Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Great Year of Bicycling

As 2008 draws to a close, I wanted to reflect on my accomplishments over the last 12 months. It has truly been a wonderful year. It started with me setting some ambitious goals, and finished with me exceeding them.

My principle goal for the year was the Death Ride in July. This initially seemed like a lofty target. But from the moment of decision, I devoted myself to methodically training for it. I did plenty of research by reading reports and descriptions, plus I talked with several Death Ride veterans about it. The training culminated with my test ride of the actual course one month before the event. The end result was that I would complete it comfortably and with no problems.

(This whole process allowed me to reflect on the topic of setting and achieving goals. I will write a separate essay on my philosophy on this.)

The other idea I had for the year was to attempt a double century. Covering 200 miles in a single day seemed beyond my reach considering my conditioning and experience one year ago.

I decided to attempt the Davis Double, which is a relatively local, medium difficulty double century in May (before the Death Ride). Although I did plenty of research, I did no specific training for it. Before it, the longest distance I had ridden was 120 miles.

This was a distinctly different approach than my Death Ride training. The reason for this was that my goal was to successfully finish the Death Ride, but merely to attempt to finish the Davis Double. Although I would make every attempt to finish it, I would not be disappointed if I could not. My goal was simply to test my limits.

As it turned out, the double century was within my capabilities. This year's Davis Double would be considered a difficult double century due to the 100°F plus temperatures. I struggled, but I finished. And what a feeling of accomplishment I had!

With the confidence of knowing I could do a double century, I decided I should make an attempt at achieving a California Triple Crown (finishing three California double centuries in a single year).

After the Death Ride, the next double century I could ride in the local area was the Mt. Tam Double in August. This was rated as a very difficult ride, so my goal again was to attempt to finish. Again, I surprised myself by finishing, although I struggled to do it within the time limit.

With that accomplishment, my goal was to definitely achieve the triple crown. I did the Knoxville Double in September. This time I would have been disappointed had I not finished. It was not totally easy, but I did it. And was overjoyed that I could share the "triple crown winner" designation with 472 other people this year.

Besides the rides I mentioned, I did a couple other centuries (Mt. Hamilton Challenge, Giro di Peninsula) and my first brevet (Chualar 200K). I also used my newly acquired breakaway bicycle on my travels to Seattle and Austin. Besides the organized rides, I did plenty of rides with friends, and many good ones solo.

Besides my drive and determination, the other key to my successful 2008 was the love and support of my family and friends. I thought of you all when my lungs were on fire and my legs were begging for rest, and each of you were in my heart each time I crossed the finish line. With you behind me, no ride could be a failure.

I have not yet set my goals for 2009. My time will be much more restricted, so the possibilities are limited. I will definitely do more centuries since I should still be in shape for those. I would like to do another ride in the Sierra (Climb to Kaiser). If things work out, I may attempt another triple crown.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Measuring Rides

The most common question people ask about my bike rides are how long they are. Almost always, "how long" means "total distance". But distance is a very poor measure of the difficulty/effort of a ride. I am never happy just quoting the number of miles because that is only a partial description.

For example, I have done some 30 mile rides that took more effort than some 60 mile rides. Just by looking at those two numbers, it is natural to conclude that the 60 mile ride was twice the effort of the 30 mile ride. But that is usually not the case.

The primary reason for this is because most of my rides involve significant hills. The total amount of elevation gain and the steepness of the road (which are really two separate criteria) make a tremendous difference for the difficulty of a ride.

Two routes can be the same distance, but if one is flat and the other is hilly, the hilly one could easily require two or three times the energy to complete.

The real measure of effort it the total amount of calories burned. I estimate that I burned over 10,000 calories on some of my double centuries, which is a staggering effort. By contrast, my leisurely 20 minute morning commute burns only around 130 calories. However, I can only estimate the calories burned because I do not use a power meter to measure it directly.

There is an alternate measure that is almost as good a measure of effort as calories — time. This is because my rate of calories burned us usually consistent for all my training rides. Most research shows that "vigorous" cycling burns 600 to 800 calories per hour [see references here, here, here, here].

Because my level of effort is the same, note that speed (and thus distance) are not much of a factor. I will keep a fast speed on a flat course, and a relatively slow speed on an incline. For a given unit of time, I will use the same amount of energy, but the distance covered can vary widely with the hilliness/flatness.

For example, on a flat road, I can keep a sustained speed of 20 MPH which requires a significant level of effort. With the same level of effort climbing a 5% grade (a moderate hill), I would more likely average 9 MPH. For a steep hill (10% grade or higher), I am lucky to keep a 4 MPH average.

So if I report that I went on an 2.5 hour ride, that means I burned around 1500 calories (the average American eats 3790 calories per day according to one study). Of course this could mean either that I rode 50 miles on a flat road, or that I rode 25 miles in the mountains.

If I go on a 5 hour ride, it almost certainly would have required twice the effort of the 2.5 hour ride. However, the distances of the rides may or may not differ by the same factor of 2.

There are other factors (like wind, altitude, etc.) which influence the level of effort. But again these are all incorporated when measuring the ride by time, whereas they would make a distance measure that much more misleading.

So if you ask me how long I rode my bicycle on a particular day, expect me to reply with the amount of time, not the number of miles.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Ride

I have not been able to do most of the recent Low-Key Hillclimb rides, so I thought I would try to do the season finale — Mt. Hamilton. Instead, my friend Ravi invited me to join him and a couple other friends for the same route. Since I had not seen him for a while, I thought I would ride it with the smaller group.

I met Ravi a couple miles from home at 7:00am. After a few minutes, we were joined by Suraj, for whom this would be his first attempt up Mt. Hamilton. We rode the 15 flat miles to the base of Mt. Hamilton where we joined the final member of the group, Atri.

We started the climb at 8:40, which was 50 minutes before the Low-Key start. It was a cool and overcast morning, and it became even colder as we ascended. Fortunately the internal heat generated by the effort of climbing kept us comfortable. I expected to have a reduced fitness level since I have not been on the bike for long climbs for weeks. Yet, I decided to push myself and keep the same pace as Ravi. Suraj and Atri kept slower paces, so we stopped a couple times to regroup.

Ravi and me taking a break on the lower slopes. Photo by Suraj.

As we approached the summit, it became steadily brighter since we were reaching the upper level of the cloud layer. Then we started getting passed by the faster riders of the Low-Key group. Even with our head start, they are too strong for us.

With the final approach to the summit, we burst through the cloud layer. After stopping at the destination (Lick Observatory), we looked down at a vast white sea of clouds as we took in the warmth of the bright sun. We had reach the summit at 11:00am.

Looking down from the summit, we see that the very top section the road is in sunlight, while the lower part sinks under the cloud layer.
Photo by Stephen Fong, who rode the concurrent Low-Key Hillclimb.

We waited as first Suraj then later Atri arrived. We relaxed for some time before bundling up for the long, cold descent. The road was wet, but luckily not enough to make the descent treacherous. After reaching the bottom, Atri departed on his separate route home, while the rest of us retraced our morning route. I got back to the house at 3:10pm.

