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.