Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mt. Hamilton Challenge

133 total miles, 8000 feet total elevation gain, 

12 hours 45 minutes total (10 hours 45 minutes on the bicycle)

Well this journal has been empty for quite some time.  One reason for that is that I did not participate in any bicycle events over the winter.  There are very few scheduled that season because of the cold, wet weather.

But the primary reason was a lack of time.  Now with two small children at home, time has become even more of a premium.  Although I actually have been on some rides that were worth writing about, I just could not make the time to do the actual writing.

After having done the first event of the year, I am determined to write about it, even though this report is about a month late.  I hope to be able to add some updates of my activities of last winter.  The main purpose of this journal is for me to have a log of all my bicycle activities, so I want to get that information in, even if it is minimal.

Like most years, my first century was the Mount Hamilton Challenge.  It is a favorite of mine for several reasons.  First, it is a challenging ride of 200 kilometers with 8000 feet elevation gain.  Second, the route goes on roads that I do not ride on at other times.  Third, it is well organized but yet a cheap (only $15 entry fee) and low-key event.  The cost is kept down by having the riders provide their own food.

Although I had been fairly regular in my training over the winter, I had done minimal riding the month before the actual ride.  This was, of course, due to the fact that my son was born just 9 days before the event.  I thought my conditioning was at a sufficient level, but I would find out for sure only when I tried it.

6:00am, 0 miles, 0 feet (start)

I did most of my preparation the night before.  So after I got up at 5:00am, I got ready leisurely.  The plan was for my father to come by and drop me off at the start, and to bring with him a donut for breakfast.  Unfortunately, we did not realize that the local donut store does not open so early on weekends.  So I ended up eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich instead.

The registration for the event officially opens at 6:00am, and I wanted to get there at that time so that I could start quickly and finish that much sooner.  There were already a handful of other riders there before me.  I got registered quickly since the main crowd had not all come yet.

My father was amused that out of the roughly 15 riders starting at that time, it looked like I was the youngest.  At least a couple riders were close to my father's age.  Cycling is certainly an activity that one can continue doing into advanced age.  But the real reason for this observed age skew is that the younger, stronger riders tend to start later since they are faster and do not need as much time to finish.

The temperature was in the low 50's, which is cool but not too cold for me.  I did not need my heavier jacket.  Instead it was enough to wear the light rain jacket that I always keep folded in my bike bag.  This saved me the trouble of having extra clothing that I would need to stow and carry when it got warmer.

The ride up the mountain was pleasant.  Last year is was tremendously windy, but this year it was sunny and clear.  I did notice more car traffic going uphill than I am used to.  When I got to Grant Ranch Park at half-way point of the climb, it was apparent why there were so many cars.  There was some kind of event going on there, and it appeared to be a running event.  There were banners and loud music, which faded slowly as I climbed past.

I made sure to keep a slow pace.  Sometimes one unconsciously matches the speed of the other riders in the event.  Instead, I made a conscious attempt to go slower than I normally would in an event to conserve energy for the end of day.  The climb from the valley floor to the top of Mt Hamilton makes up half of the climbing for the whole ride.

9:40am, 35 miles, 4300 feet (Lick Observatory) [20 minutes break]

As usual, I reached the first rest stop and quickly searched for a sunny spot to eat.  It was warm in the sun, but a cool breeze was blowing.  I was still ahead of most of the pack so it was not as crowded here as I had experience earlier years.  I casually ate my food, then continued on.

The next section was a six mile descent.  After going over the summit, it is not at all apparent that I am still within 50 miles of a major metropolis.  There is no development on this side of the mountains, only some sporadic ranches.  It looks much more like the foothills of the Sierra Nevada than the Bay Area.

After the descent, the road is undulating with multiple small climbs and descents.  Here my fellow cyclists vastly outnumbered any other traffic.  Although there are extended flat stretches in this valley, there was a continuous headwind which significantly increased the effort to get through this section.  Still my conditioning was holding up.

12:15pm, 63 miles, 6300 feet (Arroyo Mocho) [35 minutes break]

The second rest stop is just a bare gravel spot by the road.  Earlier years, I had to sit uncomfortably in the gravel.  But I was still ahead of the main pack so there were fewer cyclists to compete for the good spots.  I found some space on a large log, which was much more comfortable than the ground.  I ate the food I packed (potato chips, cookies, and pasta) and chatted with a couple other riders.

The next section was primarily downhill, which mitigated the headwind.  Having not done any centuries in a while, my butt started getting sore.  I knew that I just had to bear it for a while, because it usually gets better after hurting for a while.  Anyhow, it is not a severe pain; it is more of just an annoyance.

The road led to the valley floor just outside the city of Livermore.  After being on the only road on that side of the mountains, it is now necessary to navigate the city streets to stay on the proper route.

With this being the fourth time I have done this ride, I was pretty sure I could navigate to the next rest stop just by memory.  But I decided to double-check with the printed route instructions we were given at the start.  This turned out to be a good idea because I had not realized that this year the rest stop is at a different park!

The park was not far from the previous one, so the way to get there was mostly the same.  But for the last couple miles, I was holding the partly-folded paper in one hand and checking each intersection to make sure I made the proper turns.

2:35pm, 92 miles, 6300 feet (Pleasanton) [40 minutes break]

The advantage of having a rest stop at a park is that we had proper picnic tables to eat at and a real restroom.  The majority of the climbing was done, but I know that I needed to prepare for the final climbs of the upcoming part of the route.  I rested here some extra time.  Since we were back in a populated area, I had cell phone coverage, so I sent a text message home indicating that I was doing good.

I ate the same food as the last stop.  I made sure to stretch my back and neck since they had gotten a little stiff.  When I felt fully relaxed, I continued on.

The upcoming climb is actually gradual and not particularly difficult.  It was just a matter of having enough energy and muscle power to do it.  I expected to be mostly spent, but found that I was having less trouble than I thought I would cranking the pedals.  A climb can feel endless when you have run out of energy, but this time it was over faster than I expected.

5:25pm, 115 miles, 8000 feet (Ed Levin) [3 minutes break]

Although it is not an official stop, I usually stop at Ed Levin Park each year for a bathroom break and some rest.  This year, I used the facilities but did not need to rest.

All the climbing was done and the next stretch was the descent back to Silicon Valley.  After that it was the final few miles of flat ground by moderately busy roads (not particularly pleasant, but not a problem).

6:20pm, 129 miles, 8000 feet (finish)

It felt good to reach the finish.  The ride certainly was not an ordeal, but I had no guarantee that it would be easy.  As usual, I declined to have someone come and pick me up.  I rode the 4 miles back home.

6:45, 133 miles, 8000 feet (home)
I proved that I kept my conditioning level up enough over the winter to stay in shape for this years centuries.  I certainly intend to do more this year.  The challenge will be to find the time train with my limited time.  I am sure that I can manage to do at least a couple.