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.