Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mt Hamilton Challenge

131 total miles, 8000 feet total elevation gain, 12 hours 25 minutes total time (10 hours 30 minutes on the bicycle)

It was time for my first big challenge in a long time. This was the third year I have attempted this ride, but I did not do it last year because I was not in shape enough at this point in the season. I am still not in my best shape, and have only found time for medium-length training rides sandwiched by annoyingly long stretches of bad weather and illness. In preparation, I rode an 80 mile, 6000 feet ride the previous weekend. Having done that without significant problems, I felt that my conditioning was in place for this one.

One problem I found on that previous ride was that my bicycle needed new tires. I got two flats in my rear tire, which I was able to fix because I usually carry two spare inner tubes with me. I also developed a rear flat at the end my last long ride. Getting frequent flats is an indication that the tire rubber has gotten too thin. Before this year, my last flat was almost two years ago. I have put on nearly 6000 miles on the current set of tires, which were the originals when I got the bicycle. This is much longer than most people hope to get from a set, so it was clearly time to change. I made sure to ride the bicycle to work the week before to ensure that the tire mounting was good.

6:15am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I woke up at 4:30am, got ready, ate a couple donuts, and had my father drop me at the start. I checked in, dropped off my packed food, and got underway. The morning air was a bit cool, but since the day was expected to warm up, I decided to shiver in my long sleeves for a while rather than put on my jacket.

The loop was ridden counter-clockwise.

The forecast was for clear, warm weather, and I had not noticed any prediction of strong winds. But, before reaching the first climb, we experienced some very powerful gusts. One blew me from the right side of the road completely to the other side, and almost off. I was about to dismount when it subsided. This did not bode well for the day, since fighting the wind can be miserable.

On the 4000 foot climb up to top of Mt. Hamilton, I made sure to pace myself. On previous rides I ran out of energy by the end, so this time I wanted to avoid that scenario. It was tempting to speed up while other riders were passing me at periodic intervals, but I forced myself to operate at about a 70% exertion level. (This is just an estimate since I do not wear a heart monitor.)

Still, the rest stop at the top was not as crowded as I had experienced previously, so I was ahead of the pack. It helped that I started before most riders also. I made sure to sit in the sun because the steady wind was cold on the summit.

9:50am, 35 miles, 4300 feet

The other side of Mt. Hamilton is much steeper, so it is usually a fast descent. I was most worried about wind here, because a sudden crosswind while descending at speed can be treacherous. Fortunately the air was much more still on this side of the mountain.

The remote, beautiful San Antonio Valley on the other side of Mt Hamilton.
Photo by Bill Bushnell.

This part of the route is the most scenic. The empty rolling hills and expansive meadows belie the area's proximity to a major urban center. With all the rain we received this past winter, everything was green and wildflowers were everywhere. Since there are no cross roads and no destinations besides several big desolate ranches, there is virtually no traffic. The only people on the roads were out for a scenic drive. There were many motorcycles, and there was one convoy of classic MG and Triumph cars.

12:35pm, 63 miles, 6300 feet

The second stop was at the halfway point. Most of the climbing was done. Although I had no problem eating at the previous stop, I had little appetite now. My digestive system usually slows down under heavy exertion. Still I did manage to eat the food I had packed. I had a hummus sandwich on white bread (simple carbohydrates and protein), potato chips (carbohydrates, fat, and salt), cookies (carbohydrates), and a soft drink (pure sugar). All of it was the "energy food" that I needed.

The stop was simply a small clearing by the road. Everyone leaned their bicycles against the barbed wire fence while they sat on the ground to rest and eat. At one point, a group of four of five large brown horses came running up to the fence and abruptly stopped. They sniffed all the bicycles on the fence near them, probably attracted to the salt of the riders' perspiration. They intently stared directly at the people near them who were eating, hoping for a handout. I was about ten feet away when one stood and stared at me for a while. When it became clear that I would not offer anything, it blew its nose at me. Fortunately I was upwind, so none of his mucus reached me or what I was eating.

2:50pm, 91 miles, 6300 feet

The next stretch was a long, mostly gradual downhill coast. This allowed me to relax and recover some energy. We descended from the hills down to the town of Livermore. Then we went along the city road west to the town of Pleasanton, where the last official stop was.

The wind was more calm here, and it was bright and warm. I finally took off my arm warmers. To this point it was too cool to be in just a short sleeve jersey. Now my appetite really was gone. Knowing that the next stretch contained the final climb, and that was where I previously ran out of energy, I knew I had to force myself to eat.

It did not help that all day the swirling winds had blown dust, pulverized leaf bits, and other grit in my mouth. This gave me a bad taste that I could not flush. Instead of the 15-20 minutes rest I took at the previous stops, I spent about 30 minutes here in the hopes that the relaxation would kick-start my digestion. I did manage to eat (most of) another sandwich and chips, but I packed the cookies for home.

5:20pm, 115 miles, 8000 feet

I paced myself in the flat section approaching the final climb to conserve energy. The gradual, 1000 foot ascent would normally be an "easy" climb for me, but the question was how many functioning muscle fibers were left in my legs. Surprisingly, there were more than I expected. Instead of putting in the lowest gear and crawling, I was able to keep a steady pace in third gear. Though not particularly fast (I passed no one, three riders passed me), it was much better than I thought. I had plenty of energy and my legs were functioning fine.

As usual, I stopped at Ed Levin Park. This is not an official stop but it has a restroom and I usually need to use it by this point in the ride. But it was just a quick in-and-out because I did not need to rest, and it was downhill and flat the rest of the way.

6:20pm, 126 miles, 8000 feet

I reached the finish feeling good. I was able to keep a relatively fast pace on the final flat section. I checked in, received my ride patch, and headed home. I opted not to have anyone pick me up at the finish since it is an easy 4 mile ride back home.

6:40pm, 131 miles, 8000 feet

I have to call my ride a success. I was worried about my conditioning but had no problems. My final time was very similar to the last two times I tried it.

Now I need to decide what other major rides to to this year. The only one I have signed up for is the Seattle to Portland ride this July. That one is 200 (mostly flat) miles over two days. I should have no problem staying in shape for that. I will probably do one or two local events before that.