head wind.

First though we got to stop in Cambria at the second control. It was now early afternoon, and 94 miles into the ride, so a bit of lunch was in order. I bought a tuna salad sandwich and a Mountain Dew, which hit the spot and revitalized me for the next section. I also took some time to stretch out my back here since it had tightened up a bit during the morning, and particularly on the last section. A large group headed out just in front of us – they were planning to ride together and draft so as to battle the headwinds in a team effort. I however didn’t want to draft since I try not to draft in events like this since they’re training events for ultras where there is no drafting allowed – so I might as well get used to fighting the wind on my own. So Mike and I headed out just behind the large group – and they actually weren’t getting that much further in front of us until after we passed the Hearst Castle turn off.

It was about 22 miles north to Ragged Point from Cambria, pretty much entirely into a headwind. Mike started to struggle a bit on this section – he hadn’t been doing as much cycling training since he’s also been training for a 50 mile run in April and then UltraMan Canada in July, so it’s understandable that he was suffering a bit more than the rest of us at this point. Anyway, we eventually did make it to Ragged Point, the next control, and after refueling we got to head south with a pretty nice tail wind. We took Highway 1 all the way back down the coast to just past Morro Bay where we then took a back road through Los Osos and back into San Luis Obispo. The sun set on the stretch after Morro Bay, but it wasn’t long before we were back at the Motel 6 grabbing some hot food and preparing for the last 75 mile loop. The PCH Randonneurs had some great support – they had hot food for us including soup, macaroni and cheese, chili, and meat balls, plus all kinds of other goodies! It was great to be able to fuel up like this before heading out for the last stretch! I’d asked the volunteer for some chili and macaroni & cheese, and she put them in the same bowl – wow was this good! It may sound weird to mix chili with mac’n'cheese, but boy oh boy did it hit the spot just then! I also had some coffee and soda since I’d been a bit sleepy on the last segment into SLO.

When we finally did depart sometime not too long after 8pm if I recall correctly, it wasn’t very long before we saw the first inbound finisher – at this point they were 75 miles ahead of us – wow!! We headed out from San Luis Obispo and paralleled Highway 101 through Pismo Beach and Shell Beach. We then worked our way towards Guadalupe on Highway 1. Along here a SAG vehicle was stopped and asked if we needed anything – again, it was wonderfully reassuring to know that there was a SAG out there even though we were doing a brevet. I grabbed a rice crispy square treat and I think Mike did the same. We continued through Guadalupe before turning East towards Santa Maria. This was when I started getting really drowsy – I just couldn’t keep my eyes open!! Finally we got to Santa Maria and the control at the 24hr 7-11. We were now 210 miles into the ride. As we pulled up who was there to greet us but Jim. He was his usual cheery self and commented that we were doing great and making up time on them. I believe it was he, Nicole, and Kitty who were there just getting ready to leave. They continued on their way while we restocked. I bought some soda and a coffee to try and wake myself up, as well as some honey roasted peanuts to munch on. And if I recall correctly I think we had a doughnut with our coffee. Before heading out I had to change my light battery since it had started doing it’s disco thing and flashing rapidly (although I hadn’t even noticed it at first in my sleepy state of consciousness).

Finally we hit the road again for the final 39 miles back to SLO. A recumbent rider joined us since his map reading light wasn’t functioning so he had no way to easily read the route sheet. We got to the last info control at mile 236 at 1:35am. Only 13 miles to go! Finally at 2:30am we pulled in to the Motel 6 and the finish, having completed the 249 mile course in 20.5 hours elapsed time. My ride time was 17:20, so we had just over 3hrs off the bike – more than I would have liked, but not too bad considering the long waits at some of the controls, as well as the fact that we stopped and changed clothes and ate before heading out on the final 70 mile route which probably took close to an hour.

There was still plenty of food at the finish, and Jim, Nicole, and Kitty were there – they had just finished not too long before we did. The 5 of us chatted and swapped stories about various events. Jim was full of energy and enthusiasm despite having just ridden 249 miles. We reminisced about the 508 last year when he and I were riding in close proximity for much of the first 2 stages. There was also discussion about PBP which he and Nicole were planning on doing this year. This was the most I’d interacted with Jim, but even in this short time it was enough to leave a huge impression. Jim’s love of life and love of cycling shone through. Every time I’d seen him on the ride he’d had a smile on his face and something positive to say. His presence on Facebook also exuded his cheery personality – on several occasions he’d been very encouraging with regard to some of the events and training that I was doing. I’m deeply saddened that I won’t get the opportunity to ride with Jim again, and I’m angered at the senselessness of his death.