The ride was 6 hours total, and 8 hours 30 minutes on the bicycle. I reached home hungry, tired, and sleepy (since I did not get much sleep the previous night). It would have been a perfect time for a large Thanksgiving feast, but this year we were just having a quiet holiday at home. I ate a big lunch and took a nap.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A New Road

[official results] [route map] [series description]

Having ridden all over the hills of the South Bay Area and Peninsula, I have been on almost all of the mountain roads. However, there are a few that are still new to me, and this weeks Low-Key Hillclimb event was one of those — Bear Gulch Road West. This road connects Skyline Blvd along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains to Highway 84 near the coast. BUT the middle section of this road goes through private land, and there is no public access. This is the main reason that many cyclists have not tried it — it is a dead-end that is not part of any loop route.

The registration for the ride was near the intersection with Skyline Blvd. I wanted to save some time in the morning, so I had Vaishali drop me at the intersection of Highway 84 and Skyline. I then warmed up by riding the one mile along Skyline to get to the registration. It was a chilly morning, so I was fully covered, wearing arm-warmers and leg warmers.

Photo by Christine Holmes.
I am waiting to start and chatting with my friend Richard, and proudly wearing my California Triple Crown jersey. I am prepared for cold weather, but the ride ended up being hot.

When we were ready to start the ride, the entire group rode downhill on Bear Gulch until we reached the gate where the road becomes private. Because the road is narrow (mostly one-lane with no shoulder) with blind corners, the riders started in two groups — the fast group first then the slower group a couple minutes later. I started in the second group.

Before getting under way, I needed to take off my cool weather clothing. This side of the mountains was bathed in sunlight and was fairly hot. Half of the road was under tree cover and still cool, but half was fully exposed and hot.

Getting started was rather tricky. The road at this point is fairly steep, so getting pushed off and getting the shoes clipped into the pedals takes some skill. My start got delayed because the rider in front of me could not clip properly, and had to stop a couple times. This caused me a 20 second delay and I ended up starting from the very back of the second group. This meant I passed several people at the very beginning.

The first half of the three mile road is the steepest. Many people were struggling at this point. Having not ridden regularly for the past three weeks, I was struggling more than I normally would expect to. Once the steep part was finished, I was able to recover some strength. By this time the riders were spread out and I did not see anyone until reaching the finish.

At the finish, bunches of riders were chatting about a common theme — about how surprisingly steep the first half of the road was. The normally quiet road was filled with the sounds of chatter and the constant coughing of riders who had overstressed their lungs.

I refilled my water and ate a banana and a handful of cookies. I also chatted with a couple of cyclists who had also ridden the Death Ride this year. After a little rest, I set off for the 25 mile ride back home. It was a beautiful day and the roads were full of cyclists. I wondered if any of them had ridden on a hidden gem like I had.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Measured Improvement

[official results] [route map] [series description]

This past weekend was the start of this year's Low-Key Hillclimb Series, which I participated in last year. I will not be able to attend as many events this time because of schedule conflicts, but I really wanted to attend the opener. Most of the routes are changed each year, but the opener is always Montebello Road, an old favorite of mine.

Because I rode the same event last year and had my time recorded, I would see how much an intense year of training has improved my conditioning. Since last time, I have lost about 10 pounds, and have a Death Ride and California Triple Crown under my belt. I was curious to see how big a time improvement this would translate into. The other nice thing about the Montebello ride is that it is close to my home, unlike most of the other routes this year.

I rode to the staging area about 30 minutes before the start time. After registering, I chatted with some of the friends I made during last year's series. I talked a while with my friend Adam, whose report on the Death Ride last year was one of my primary sources of research for my attempt at it this year. (Adam wrote his own report about this ride on his journal.) Since I was wearing my Death Ride jersey, a few other people talked to me about this year's Death Ride.

As usual, I decided to start near the back of the pack. Even though I expected to be faster than last year, I am still not nearly as strong as most of the guys (and many of the women) who do this. One psychological benefit of this is that no one passed me, yet I passed several people. I kept pace with Adam and several of the other guys of the "slower group" in the steep initial section of the road. But after half a mile I increased my effort slightly and slowly pulled away from them.

By the time we reached the flat section in the middle, the groups had mostly spread out. I was close to a couple other guys in front of me. I had slowly caught up to them on the steep part, but they pulled away on the flat part. I knew that I would again gain ground once we reached the final steep part.

It had rained overnight, but it was bright and sunny in the morning when we started. The road was still wet in places, but was not difficult to ride on. However, as we neared the top, we were hit with fog and light rain. Fortunately it was not heavy enough to make the road slick.

Photo by Josh Hadley.
Panting and struggling to reach the finish line.

With less than one quarter mile left to the finish, I passed one of the guys in front of me on a particularly steep pitch. I was able to stay in front of him, but could not catch the next guy by the time we crossed the finish line. I looked at my bike computer and saw that my total time was 40:30, which was exactly the time that Adam had predicted for me before the start.

My time this year was four minutes faster than last. This may not sound like a large improvement, but on a steep road, it is difficult to make increases this large. It was actually a bigger improvement than what I expected, so I was very happy with it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Knoxville Double Century

200 miles, 12600 feet total elevation
17 hours (14 hours 30 minutes on the bicycle)

I am now a California Triple Crown winner!

My third double century of the year will likely be my final organized cycling event for 2008. After completing the Mt Tam Double, I needed to pick a third double century to complete my triple crown. There are several of them remaining this year, but Knoxville is the only one in the Bay Area, so this was the most convenient for me to participate in.

The route profile is more difficult than the Davis Double, but easier than the Mt Tam Double. Of course, the overall difficulty can be changed by the weather and by my own conditioning. Because of the travel we have been doing recently, my training has not been as regular as earlier.

My friend Ravi made the trip with me, since he was going to be a ride support volunteer. We left work a little early Friday, drove 3 hours through thick traffic, and I checked in for the ride. We had a quick dinner and retired early in our motel room.

Click for an interactive map.
The rest stops are marked with pins and ordered alphabetically (the start/finish is "I").
The route is a figure "8". The bottom loop is done clockwise, and the top counter-clockwise.

As usual, I woke up at 3:00am, got my bicycle and gear ready, drove to the start (5 miles from the motel), and got underway at 4:30am. The morning air was cool (lower 50's), but not nearly as cold as I had expected.

4:30am, 0 miles, 0 feet elevation

I tried to stay near other cyclists for the two hours of riding in the pre-dawn darkness. Climbing uphill and then descending into Napa Valley, I could tell that I was missing some lovely scenery in the absence of daylight. As I had hoped, the morning descent into the valley was not too cold, so my decision to leave my jacket behind was not imprudent.

6:55am, 36 miles, 1500 feet elevation

The sun rose about 30 minutes before I reached the first rest stop. I arrived at this stop ahead of the main group, so there was no restroom line. There was a significant line by the time I left because a large group arrived after me. I briefly chatted with Ravi was working at this stop. I quickly ate and left, keeping a fairly strong pace.

