Monday, April 7, 2008

New Route, New Riding Buddy

I usually do my long rides alone. It is not often that people have the time and energy (and interest) to spend half a day or more on a bicycle. But this last weekend I had some company.

About a month ago, as I was finishing a ride, I passed a cyclist going down Highway 9, and he later caught me on the flat local roads near home. We chatted a bit, exchanging names and talking about recent rides and favorite rides. Then we split about a mile from home.

Later in the week, I received an email from Ravi, in response to a message I posted in a local bicycling forum asking about bike routes to/from Coalinga. Since he only knew my first name, he asked "are you the Murali I met last weekend"?

He sent me a link to his online ride reports, and I got to read about some of his cycle adventures (Yosemite, Seqouia and Kings Canyon Parks). He was clearly at a level above me, so would make a great riding partner. We decided to try to ride together, and it took a couple weekends for our schedules to synchronize.

My original plan was to do a route shorter but more difficult than last week's. It would include two significant climbs -- Highway 9 (an old standard) and Montevina Road in Los Gatos (a new one for me). We met a mile from home and started.

Click for interactive map.

I kept a faster pace up Highway 9 than what I usually do. I was keeping up with Ravi, but also wanted to push myself for a better workout. As we ascended, the cool air turned to mist, then to drizzle. As we paused to at the rest area at the Highway 9 / Skyline Blvd junction, the drizzle turned into a light rain. I had some concerns whether our ride would be washed out, but we decided to continue.

The ride south on Skyline contained many small ascents and descents. The further we progressed, the clearer the sky became, so our planned route was in no jeopardy from the weather. We descended on Old Santa Cruz Hwy to Lexington Reservoir. After a short water break at the school there, we headed to Montevina which starts near the dam.

I was not certain that I would make it to the top without stopping. I had kept a stronger pace than usual, and my usual post-work training ride (Page Mill Road, 34 miles, 2000 feet) was only two days ago so I was not 100% recovered. As we started the 3.5 mile steep road, my legs felt better than expected.

We kept a slow pace, so it looked like I would make it all the way. But as we neared the top, the road became significantly steeper. Although it looked like we were around one quarter mile or less from the end, my legs were almost out of energy. Disappointedly, I stopped for a minute and let them recover.

I started again and made the last turn before the road ends. I saw Ravi standing at the gate, but the road was pitched even steeper there. I put all my effort into it, while Ravi shouted encouragement. My legs were so weak now that I felt that I might stall. After zigzagging a short distance I finally reached the end. However, a combination of loose gravel, slow-speed instability, and light-headedness caused me to lose my balance and fall over as I tried to dismount.

It was the hill's final indignity towards me. Exhausted, I laid there for a while and we both laughed about it. Ravi picked up my bike and I eventually got up and we rested a while.

The view from the top of Montevina Road.

From the top of Montevina, there is a dirt path that connects to the top of (the infamous) Bohlman Road. We took the path, biking on the flatter sections and walking on the slopes and loose ground. The descent on Bohlman was fast and steep. I was completely exhausted, but the rest of the ride was flat. We split at the usual place.

The whole ride was 52 miles, nearly 6000 feet elevation gain, and over 5 hours total. The Death Ride is almost exactly 2.5 times this route. I have more work to do to improve my conditioning.

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