Anyway, the next morning I set out to do at least another 51 miles so that I’d have 300 miles for the weekend. I headed north from SLO on Highway 1, and of course it was a headwind all the way to Cambria. Then I decided to head over Highway 46 to Paso Robles. The views were absolutely stunning during the climb, and it was nice to be out of the wind. Like Jim the day before, I stopped a few times to take some pictures of the view. Pictures can’t do it justice, as there’s something truly exhilarating about achieving these vistas by way of pedaling a bicycle. By the time I dropped down into Paso Robles I’d ridden 63 miles, which made 312 miles for the weekend. While I was riding Mike took the opportunity to find some tasty treats in Cambria – he got an Olallieberry pie at Linn’s, and some really good cookies at the Red Moose Cookie Company. We were able to savor these the whole rest of the week, and they reminded us of the great weekend we’d had riding with friends.

I will always remember Jim when I think of the SLO 400km weekend. I’m sure he’s out riding the endless skies now, and probably stopping to take pictures along the way, and smiling and providing words of cheer and encouragement to those he encounters. That’s just the kind of person that Jim was. Rest in peace Jim – you’ll be missed by many.

View from Highway 46 between Cambria and Paso Robles

View from Highway 46 looking towards Morro Bay

Posted in Race Reports | 2 Comments

Improvised 24hr/triple century ride

The last 3 years I’ve participated in the Davis 24hr event – in 2008 it was my first ride longer than 300 miles, and it’s also where I met Sandy, who’s become a good friend and is my crew chief for RAW. It was never a huge event in terms of number of participants, but a very intimate event with a lot of camaraderie and familiar faces. Unfortunately in 2011 there is no Davis 24hr event, so I decided I needed to try and do my own 24hr ride.

I didn’t do a lot of advanced planning – I just knew that I wanted to try and ride for 24hrs sometime in April. Since Mike’s 50 mile run is on April 9th, I knew that weekend I needed to plan a recovery weekend so that I could support him for that, so what better way to have earned a recovery weekend than having done a 24hr ride the weekend before (and a 300km the week before that). Since the weather forecast was also looking pretty good, mid-week I decided that I was going to give it a shot. But instead of starting on Saturday morning and riding until Sunday morning, I decided that starting Friday night would be more valuable training. First, it would mean additional sleep deprivation since it essentially meant being up for 2 days and 1 night versus just 1 day and 1 night. Second, it meant that I could ride during the day on Saturday and do more climbing later in the ride (versus doing the climbing early in the ride and then finishing flat at night) which is good training. Third, since I’d finish Saturday evening, I could try and ride Sunday as well and get even more mileage for the weekend (although I’ll be honest – I didn’t think of this “advantage” until I’d already started the ride, but it did work out nicely that way!).

Friday evening I set out at 7:15pm. I decided to do loops out to the end of Canada Road and back at night. Each loop was just under 60 miles. I hoped to get two and a half of these loops done and head out on my day loop as soon as it was light in the morning. Since we’d had a mini heat wave during the second half of the week it was still fairly warm in the evening, so I didn’t even need to wear knee warmers or arm warmers for the first loop. It was light out for the first half hour or so, but I always feel a bit depressed as the sun gets lower and lower in the sky and it gets dark, so starting out the ride like that was a bit tough mentally. Once it’s completely dark I usually feel a bit better as I get to enjoy the different atmosphere that night riding provides – the different sounds, shadows & shapes, stars, and the glow from various metropolitan areas. The first loop went well, and I was back home by about 11:30pm. I quickly put on my knee warmers, arm warmers, and vest, downed a Mountain Dew for a bit of caffeine/sugar, filled my water bottles, changed my light battery, and headed out the door again. The first half of the second loop went well, but then I started getting really sleepy. Coming back Foothill on the second loop I was drifting off. A couple times a startled deer on the side of the road jolted me awake. At this point I decided that I was going to need to go down for a substantial nap when I got home rather than head out for another partial night loop for safety reasons. Since I was going to be riding alone all day Saturday, I decided that I needed to try and get a little bit of sleep so that I would hopefully be more alert during the day. Also, I’d been using cornstarch as my strategy to avoid chaffing since it had showed promise during my 325 mile ride at Christmas time, but the last few rides I’d used it I’d had problems, and unfortunately I was already experiencing irritation in that area, so I was going to need to switch strategies and go back to chamois cream. So I decided I would quickly shower and then let the skin dry while I napped in hopes that it would mitigate the damage that had been done and allow me to get through the next 15+ hours. I got home from the 2nd loop at 3:45am, and by the time I’d showered and climbed into bed it was 4:05am. I set my alarm for 5:25am figuring that would give me time to get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and then head out for the day loop just before it started to get light. But then I hit snooze a couple times when my alarm did go off, so I didn’t actually get up till about 5:45am, and I wasn’t all that organized getting ready to go, so by the time I finally headed out it was about 6:40am.