The route took us further through Napa Valley before climbing out over another hill. I have only come to this area at "tourist" times, so this was the quietest that I have seen these roads.

9:31am, 70 miles, 4000 feet elevation

Again, I was still in the early group of riders, and this streamlined my stay at the second rest stop due to no restroom line. And again, I ate quickly and left soon. However, I was unknowingly miscalculating my energy requirements, and this would be the route segment where that would become apparent.

The next stretch was on the remote Knoxville Road — the namesake of the ride. There is absolutely no development on it. It is actually impassable during the winter (our rainy season) because the road goes through stream beds instead of bridging over them.

The road is a steady uphill, with some steep sections near the top. I actually saw Ravi a second time as he passed me in the car on the way to his next stop. He set up close to the summit and took pictures of all the riders as the passed by, so here I saw him for the third time on the ride.

The beautiful view from the top of Knoxville Road.

After a very brief break at the mini-stop at the summit for a water refill and some minimal snacks, I headed on the mostly downhill route towards the next stop which would be the lunch stop. Here is where my miscalculations bit me.

This ride has one fewer rest stop than the other doubles I did. This means they are spaced further apart. The greater distance coupled with the fact that I was keeping an aggressive pace meant that I had greater energy needs than I usually do. About 20 miles before lunch, I was hit by a gnawing hunger. And about 10 miles before it, I crashed (metabolically). I felt dizzy and sleepy I actually felt like I was riding drunk.

Because I was very close to the lunch stop, I decided to just push onward to it instead of making an unscheduled stop and losing time. I had an emergency energy bar with me, but I did not want stop and wait for it to digest. If I had only drunk a high-sugar soft drink at the mini-stop, I may have avoided all this. What I really should have done is carried extra food from the rest stops and eaten while riding.

12:43pm, 105 miles, 8000 feet elevation

I crawled into the lunch stop and headed straight for the food. I started off with a couple mini-candy bars to jump start the sugar intake. Even though it was warm, I was having chills so I needed to sit in the sun while I ate. After eating, I found a spot in the grass where I could lay down. Twice I dozed off and woke the the sound of my own snoring.

It ended up being a one hour stop — about twice as long as I had hoped to do. I had lost time and was no longer with the lead group, since they had left while I was sleeping. As I left, I saw Ravi again for the third and final time. He had finished all his support work and was getting prepared to do a ride around Clear Lake. It was coincidence that I bumped into him again.

The route then began an overlap with the Davis Double route, though in the reverse direction. I headed up Cobb Mountain from the steeper side today. Thankfully, the obscene temperatures from the Davis Double were not an issue. In fact, we were blessed with unseasonably mild temperatures during the day. My exhaustion would have been undoubtedly worse if we had had the typical heat.

Even though I had recovered from the exhaustion, I was not back to 100%. I no longer kept an aggressive pace, but I was able to keep a moderate, typical pace. The summit marked the last long climb of the route, and was followed by a long downhill, which was greatly appreciated.

3:49pm, 120 miles, 10000 feet elevation

By the time I reached the forth rest stop, I was basically recovered and at the typical energy level I would expect at this point. I could afford to keep the stop short.

Pope Valley, with hills on both sides. Bright blue sky.

5:41pm, 156 miles, 11000 feet elevation

The fifth rest stop would be the last stop I would see in full daylight. I put on the night gear and cold weather gear that I had removed at the first rest stop. Feeling good, I handled the remaining shorter climbs without trouble.

8:11pm, 187 miles, 12300 feet elevation

The last rest stop was practically a formality since the final 13 miles contains no hills. Everyone who makes it this far should be able to finish. It was a quiet road with very little traffic, and the stars were visible in the night sky.

9:23pm, 201 miles, 12600 feet elevation

I arrived to the finish and checked in. I asked the volunteer manning the checklist how many riders were still on the course, and found out there were still over 100, out of around 250 who started. So I actually kept a very good pace overall, considering I started in the lead group and finished in the middle.

For now my Triple Crown is "unofficial" because the finishers list for this ride needs to be officially compiled. Soon after that, my name will be published online as a 2008 winner. I have to say I am very proud of this achievement since this was nowhere on my radar screen at the beginning of the year.

The year 2008 has been an extraordinary bicycling year for me.

Photo by Ravi.

[Update: 01 Oct 2008]: I am now officially an Cal Triple Crown winner.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Still Training

I have not written much in the past couple weeks because I have not participated in any organized rides. Since this summer has been full of events, I stopped documenting each individual training ride like I did at the beginning of the year.

My focus is still on my current goal — the Knoxville Double Century, and the California Triple Crown. I am still amazed that I am actually close to achieving the triple crown (three double centuries in one calendar year). My initial thoughts were that this could be a reasonable goal for next year. Once I finish this, I will declare all major goals for 2008 accomplished.

The Knoxville Double Century is now less than three weeks away, so I need to continue my usual training schedule to stay in shape. Normally I schedule a big training ride at the two week mark, which would be this weekend. But we are out of town for a wedding so I will not be able to do that. I don't think that is a problem. I will just stick to my usual schedule, and then shut down all training at the one week mark.

Over the past Labor Day weekend, I was able to do two training rides — one on Saturday and one on Monday. The Monday ride covered some new territory. I rode to San Carlos and rode on some of the steep hill roads there (Crestview, Club, Hastings). This was a great ride because those roads were much steeper than I expected, and were a nice challenge. The overall distance was 50 miles, and I pushed my pace on the flat parts to finish it all in only 3 hours 30 minutes on the bike.

Click for an interactive map.

The previous Saturday, I rode up to Skyline Blvd on Highway 9 (the ride that I did so many times last year), then continued on Skyline northward its full length to the intersection with Highway 92. I had planned on dropping down to the coast at that point, but I instead headed away from the coast, resulting in a shorter ride. It looked like it was cold, windy and completely foggy by the ocean, plus I was not feeling as energetic as usual, so I settled for the shorter route. Still, it was a 67 mile total and I finished in under 5 hours bike-time.

Click for an interactive map.

The weekend before was more interesting. We traveled to Austin Texas to visit Kavitha (my cousin). I had done some research before going and found that one of the steepest streets in the area is Jester Blvd. I did a ride from Kavitha's house to Jester. The road was steep, but not more than many of the Bay Area roads that I am used to. My group drove and met me at the top of the hill, and an unexpected rain shower drenched me just before I finished it all.

Click for an interactive map.

I don't think I will write another report until Knoxville. I will mainly be doing post-work training rides after this weekend.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chualar 200K Brevet

126 miles, 4700 feet total elevation
9 hours 45 minutes total (8 hours 30 minutes on the bicycle)

After completing the Mt Tam Double, I immediately set my next goal. I want to complete the Knoxville Double Century next month, and thereby achieve a "California Triple Crown" — three (California) double centuries in one calendar year. So my primary need is to maintain my conditioning level for another month. This past weekend, I found an event that would let me do that.

My friend Ravi suggested doing a 200K (200 kilometer, or 125 mile) brevet. Technically, a brevet is a specific type of randonnée. Both of these are French terms, which reflects the European origin of the sport (along with the metric distance measure) in the early 20th century. This is an organized event generally similar the centuries I have done, but with some differences.

The principal difference is that there is no support on the route. Centuries have rest stops, usually around every 20 miles, where food, water, and restrooms are provided. In a brevet, nothing is provided. The riders are required to fend for themselves, usually by doing some research before hand to know where there are stores, parks, and other facilities on the route. The riders must also be mechanically self-sufficient, being able to repair their bicycles in case of breakdowns. This is unlike centuries where they have support staff driving on the course with extra parts and expert help.

Click for an interactive map.
The start and finish are A and E. The route is the counter-clockwise
route. Points B, C, and D are the "controls".

The brevet also requires that the riders stop at specific checkpoints, or "controls", along the route to show that they correctly traversed it. The term "brevet" specifically refers to the card each rider carries in which each control is recorded. A control could take several forms. It could be a manned station where a ride organizer stamps the card. Or it could be a requirement to make a purchase at a specific store on the route and submit the receipt (which has a timestamp). Or it could be a postcard submitted at a post office along the route (the postage cancellation proves the rider was at that location).

Ravi lives nearby, so we drove together to the start in Santa Cruz. The group of about 30 participants departed together at 7:30am. Each brevet has a time limit, and this one was 13.5 hours. Both Ravi and I independently estimated that we would finish in 10 hours, so I did not expect any time pressure of the kind I had in the Mt Tam Double.

The sun had already been out for a while when we started, but we were in blanket of thick fog, making it a cool and dreary start. The route followed close to the Pacific Coast for a long time, so the conditions remained the same for a couple hours. Most of the rural area around the route is productive farm land. We passed many fields where strawberries were being harvested.

Strawberry fields forever

Ravi and I were riding together, and we joined Ravi's friend Scott, and his friend Dave. People generally ride together with others keeping their same pace. This can help people avoid problems or getting lost.

I did not stop anywhere until we reached our first control, which was a small convenience store at the 50 mile mark. This is usually much longer than I would usually ride without stopping for water and a restroom, but cool misty air reduced my water requirements. If I needed it, I saw several gas stations along the way where I could have stopped for water an a restroom.

We needed to buy something at the stop to submit the receipt, but they did not have much real food there, just snack food. I bought a small bag of chips. I ate half the bag and ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had packed and carried with me. From this stop we headed further inland, and the fog lifted. I felt the warm sun for the first time at 10:30am.

The next control was only 10 miles away, in the tiny town of Chualar, which is where the name of this event comes from. It is basically the furthest point of the route. Here we dropped the postcards that the organizers had included with our brevet cards. Since we were already stopped, we resupplied at the small store across the street from the post office.

We rode mostly southeast to get here, so the next part of the route heads back northwest towards the start, which is directly into the wind. Since we were in the base of the Salinas Valley, the winds are focused by the mountain ranges on either side. The four of us rode single-file in a paceline. This greatly helped reduce the effect of the wind, since only the person at the front of the line was fighting it. We rotated positions every half mile, with the person at the front falling back to the rear.

Our paceline.

After about 10 miles, the route turned and headed out of the valley over the hills. We no longer needed the paceline, so Scott and I rode alongside and chatted (it turns out he lives less than a mile from me) while Dave and Ravi sped ahead of us. When we reached a fork in the road, Scott and I were unsure whether Dave and Ravi took the correct branch. They were too far ahead of us to know for sure. We continued along the correct path. After 20 minutes, Dave caught us from behind. They had taken the wrong branch, but realized it before going too far. Unfortunately, they lost time and energy climbing the wrong hill.

Climbing the Gabilan Range on San Juan Grade.

After summiting, we descended to the next control in the town of San Juan Bautista. Here we needed to purchase something at the grocery store. They had prepared food available, so I ate a vegetarian tamale. Ravi finally caught up to us as we were eating. This stop was at roughly the two-thirds point of the route, so we made it a longer, lunch stop.

The four of us headed out together, with the next stop being the finish. Ravi kept a slower pace so he fell behind (he was working harder than the rest of us because he was riding a fixed-gear bicycle). We had agreed to just meet at the finish if we kept different paces. I took the opportunity to really push myself and finish strong. I kept a similar pace as Dave and Scott, though at times I sped ahead of them. I arrived at the finish at 5:15pm, 15 minutes before my estimate of 10 hours.

The organizers had drinks and snacks for us. I changed to clean clothes and chatted with the organizers and the other riders. After Ravi arrived and checked in at the finish, we did the one hour drive back from Santa Cruz and got back to Sunnyvale close to 7:30pm (we had left around 5:45am).

I thoroughly enjoyed my first brevet. I do not think there are any other ones scheduled locally this year, so I may have to wait until next year to do another. I have to find other ways to stay in shape for my next double century.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mt Tam Double Century

200 miles, 15500 feet total elevation gain
17 hours 30 minutes total (15 hours on the bicycle)

I had not mentioned it in my reports, but my post-Death Ride goal was to do another double century. I had only given it a little thought before the Death Ride, but decided to do it immediately afterwards. I chose this one because it is relatively nearby and it was the next organized ride scheduled after the Death Ride.

I did not need to do any specific training since there was only a three week gap between events. I just did my usual training to keep my conditioning at the same level. I knew it would be difficult for me because I had done the total elevation before (Death Ride) and the total distance before (Davis Double Century), but never this much elevation and total distance.

Click for an interactive map. The start/finish is point K, the route is clockwise, and the rest stops are marked by letters in order.

I booked a motel room in San Rafael (near the start) for Friday night and drove there after leaving work early. I checked in for the event and went to sleep early (around 8:30pm). I woke up at 3:15am, got ready, packed up, drove to the start, and got under way at 4:20am.

4:20am, 0 miles, 0 feet

The "official" mass start was scheduled for 5:00am, but many people decided to leave even earlier to give themselves extra time, and I was among them. I found a group that was going the speed I wanted, so I hung with them. In the predawn darkness, it was nice the have the combined light of five bicycles illuminating the road. I increased my pace slightly after daybreak and left the group. After a short rest stop for some food, the route took us to the top of Mount Tamalpais, which is the one of the major peaks of the Bay Area, the namesake of the event.

Looking down from Mt Tamalpais, downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge poke through a hole in the fog layer.

7:55am, 38 miles, 5000 feet

There was a checkpoint at the top of Mt Tam where the event officials recorded all the rider numbers. This would be used to ensure that riders properly adhered to the route and there were several other checkpoints on the course. From here, the route left the sunny mountain peaks and plunged through the fog layer to the ocean coast below. We rode north on Highway 1, up and down along the cliffs above the Pacific in the cold mist. There was no food at the checkpoint but there was a proper rest stop at the bottom of the descent. Again, I kept my stay there brief, eating quickly and leaving.

We continued north on Highway 1 for a long stretch before turning back inland and climbing some smaller hills to the third rest stop. I took a few pictures and videos, but not as much as usual. The roads were either winding and rough, requiring both hands on the handlebars, or they were narrow and had significant traffic, requiring full attention.

11:12am, 85 miles, 6500 feet

The third rest stop was a bigger one. I was tempted to stay longer, but I did not have that luxury. The difficulty of this route is not just the length and hills, but the strict time limits. Most of the other rides I have done also had time limits, but those were much more generous. For this event, I had to keep a strong pace and minimize my rests to have any hope of finishing within the given time window. To this point, I was keeping good time and it looked like I had a comfortable cushion.

After this stop, the route crossed a significant hill (nicknamed the "Marshall Wall") to head back towards the coast and to Highway 1 again. This is where we first encountered the wildcard that would be the biggest challenge of the ride — a vicious headwind. The next 40 miles of the route were predominantly towards the northwest, and directly into the wind. At times it was a crosswind, and we had to lean our bicycles into the wind just to ride in a straight line and avoid being blown across the lane.

1:46pm, 114 miles, 9000 feet

I reached the next rest stop exhausted from the constant wind. This was the lunch stop so I ate more and rested more (30 minutes) than I had previously. I left the stop at 2:15, which was significant because riders needed to leave by 2:30 to be permitted to continue with the full 200 mile course. Whereas earlier I was comfortable with my time, now I was getting concerned. I was slowed tremendously by the headwind. The next challenge would be the steepest road of the route — Coleman Valley Road. Fortunately, this would be the last challenging climb. I paused for two minutes when I approached it to let my energy level rebuild. I was able to muscle my way up the incline with slow but steady pace, not requiring me to stand and pedal.

There was another official checkpoint at the top. I asked the volunteer how many people had passed by before me and he said roughly 60%. I was not as far behind the pack as I thought. From here the the route turns back south and the wind becomes a tailwind. Unfortunately, the help provided by the tailwind is never as much as the penalty inflicted by the headwind, still the extra push was appreciated.

I was now feeling more encouraged since the steepest hills were finished and now the route was heading back south with the wind. The next cutoff is the required finish time by 10:00pm, after which the support crew requires riders to accept rides back to the end point. There was still a lot of time left, but there were still many miles to cover.

5:20pm, 143 miles, 11000 feet

The route returned to the same spot of the previous rest stop. This time I again tried to minimize my rest time. Shortly after continuing, I was hit by a wave of sleepiness. This was a new experience because it was not a symptom of exhaustion, because my energy level had not dropped. I was overcome by the strong urge to stop and take a short nap. But there were two problems with this — I was in the middle of farmland with no parks or similar places to stop and rest, plus I just did not have the time to spare. Now my mood again swung negative. I felt like there was no way for me to finish on time. (It is not unusual for endurance athletes to experience wide mood swings as the toll of physical and mental exertion cause moods to fluctuate.)

The 30 miles to the next rest stop were long and lonely. The miles/hours so far had taken their toll and I was keeping a slower pace than I expected. I had to resist the urge to continuously look at my odometer and clock and calculate my pace. I finally forced myself to not look at any of the instruments (and thus be disappointed at my slow progress) and just keep looking at the scenery.

7:10pm, 170 miles, 13000 feet

I reached the next rest stop with a sense of urgency. By my calculations, I still had a realistic shot at making the final cutoff of 10:00pm, but I had no margin for error. I made a quick call to Vaishali to coordinate our plans. She was to meet me at the finish and drive us back home. I left a voicemail telling her to be there at 10:00, and that I would do my damnedest to be there by then too. I ate food as quickly as I could, skipped the bathroom break (which I had taken at all previous stops), and headed out. There was one more rest stop and 30 miles between me and the finish.

The stretch to the next rest stop might have been the hardest. It definitely was the loneliest. I saw no other riders for the whole stretch. The sun finally fully set about 5 miles before the stop.

8:46pm, 186 miles, 15000 feet

I pulled into the last rest stop and no other riders were there, just the volunteers manning the station. Many people would have already finished by now. I wondered about the people who were still at the previous rest stop when I left — their chances did not seem to good if I was cutting it this close. I felt like I needed more energy for a final push so took some food and ate quickly. While I was stopped, about 4 other rides passed by without stopping. They were in the same mad rush as me and were cutting every corner they could. Now I had only 12 miles to the finish and 1 hour left to do it. Normally this would be a given, but there was one final hill to climb and I was pretty tired from the long day, so it would be a challenge to make that pace.

I was surprised by the pace I was able to keep. After some time, I passed the group of riders who had skipped the stop. I was being fueled by the caffeine (I drank a cola at each stop) and adrenaline. I had to be sure to make no wrong turns in the dark because the resulting lost time could not be recovered. I climbed the hill without problems, but had to descend it relatively slowly because my headlight was illuminating only a short stretch of road ahead of me. When I reached the last turn for the final two mile stretch to the finish, I saw the time was 9:30. This was easily enough time for me to make it, and I yelled out loud, "Alright"!

9:40pm, 200 miles, 15500 feet

When I reached the finish, most of the parked cars were gone and only a small crowd was still there. All of the strong riders were done hours earlier. Vaishali was waiting for me. I checked in at the finish, packed away the bicycle and most of my gear, changed to clean clothes, and ate some of the dinner there. A few people trickled in after me, cutting it even closer than I did. Vaishali drove the 1.5 hours home, and I slept most of that time

It was a long day and quite an ordeal. On all my big rides this year, there was always a different, major obstacle caused by the weather. On the Davis Double, it was the 100°F+ heat. On the Death Ride it was a sudden hail storm. Today it was unusually strong winds. This was quite a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I pushed myself to the limit of my capabilities and still succeeded. I can say that this was the most difficult bicycling event I have done to date.


I did take a few videos on this ride. I did not feel any really added much to the report (or were really very good) so I did not embed any. I thought I would just include links to them so anyone curious can see them.
  • [video] Other riders climbing the "seven sisters" towards the summit of Mt. Tam.
  • [video] Looking down at the coast while climbing Mt. Tam.
  • [video] Me along Highway 1.
  • [video] Riding past Nicasio Reservoir.
  • [video] Me happy after finishing Coleman Valley Road.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Death Ride

129 miles, 16000 feet total elevation gain,
13 hours 40 minutes total (10 hours 45 minutes on the bicycle)

It was finally time for the event for which I have been training for the last 6 month. I did the Death Ride, and finished it without problems. It was a lot of fun, except for the freak thunderstorm and hail.

The week before the ride, my coworkers made a poster for me and signed it with words of encouragement.

Vaishali and I drove to the area on Friday. I wanted to checkin for the ride early and then get to our motel for an early bedtime. The closest motel we could find was in South Lake Tahoe, which is a 40 minute drive to the start/finish in Markleeville. During most of the drive there, we could not see much of the mountains because of the smoke. There is a forest fire raging near Chico, 150 miles away, which is injecting smoke into the atmosphere of eastern California. We could even smell the smoke in the air. I hoped that the air near the route would be better, because I did not want to breathe smoky air for 12 hours.

After checking in for the ride, we drove to our motel, ate a big dinner, and I went to sleep at 8:00pm. I got up at 3:00am, got ready, and had Vaishali drop me at the start. I started riding at 4:30am. There was a steady stream of blinking taillights in the predawn darkness as many cyclists wanted to get a head-start on the long day.

Click for an interactive map. The route is:
  • E to B: Start point, up the west side of Monitor Pass, then down the east side.
  • B to C: Turn around, up the east side of Monitor Pass, down the west side, then up the east side of Ebbetts Pass, and down the west side.
  • C to D: Turn around, up the west side of Ebbetts Pass, down the east side, (pass by the start/finish), then up the east side of Carson Pass.
  • D to E: Turn around, down the east side of Carson Pass, finish.
4:30am, 0 miles, 0 feet

The first part of the ride was very cold. It was 45 minutes until sunrise, the temperature was in the upper 40's, and it was downhill 5 miles. We reached junction with the roads that lead to Monitor Pass and Ebbetts Pass. Both of them were closed to motor traffic for this event, and the cyclists enjoyed having the road to ourselves. A left turn here took us towards Monitor Pass. The climb was pleasant since I was now building up heat. Watching the sun rise in the mountains was beautiful.

5:30am, 15 miles, 3000 feet

I skipped the stop at the top of Monitor Pass. I was not hungry and did not need to rest since I now had 12 miles downhill on the other side of Monitor Pass. At the bottom, I ate and stretched at the rest stop. The temperature was warmer, and on its way to the low 90's that was predicted. At this stop, the organizers provided the facility to drop off items that riders did not want to carry, which would be transported to the finish for pickup later. Most people dropped off their jackets here, but I kept mine. Most of those people would eventually regret that decision.

6:00am, 25 miles, 3000 feet

Now the route retraced its path, going back up to the top of Monitor Pass and back down the other side. I felt fine most of the climb, but was more tired than I expected to be. I stopped at the top this time because I wanted to stretch my neck. The ride back down the west side was great. I set a new personal speed record of 47 MPH, but there were plenty of guys going much faster. Even when I was in the low 40's, guys were zooming by me.

8:15am, 40 miles, 6000 feet

After finishing Monitor, the next part of the route was Ebbetts Pass. Like the previous part, this meant going up the front side, down the back, turning around, and retracing. This was probably the most difficult climb since it is the steepest part of the route. I was feeling pretty strong at this point and had no problems with it. Like before, I skipped the rest stop at the top and rested at the bottom on the far side.

10:30am, 60 miles, 9000 feet

The heat was apparent on the return climb. Again skipping the stop at the top, I descended the front side. This part had to be taken more slowly because the road is narrower, rougher, and it contains many blind corners. Many of the people who were coming up at this time were suffering. I saw many resting in whatever shade they could find.

12:30pm, 70 miles, 11000 feet

The rest stop at the bottom was the official lunch stop. Most of the elevation gain was done since 4 of the 5 passes were finished, but only about half the distance had been covered. All the sandwiches were premade, and none were vegetarian, so I stuck to my usual — mostly cookies, potato chips, pretzels, orange.

Did this passenger get too much sun? A group of cyclists were riding together and taking turns towing the trailer.

It was 20 miles to get to the start of the climb of Carson Pass, consisting of smaller hills, none difficult, but challenging enough considering how much energy we had already expended. There was a rest stop at the beginning of the Carson Pass climb, with volunteers spraying cyclists with a garden hose. Little did we know this would be the last hot part of the day, and that Mother Nature would be spraying all of us with water.

1:30pm, 95 miles, 12000 feet

The climb up might be the easiest ascent of the route. About one third of the way up, I was startled by a loud thunderclap. I looked over my left shoulder and was surprised to see dark skies. My first thought was regarding what rain would do to the road conditions. This part of the route was not closed to cars, and there was regular traffic. Then I realized that thunder always follows lightning. The last thing California needs now is another lightning-ignited forest fire. I reached the rest area halfway up, and most of us discussed the weather conditions. We expected to get wet but hoped it would not be too bad.

Continuing on to the final summit, we kept hearing thunder, but it seemed to be getting more distant. The change in weather had the much appreciated effect of cooling the air during the final climb. The second half of this climb is less steep than the first half, and I was putting in my full effort knowing that it was practically all downhill after the summit.

4:00pm, 105 miles, 15500 feet

I reached the summit of Carson Pass. There was a celebratory mood. We had all finished the 5 passes of the Death Ride! About five minutes after I arrived, we were hit by a shower of hail. People scurried under the temporary shelters as pea-sized hailstones fell all around. The stones even reached marble-size at one point. The hail continued for about 10 minutes after which it became a steady rain.

Video of the hail storm.

My decision to carry my rain jacket proved fortuitous. Few others had jackets. Most improvised by making temporary ponchos using plastic garbage bags and tearing holes for their head and arms. After about 20 minutes, the rain reduced to a slight drizzle. Many people were standing around shivering.

I needed to decide when to head back to the finish. It was 20 miles, mostly downhill. Although my upper body was dry, my shorts and hands were wet, and my shoes were soaked. There was no telling when conditions would become dry again. After having spent about 30 minutes at the stop, I joined the small trickle of riders leaving, not wanting to waste any more time.

I started the descent fairly slowly at first, knowing that my brakes would have lost much of their effectiveness by being wet. As I got comfortable with their capabilities, I allowed myself to get up to 25 MPH at times (whereas I would have been going around 35 MPH if dry). I was surprised to find that my hands and feet were not getting frozen. Although it had cooled off from earlier in the day, the air temperature was still warm enough that I did not get miserable. Very few people passed me at this point, but I zoomed by many people who looked frozen. The rain tapered off eventually.

6:15pm, 129 miles, 16000 feet

I returned to the finish where there was a party atmosphere with live music and dinner for the riders. I called Vaishali to pick me up. While waiting for her, I ate. It was a barbeque dinner, so I ate potato salad, pasta salad, and three bean salad.

When Vaishali arrived, she was surprised to find that the area was wet — it had not rained where she was. She was concerned about my condition. I told her I was wet, but felt great. I did not get frozen, I did not get exhausted, I did not breathe in smoke. In fact, I still had a lot of energy, and she noticed that. On our drive back to our motel, I told her the story of the surprise storm.

So the last 6 month have been a pursuit of a single goal, and now I have accomplished it. It is quite a feeling of satisfaction to set a high goal and achieve it. But my cycling adventures for this year are not done. I still have a couple months of prime cycling weather this summer, so I need to find some new goals. I will decide soon what those will be.


Here are a few other videos I took. I did not want to embed them into the report because it was getting too long. Most of these videos have more description in their "Details" tab.
  • [video] Me riding up the west side of Monitor Pass just after sunrise (hence no sunglasses yet).
  • [video] Climbing back up the east side of Monitor Pass.
  • [video] Cheering volunteers at the rest stop halfway up Monitor Pass (west side).
  • [video] Me climbing up the east side of Ebbetts pass.
  • [video] Further up the east side of Ebbetts pass while another cyclist plays music.
  • [video] The rest stop at the base of Carson Pass.
  • [video] Halfway up Carson Pass.
  • [video] Near the Carson Pass summit.
  • [video] The top of Carson Pass just before the hail started.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Final Preparation

This weekend was my last training ride before the Death Ride. I was planning to do a medium length ride, but it ended up being a fairly long ride. I decided to ride from home to Santa Cruz and back. This would require some significant hill climbing, but none of them too difficult.

Click for interactive map.


I left home around 10:00am. I rode uphill on Highway 9, crossed Skyline Blvd, and rode Highway 9 down until it ended at Santa Cruz. I stopped there to eat lunch. It was 45 miles to get to this halfway point, so it was clear that this ride would not be "short". My return route was uphill on the Empire Grade, a road roughly parallel to Highway 9. After passing through Big Basin park, the road rejoined Highway 9, and I retraced the route back home.

I made it back to the house at 7:30pm, after 104 miles. Although this was longer than what I wanted to do, it was a great ride. I still had plenty of energy when I finished.

Unlike the organized centuries I have done, there were no preplanned snack breaks. But since I was familiar with the route, I knew where I could stop for bathroom breaks and water breaks. Besides lunch (falafel and big cup of Sprite), the only other calorie intake was the Mountain Dew I drank at Big Basin on the way back (which gave me an instant energy boost, thanks to the sugar and caffeine).

Considering that I did a century both this weekend and the previous one, and also considering that I rode the Death Ride course 3 weeks ago, I feel like I am fully prepared. This week will now just be rest for me.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Giro di Peninsula

147 miles, 7000 feet total elevation gain,
13 hours total (10 hours 30 minutes on the bicycle)

With exactly two weeks to go before the Death Ride, I thought I should do a long ride in preparation. I signed up to do the Giro di Peninsula (Italian for "Tour of the Peninsula"). Since this is a less intense (shorter, much less elevation gain) than the Death Ride, I decided to "supersize" it by riding to/from the start instead of driving.

The start/finish is at the Bay Meadows horse race track in San Mateo, which is 23 miles from home. To get there at the official registration time, I left home at 4:30am. Although it was before dawn, I did not put a headlight on my bike (I did have a flashing taillight). Because daybreak is around 5:00am, there was just enough light to see the road, and there was zero traffic. The only hazard I faced in the dark was a close encounter with a skunk. It was crossing the bike lane as I came by, but we saw each other at the last second and we avoided the collision. Thankfully it did not spray me.

Click to see an interactive map.

I reached the registration at 6:15am, ate some snacks, and them met Joel, my boss. He is a triathlete who was also interested in doing the Giro. Joel also brought along two other friends — Lawrence and his wife Michelle. We all left around 6:30am. We rode through the cold morning air up to the Crystal Springs Reservoir then along the mostly flat Canada Road to the town of Woodside. From there we started the first big climb of the day — up Highway 84 to Skyline Blvd. I had descended Hwy 84 several times, but had never climbed it. It may be the easiest ascent to Skyline, never too steep and with a smooth surface.

At Skyline, Michelle left since she was not planning on doing the full ride. The remaining three of us headed down the other side of Hwy 84 towards the coast to the next rest stop at San Gregorio. From there we headed north on Highway 1 for a short distance to reach our return route to Skyline — Tunitas Creek Road. This was the toughest climb of the route. It is moderately steep in many places, but was no problem for me since I am still in my best condition.

We reached Skyline again and continued across to descend on Kings Mountain Road back to Woodside. From here there were only a few short climb through the town of Portola Valley and into Palo Alto on Page Mill Road. From Page Mill, the route takes us back down on Altamont Road, which I had been on numerous times. Lawrence and Joel are alumni from Yahoo, and Lawrence pointed out the house on Altamont that belongs to Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang. I had noticed that house on my previous rides because it was under construction, but did not know that it was Yang's.

Joel, Lawrence, and Murali near the end of the ride. We pretended to have a sprint finish for the camera.

After that descent, the route retraces itself, taking us back through Portola Valley and Woodside. We skipped the last rest stop so that we could get to the finish sooner. We rolled back in at 3:30pm. Joel and Lawrence decided to leave right away, but I stayed to indulge in the food. They were done for the day, but I still had the ride home ahead of me. At the five rest stops we went to along the route, I ate cookies, peanut butter jelly sandwiches, boiled potatoes, and oranges. But at the finish they had hot food. I had pasta, salad and bread.

After a half hour break, I headed for home. My legs were just a bit tired, but it was an easy ride home. I arrived at 5:50pm. This is one of the less difficult centuries, and it was not a hot day, so I had absolutely no problems. The extra distance I added made it a good warm-up for the Death Ride. I will do my last training ride next weekend, but not something this long. I am getting pretty excited as the time approaches to do the event I have been training for for the last half year.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Preview of the Death Ride

With one month to go before my principal 2008 bicycling goal, I had a preview of what it will be like. I traveled to the Sierra and rode on the Death Ride course. This was my chance to prepare by seeing exactly what the course is like -- how steep it is, which parts are flatter and which are hillier, what condition the road is in, etc. But my primary concern was how I would be affected by the altitude.

I traveled with Vaishali, my father, and Rom. We left the Bay Area Friday after work and had to fight rush hour traffic for a while. After finally reaching Stockton, we finally saw mostly clear roads the rest of the way. There was enough sunlight to view the scenery as we entered the mountains, but it was dark by the time we reached Markleeville.

We stayed in downtown Markleeville, not far from the start/finish of the official route. We went to bed right away, and the overnight rest was my only chance to acclimatize to the altitude (Markleeville is at 5500 feet elevation).

My initial plan was to start just after daybreak, around 5:30am. But, instead, I decided to sleep a little longer and rest since I had not slept too much the previous couple days. I started around 7:30am. It was cool (lower 50's), so I was wearing my jacket. The initial part was mostly downhill, so I did not build much internal heat for the first 20 minutes.

I was following the official route, so I started up west side of Monitor Pass. By now it was warm enough in the sun that I did not need my jacket for the climb. I kept a slow pace to preserve my energy, since I had many miles and many hills ahead. I started breathing hard much earlier than I normally do, and obviously this was because of the altitude (the summit of Monitor Pass is at 8300 feet).

After a brief pause at the summit, I started the long descent. There was very little traffic, and the road was fairly smooth, so I was able to descend fast (between 35 to 40 mph). On the day of the event, the road will be closed to motor traffic so everyone will be descending at equally high speeds.

I reached the bottom by 9:30am. This was one hour before I had expected to. I had told my support crew (Vaishali, Dad, Rom) to meet me there at 10:30 so I could refill my water bottle. I was down to a half a bottle, but I did not want to wait for an hour. Fortunately, there was a fire station at this location, so I was able to fill my two bottles from their outdoor faucet. After that, I started the return trip back to the top of Monitor.

Climbing up to Monitor Pass.

About halfway up the east side of Monitor, I crossed paths with the support crew. We stopped at a pull-out and I took a break. I filled my water bottles and ate some snacks (banana, cookies). We then made our plans for the next rendezvous. I told them to continue the scenic drive down the East side of Monitor, while I continued to the summit, back down the west side, then back to the rental house in Markleeville for a break.

By the time I cruised down the west side of Monitor, I was seeing more cyclists on the road. Some were, like me, preparing for the Death Ride, but others were simply cycling in the Sierra. Again, with little traffic, it was a fast descent. I arrived back at the house at noon, so I washed up and ate lunch. So far, I had no problems and was ahead of schedule.

At 1:00pm, I left the house and started eastern ascent of Ebbetts Pass. The first half is a shallow incline, but suddenly becomes steep. Although it is no steeper than my usual training rides, I was tired from the amount of energy I had already used and because of the elevation, so I struggled a little. I made it up to the 8700 foot summit without stopping, but was almost at the end of my energy limit. I stopped for a while and ate a few cookies I had brought along.

The descent down the west side was relatively short. I quickly reached the turnaround point at Hermit Valley. There I saw a group of cyclist at an organized rest stop. I asked them what they were doing and they told me they were scouting a route to create a double century (200 miles) over 8 passes. That's impressive, considering that the Death Ride is "only" 130 miles over 5 passes!

Again, I was planning to meet my support crew at the bottom of the descent, but I reached there ahead of time. I was down to less than one full bottle of water, but I decided to continue as far as that would take me. I started the climb up the west side of Ebbetts. Now I was keeping a slow pace because I had little energy. I was being passed by other, fresher cyclists. About halfway to the summit, I met the crew. I refilled my water and ate some snacks. Now the plan was to meet again back at the house. The crew would have enough time for a short hike near the summit.

I reached the summit and only took a short break before starting the descent down the east side of Ebbetts. This is probably the most scenic part of the route. As the steep road drops, there is a wonderful view of the valley in front. This is also the most dangerous part of the route since it is steep and contains many blind curves. I took it relatively slowly since I am generally a very cautious descender.

I returned to the house at 5:00pm. This was quite an accomplishment since it was more than I had expected to do. I did not think I would be keeping a pace that would allow me to cover both sides of Monitor and both sides of Ebbetts. Since we still had daylight, I decided to also attempt Carson Pass. I knew that I did not have enough time to make it to the top and then back down, so the plan was to attempt to reach the summit and meet the crew there to drive back to the house.

I had a short rest and ate, then left by 5:30pm. I was pretty drained at this point so I was forced to keep a slow pace. There were several ups and downs to reach the town of Woodfords before the main climb starts. Immediately after turning left at Woodfords, I faced a strong headwind. Between that and the incline, I struggled to crawl forward at 4 mph. At this pace, I clearly would not even reach the top.

Although sunset was not until 7:30pm, I was in a valley and the sun was behind the mountain tops, so it was darker than I expected. I knew that the crew would pass me while I was still climbing. Since they would need to pull over and it would be difficult to find good spots to do it in the dark, I decided to find one and wait there. I stopped at the entrance to a campground. I stood there for 10 minutes, with the car arriving around 7:30pm.

Distance-wise, I was less than one third of the way to the summit, but I had reached 6400 feet, while the summit is at 8600 feet. This meant that I had covered 12000 feet and 91 miles. I considered this a success, even though I did not make it to the top of Carson Pass. I would have been able to do it if I had had one more hour of daylight.

I could have finished the route on Sunday, but I decided to give the support crew a break and did not do any cycling. We all went to South Lake Tahoe and did a short hike there. We came back to the Bay Area in the evening.

So now I feel fully prepared for the Death Ride. I know the route, I know that the altitude is not a serious issue for me, and I know that I am in good enough shape for it. Now all I need to do is stay in shape, which should not be a problem. I will continue training, and in one month I will return for the Death Ride.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


My last training ride was quite different because it was around Seattle, Washington. A few weeks ago, I bought a new bicycle — a Ritchey Breakaway. The unique thing about this bicycle is that the frame comes apart into two pieces, and it comes with a suitcase that all the parts fit into. The suitcase is the size of normal large luggage, so it can be checked in at the airline without incurring an oversize baggage penalty.

Vaishali had a work conference in Seattle, and I decided to join her. The week before we went, I practiced packing and unpacking the bicycle. It takes me about an hour to do each. With more practice, I expect to do it faster. After packing the bike for the trip, I was able to also stuff clothes, shoes, and other small things into the suitcase. The weight limit was 50 pounds, and I easily slid underneath that at 45 pounds.

The bicycle going from assembled, to disassembled, to packed. Click on any image to see the larger image in detail.

My fear was that if I did not pack things correctly, the bicycle could be damaged if the bag was handled roughly, but it reached Seattle intact. I assembled it and found that everything was in working order. We spent Saturday and Sunday with our friends Prabha and Unmesh. Unmesh and I went for a pleasant 26 mile ride on the Burke Gilman Trail on Sunday.

Vaishali started her conference on Monday, and I had that whole day open for riding. I did some research before the trip to find the best place to ride. I decided on a route called the "Seven Hills of Kirkland". This is a 35 mile loop containing seven hills, starting in the city of Kirkland, which is about 15 miles from downtown Seattle. The biggest wildcard was the weather. Rain is the norm for Seattle, but I had been lucky that the forecast for Monday was no precipitation.

Click for interactive map.

I left the hotel room at 9:00am, crossed Lake Washington on the I-90 bridge (which has a wide separated pathway for pedestrians and cyclists), and pedaled across Mercer Island on a nice bike path. I then crossed another bridge and reached Bellevue. From here, I followed a route on city streets (most with bike lanes) north to Kirkland. Once I reached the "Seven Hills" route, I could see the route markings on the road. This was very convenient because I never needed to consult my map, as there were clear markings at all the relevant intersections.

Here is an example of the road markings. This one indicates "continue straight at the intersection".

I had not eaten breakfast, so I became quite hungry by midday. After completing four of the seven hills, I stopped around 1:00pm to eat lunch at a Subway. The hills were challenging, but not excessively steep. The inclines I usually train on are steeper and longer. I was keeping a slower pace that normal because I was on an unfamiliar route plus I had to watch to stay on my planned route.

Re-energized after lunch, I continued and finished the loop. The day was relatively cool (60's) but that was great riding weather because I never got too hot. I needed my jacket in the morning when I started and after lunch because I had cooled down, but the rest of the time I did not wear it.

After the loop, I retraced my morning route — back to Bellevue, then Mercer Island, then downtown Seattle. I returned to the hotel room at 4:30pm, and Vaishali was still in her meeting. After she was finished, I joined her and her coworkers for dinner. We walked to a nearby restaurant, and I ate a huge meal. I was pretty hungry after my 75 mile ride.

After dinner, I disassembled and packed the bicycle. I had to get up early (3:45am) the next day for my flight back home. I specifically chose a Tuesday flight so that I would have no restrictions on my ride Monday. The first trip with my bicycle was a complete success. Hopefully there will be many more to come.