For the day loop I’d planned to head out to the coast via Highway 9, then head up the coast and do some climbing around West Alpine and Tunitas Creek before dropping back towards home. It was overcast as the sun came up and I headed over Mt. Eden and Pierce Road towards Highway 9. My legs felt heavy and sluggish. I guess I had just ridden 119 miles before my extended break, but they’d been fairly flat miles, so I was a bit disheartened that I felt this sluggish. Highway 9 felt tougher than it usually feels, and I started bonking a bit so as I approached the top I was hoping the hot dog vendor would be there so that I could get a soda and/or hot dog, although I knew it was probably way too early in the morning for him to be there. I was right, and he wasn’t there when I got to the summit, so I had to settle for a bag of honey roasted peanuts that I had with me – I downed them quickly and then headed down Highway 9 towards Santa Cruz.

Although I’d driven this road before, I’d never actually ridden it before. It was quite a nice descent – the road surface was pretty good, the turns weren’t too technical, and there wasn’t much traffic. It was still overcast and kind of damp, so I got chilled descending, but it could have been worse. As I approached Boulder Creek I started getting really sleepy again. I stopped in Boulder Creek at a gas station to use a bathroom, but decided to try and make it to Santa Cruz before I stopped for food. I ate some orange Cliff blocks which had some caffeine in them to try and jolt myself awake. The rest of the way into Santa Cruz had a lot more traffic, and the road was a bit sketchier – not much of a shoulder, more debris on the road, etc. As I made it into Santa Cruz finally I was expecting to be able to just turn onto Highway 1, but I hadn’t realized that there was no bike traffic allowed on that stretch of Highway 1, so I had to find my way on surface streets for a bit. I didn’t know where I was going, but figured if I headed in the general direction that I’d eventually find a road that would dump me out on Highway 1. This strategy worked and I got onto Mission which turned into Highway 1. Once on Highway 1 my next objective was to find some food and caffeine. I knew there was a good coffee place along Highway 1 called Coffeetopia, and low and behold there was a Mexican restaurant right next door that had breakfast burritos. So I stopped at La Mission Restaurant and had a chorizo breakfast burrito, then grabbed a cappuccino at Coffeetopia. Both were excellent!!

Then I headed up the coast. It was 34 miles to Pescadero, so I figured it shouldn’t take much more than 2 hours to cover the distance since the ride up the coast was just a lot of rollers but no substantial climbs. What I hadn’t factored in correctly though was the headwind….. It wasn’t too bad as I left Santa Cruz, but not far out of town the wind started to get stronger, and it just got stronger and stronger as I headed further north. On the flats I was lucky to go 11mph, and I couldn’t build up any speed on the rollers, so the climbs were pathetically slow. I tried to just suck it up and deal with it, but it was frustrating nonetheless. The coast line was pretty interesting to watch with all that wind though – Bean Hollow beach looked like a washing machine it was so rough! During this stretch up Highway 1 I got to see the folks who were doing the Santa Cruz 300km brevet – they’d headed up to Half Moon Bay in the morning and were returning down the coast – with a tail wind – I was jealous!!! I recognized Tim Woudenberg early on, then later I saw Sheila Stevens. I stopped and backtracked a bit to chat briefly with Sheila and Tina – anything to break up the monotony of riding into the head wind!!

I finally got to Pescadero about 3 hours after leaving Santa Cruz. I stopped at the gas station there to get a Mountain Dew, and also grabbed a burrito since they make really good burritos there. I ate just over a third of it and then packed the rest for the road. I headed out towards Memorial Park and Haskins Hill. The original plan had been to do Haskins, West Alpine, then drop back down 84 and do Lobitos Creek and Tunitas Creek, but given how late it was in the day, and the fact that I didn’t have my powerful light with me (I just had my small light with me) and I didn’t want to get caught on this side of the hill in the dark, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to stick to that plan, and wasn’t going to fit the Tunitas loop in. I got to West Alpine at about 212 miles into my ride, and I must say that the climb is a lot harder with that many miles on your legs than it is after only 40-60 miles!!! It was a slog to the top, but I made it. Once at the top I headed along Skyline towards 84, and decided I had time to at least drop down the west side of 84 as far as West Old La Honda and come back up that way – it added another short climb and I could get it done and still have time to get home before dark. After doing the West Old La Honda loop I stopped at Skylonda to get a soda and eat some more of my burrito before dropping back down into Woodside.

At this point I knew I wasn’t even going to get 300 miles in before my 24hrs ran out, but I decided that I had to keep going until I’d ridden at least 300 miles. I needed to go home and get my powerful light before finishing up, so I got home around 7:30pm after riding 267 miles. I quickly changed into some dry shorts and a dry shirt (so that I didn’t get too cold as the sun set), put my night reflective gear back on, downed a soda and ate the rest of my burrito, gave Mike instructions on going out and getting some food for me for when I finished, and then headed out to get the last 33 miles done with. I wasn’t as depressed riding into the setting sun this time around -probably because I knew I was almost done. I felt like I pushing hard on this section, but I wasn’t setting any land speed records. I left home at about 7:55pm and got home at 10:15pm.

So all told I’d ridden 301 miles in an elapsed time of 27 hours (ride time of 21:45). My cyclometer reported 15,800 feet of elevation gain, so it certainly wasn’t a totally flat ride. And thankfully I didn’t have any back pain this weekend – a night and day difference from the Davis 300km a week earlier. There were definitely some challenges along the way – mental, emotional, meteorological, physical – but I got through it. Of course thinking about the fact that RAW is almost 3 times the distance and elevation gain that I rode during this ride is a rather intimidating concept – yikes!!

Oh, and to finish up the weekend I went out and rode another 75 miles on Sunday to make it 376 miles for the weekend – my longest training weekend to date if you don’t count weekends when I did 500 mile events. So a pretty solid training weekend. Now I’m definitely ready for my recovery weekend!

Posted in Training Reports | 2 Comments

The latest in wet weather cycling attire – latex gloves, shower cap, and garbage bag

When I found out that my brother was going to be in Davis for a veterinarian symposium the last weekend in March and was hoping to spend some time with us on Sunday/Monday, it seemed like a great idea to combine the trip to Davis to pick him up with doing the Davis Bike Club’s 300km brevet. What I didn’t know at the time was that the weather gods were going to be waging war on California at the time!! We had what felt like a wetter than normal March in Northern California, and the couple of weeks leading up to the brevet were full of rain, wind, and flooding. In fact I was hoping to have done the Santa Rosa 300km the weekend before, but the combination of the severe storm warnings and the fact that I was on call for work that weekend led me to stay home and ride the stationary trainer instead. So I felt compelled not to wimp out 2 weekends in a row. The forecast was for pretty steady rain all morning and into the afternoon throughout the area, not clearing until late afternoon. It was still rather tempting to bail on the ride, except that it turned out that rather than picking my brother up in Davis that night, I had to take him to Davis Saturday morning since he spent Thursday and Friday nights with us so that he could go to Sausalito on Friday and shadow a vet at the Marine Mammal Center. The trip to Davis was unavoidable, so I committed to doing the brevet.

We got up at 3:45am on Saturday morning which seemed much too early for a sane person to be getting up. We arrived in Davis shortly after 6am where I dropped Carson off at the Starbucks downtown where he was going to hang out until a fellow student from his school was going to pick him up and take him to the symposium. Then I headed over to the Park and Ride where the brevet was to start. I was expecting there to be a very small turnout given the conditions, so I was rather surprised to see what turned out to be 61 riders milling around getting ready in the drizzling rain and wind.

At least it wasn’t raining too heavily – yet…. And there was at least one familiar face at the start – Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell was there with his Bikevan. I checked in, collected my brevet card, and set about getting my bike setup. I knew it was going to be wet and cold, so I had several plans to try and help mitigate that. First, I had packed a camelback backpack with 2 changes of clothes and extra jackets, etc. Having only carried 1 change of clothes on the failed SFR 300k workers ride in February, I decided that having 2 changes would hopefully allow me to get dry/warm later in the ride if the rain did in fact clear off, and still give me another backup in case I got wet/cold again. The forecasted high temperatures were only in the low 40s, so it wasn’t going to be particularly warm out there, and being cold AND wet for upwards of 14 hours seemed like a perfect recipe for misery. The camelback was stuffed pretty much to capacity. To try and keep my core at least partially warm I wore a garbage bag over my jersey and under my jacket/vest. I’ve worn garbage bags in the past and they’ve helped cut the wind/cold, so I have no shame in being a “bag lady”!! But my plastics adornments didn’t end there – Jason had suggested wearing latex gloves under my cycling gloves – he said it would help to keep my hands dry/warm. So I donned a pair of latex gloves. I was feeling quite chilled, so I put my headband on, but since it was raining I thought it might be good to try and keep my head dry in order to stay warmer, so I donned a disposable shower cap over my head/headband and under my helmet. My plastic wardrobe was now complete!

At 7am the ride started and the group headed out on the road. I was quite impressed with the optimism and good cheer that many of the riders were expressing – these randonneuring folks are some tough and hardy folks!! The rain had picked up a little bit, and there was a pretty steady south-east wind. The ride headed south for a bit right at the start, and given the miserable conditions I decided today wasn’t going to be a day where I didn’t allow myself to draft. I stayed with a group for the first 10-15 miles before ending up on my own since my pace was just slightly faster than the group I’d been in once we got a tailwind. It also only took about 15 miles before my feet, legs, and arms were all totally soaked, and it felt like my torso was as well despite the plastic bag (I think water was just draining down through the head and arm holes). My gloves were soaked, but my hands didn’t feel too cold – so apparently the latex gloves were working. And the shower cap over my head was keeping my head fairly warm.

The rain continued but would clear for periods here and there. And the sky looked pretty ominous to the west where we were heading. After climbing over Cardiac hill though the sky cleared a bit. The showers continued throughout the morning though. I rode and chatted with Bryan Kilgore for a while during this section. I know he’s a faster rider than me though, so I told him to feel free to go on ahead at any time. Eventually I made it to the first control in Pope Valley. I was extremely impressed with the volunteers and how well stocked the rest stop was (most brevets don’t provide food – rather you buy your own at a store and save the receipt as proof that you were at the control point). A volunteer made me a half sandwich and I downed a V8 and refilled my water bottles before heading out again. Shortly after I headed out I started getting really sleepy, and I was wishing I’d grabbed a soda at the last rest stop. So when I got to Middletown I stopped at a gas station and bought a Sunkist for a pick-me-up before tackling Cobb Mountain. The last couple of hours the left side of my lower back had been bothering me and getting progressively worse, so I also tried to stretch it out before heading out again. There was a definite chill in the air in Middletown, and you could see snow in the surrounding hills. I headed up Cobb Mountain and the rain eased up. Cobb Mountain is a tough climb – there’s a sustained section of about 11% grade, and some other sections that are about 8-9%. So after riding through the rain and cold all morning, wouldn’t you know it the rain stopped and the sun decided to come out just as I hit the steepest parts of the climb. In all my layers and plastic I suddenly found myself sweltering and sweating profusely, but I didn’t want to stop on the steep grade to take any of my layers off, so I kept on riding. As I entered Cobb there was snow on the ground, and it started raining again and was cold. So when I got to the control I eagerly accepted a cup-o-noodle soup from a volunteer and told everyone how a mile and a half down the mountain it was sunny and warm. When I finally headed back down though, rather than being greeted with sun I was treated to rain pelting me in the face for the steep and fast descent. At least when I got to the bottom I had a tail wind pretty much all the way back to the control in Pope Valley (a welcome change after the headwinds earlier in the day). The rain showers continued, as did the pain in my back. After leaving Pope Valley some of the hills felt steeper than I remembered them from past rides, and the rain got pretty heavy, in fact probably the heaviest it had been all day. But finally when I got to the backside of Cardiac the rain stopped for good, and the last 40 miles or so back to Davis were quite pleasant in terms of the weather. Thankfully the wind had died down, so the return was fairly quick. I was pretty miserable though with my back really bothering me, so when about 10 miles from the finish a group of 4 riders passed me and one of them said “hop on”, I only had to think about it for half a second before I accelerated and joined the draft. The last 10 miles went much faster this way, and we arrived at the finish at 8:20pm, 13:20 after we started.

It turns out that only 5 riders finished in front of us, so we were part of a 5-way tie for 6th place. And 52 out of the 61 riders who started did eventually finish – pretty impressive given the conditions! My ride time was 12:44, so I’d kept the off-the-bike time to a minimum (I tried to keep moving as much as possible since I would get cold when I stopped since I was soaking wet). I’d also carried those 2 sets of clothes all day and not used any of them…. I hadn’t got as cold as I’d feared I would, so I’d never felt a need to – I guess all that latex and plastic had done a good job of keeping me somewhat warm. But better to have been prepared and not need the extra clothes than to have needed them and not had them. The biggest downside of the day was my back pain – I still don’t know what caused it to be so much worse. Anyway, tough rides like that supposedly build character, and if that’s the case, my cup now over-floweth with character!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment