Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Seattle to Portland, One Day

211 miles, 5600 feet elevation, 18:15 hours (14:30 hours on the bicycle) 

It was finally time for the event that I focused my training on for the past few months. I last did the Seattle to Portland ride 3 years ago.  That time I rode with my (Seattle-based) friend Unmesh and we chose the two day option, spending the night in a hotel near the midpoint.  This year, our (Portland-based) friend Subhash is joining and we are doing it in one day.  The last time the three of us met was about a year ago, when we all came to Seattle for a triathlon.  Unmesh and Subhash did the Olympic distance version, while I bicycled the sprint distance as a team with Vaishali, who ran, and Prabha (Unmesh's wife), who swam.

Not having done a double century in 6 years, I needed to make sure I was prepared.  My usual training keeps me in shape for centuries, and I can do one of those without too much advanced preparation.  However, a double century is nothing to take lightly.  This route has less elevation than some of my 50 mile training rides, but spending so much time on a bicycle needs preparation.  I was not concerned about my conditioning, since I was pretty sure I would have plenty of strength and energy.  The part of my body that suffers the most on long rides is my neck (and to a lesser extent, my back), and I wanted to be sure that I got my body adjusted to the strains.

The ride requires significant logistical planning.  The ride is on Saturday, starting in Seattle and ending in Portland.  I would definitely need to take Friday off for travel, and I would need to arrive early enough in the day to prepare.  Because we know many people in Portland, we made this a full family trip, and considered making it an extended trip.  But since everyone is busy on the weekdays, we decided to limit it to the weekend.  We had the whole day free on Sunday, and decided to take an early flight on Monday, so that we could go directly to work (and day care and summer camp) upon returning.

Our flight arrived in Seattle on Friday afternoon, about the same time as Subhash arrived, who opted to take the one-way train transport organized by the event.  I assembled my bicycle and we went to pick up our ride packets.  We then had a large pizza dinner with Prabha's sister and her family.  We went to bed early.

4:00am, 0 miles, 0 feet elevation

We planned to leave the house a 4:00am, so I woke at 3:00am to prepare.  Vaishali snapped a quick picture of us before we left.  We rode the 4 miles to the official start in the dark.  We arrived at the start line and joined a mass of riders.  Even more joined in after us.  The official start is at 4:45, so we had to wait about 20 minutes before we could get under way.  They have the official start because they arrange to have policemen direct traffic through many of the signaled intersections in the city.  With thousands of cyclist flooding the road at the start, this is a necessity.

Unmesh, Subhash, Murali ready to start.

The temperature at the start was pleasant.  Last time it was chilly, but this year the forecast was for unseasonable heat (90's F), so the day was starting off at a comfortable mid-60's.  The first few miles consisted of riding with a huge pack of cyclists.  The thickness of the pack meant that most kept the same speed.  We found early on that two of us had unique auditory identifiers – Unmesh had a squeaky left pedal and Subhash had a rattling water bottle.  Prabhash's wife Aparna had asked him to use a steel water bottle instead of a standard plastic one.  So the metal bottle in the metal holder was a noisy combination.

6:15am, 30 miles, 300 feet elevation (Kent REI)

The first food stop was 25 miles into the route, but seemed to arrive quicker than expected.  We agreed to keep it brief and quickly had a snack, bathroom break, and bottle refill, before resuming.  The pack had started to thin out, but there were still many cyclists ahead of and behind us.  We did not need to do any navigation because we just took the same turns as everyone else.

Just like last year, we had a clear view of Mt. Ranier.  Seeing the majestic peaks along the route is one of the highlights for me.

8:30am, 59 miles, 1000 feet elevation (Spanway Jr. HS)

After this stop many people were putting on sunscreen in preparation for later in the day.  It was still pleasant at this time.  This part of the route contained a long stretch of bicycle trail.  This is a different experience than riding on the road.  Although there was bicycle and pedestrian traffic it, was sparse.  We kept a faster pace as there were fewer intersections and obstacles.

11:00am, 93 miles, 1500 feet elevation (Tenino)

Soon after this mini-stop, we re-experienced an event from the last ride – we were delayed at a train crossing.

11:50am, 106 miles, 2000 feet elevation (Centralia)

We reached the midpoint well before the time we made it last time.  Of course, previously it was the end of our day.  This time it was the halfway mark.  We decided we would make it an extended stop to rest and prepare for the second half.  I managed to get a peanut butter jelly sandwich at the lunch table, but when I went back for seconds, they had run out (only the meat sandwiches were left).  They did have fruit, which was a poor substitute (I needed something more calorie-dense). We found an open spot in the grass (it was not easy to do with riders resting everywhere) and lay down for a while, stretching our overall break to one hour.

There are three ways to navigate the route.  The authoritative way is to carry and ready the route map as you ride.  This is not practical because it is published as a small booklet and there is no good way to hold/read it while riding.  The second way is to follow the road markings.  Before and after every intersection, there is a painted arrow on the pavement indicating which way to go.  You check the direction before you go through, and double check the confirmation after you go through.  If you see both, then you are still on the route.  The final, easiest way is to follow other riders.  This is very reliable closer to the beginning of the course when all the riders are in one huge pack.

After leaving the mid-point, we lost the company of all the one day riders.  Also being later in the day, the remaining riders have further dispersed.  We found much fewer riders at this point, but we would still pass a few and be passed by a few.  At one point we had been chatting for a while when one of us noticed that we went through an intersection with no markings.  We were off course.  We immediately pulled over and pulled out our route map.  A friendly motorist let us know that the big group of riders were on a different road a block away.  Even though we went off course a mile back, we where headed parallel to the route and noticed before the roads diverged significantly.  As a result, we missed a mini-stop, but it was one that was not needed.

2:50pm, 132 miles, 2400 feet elevation (Vader)

At this mini-stop, the contrast to our last experience here was stark.  Then, it was the first stop of the second day, thus it was an early morning stop.  As such, it was pretty cold, and I remember my fingers being numb and painful.  This time, it was early afternoon and the unseasonable heat kicked in.  Our stop included getting sprayed with a garden hose to cool off.

I enjoyed seeing the next notable mountain on the route – Mount St. Helens.

3:50pm, 142 miles, 3200 feet elevation (Castle Rock)

This mini-stop would have been omitted, except we were on a quest for ice and a refill of water bottles. Like the previous stop, we took turns dousing ourselves with a garden hose.

4:35pm, 150 miles, 4100 feet elevation (Lexington park)

This was the lunch stop of day two last year, but just a somewhat extended break (half hour) this year.

6:20pm, 167 miles, 5000 feet elevation (Goble)

This mini-stop came at a good time for me.  Through the whole ride, I was not having any problems.  However, a few miles before this stop, I started feeling sleepy.  Not just tired, but I felt like I was about to fall asleep – while pedaling.  Although the idea of falling asleep while pedaling a bicycle sounds comical, I was very concerned for my safety.  I knew that, at the very least, my alertness level was compromised.

I have experienced this before, so I knew what was happening.  My blood sugar must have suddenly crashed.  Even though I had been regularly eating, my digestive system must have shut down.  After we pulled into this stop, I told Unmesh and Subhash that I needed to take a break.  I found a clear spot on the gravel parking lot, put my helmet under my head and closed my eyes.  I woke up feeling refreshed (when you're exhausted even a bed of gravel is comfortable).  I asked Unmesh how long I had been sleeping and he said 10 or 15 minutes.  That was enough time to rest my body enough to get my digestive system to process its fuel.  I would have no more problems after.

7:55pm, 180 miles, 5300 feet elevation (St. Helens)

We reached a point where all three of us were getting tired.  No one had any serious issues, but the effect of spending 16 hours (so far) pedaling was apparent.  We decided to stop at a convenience store for a quick snack.  We were having trouble estimating the distance to the next rest stop.  It turned out to be just a couple miles away.  But we did not want to take any feelings of hunger or tiredness lightly, so stopping probably was the right decision.

At this point we started hitting an issue that we did not really anticipate.  We were about to lose daylight.  One part of this was good, in that we were no longer subject to oppressive heat.  But on the other hand, we were riding by the side of a well trafficked road nearing dark, and we did not all have lights.  I had a rear taillight and a blinking headlight, but not a powerful enough headlight to illuminate the road.  The biggest danger was that if it got totally dark, we would not be able to see the road surface that we were riding on.

Keeping this in mind we rode purposefully.  We skipped the last mini-stop to save time (and we did not need a break or water refill).  We kept as strong a pace as we could so that we would cover as much distance as we could in the remaining light.  We did not have to (and could not really) get to the finish before night.  We only had to get close, because once we get near Portland proper, we would benefit from streetlights.  Until then, however, we were on an unlit stretch of state highway.  We tried to stay behind another group of riders who had lights.  We knew that by following them, we would be following a safe path.

10:15pm, 211miles, 5600 feet elevation

Once we got close to the city, as we expected, street lights helped illuminate our way.  But now we could no longer read road markings to find the route.  And we would not be able to read the route map as we rode in the darkness.  But the narrow city streets with signal lights bunched many riders together, so we simply followed the pack.  There was always someone who knew the route to the finish.

One minor disappointment is that in the darkness, there was no way to view Mt. Hood, which we did get to see last year.  However, I don't know if it would have been visible earlier in the day because there may have been cloud cover.

As we rolled to the finish, we were met by two of our three wives.  Vaishali could not come to the finish because she and the kids were with our friends Tony and Sheilagh.  It was well past the kids' bedtime so she needed to stay with them.  Aparna and Subhash headed back to their home.  Prabha and Moon dropped me off at Tony and Sheilagh's before heading right back to their home in Seattle.  We found out later that, as expected, Moon slept during the whole drive back.

The ride was a success.  No one had any significant issue.  Subhash demonstrated what a superior athlete he is.  He mentioned that all his training rides previous to the day did not add up to 200 miles, yet he had no problem keeping pace and finished without issue.

We spent another day in Portland and visited other friends and family.  We did manage to meet Aparna and Subhash again for lunch.  Subhash and I found that both of us had been insatiably thirsty and hungry the whole day.

It's a nice feeling to have STP both two-day and now one-day.  It would be nice to do it again.  It is always great to see the beautiful places and visit the wonderful friends.  Maybe we will keep doing this ride as a periodic tradition.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

2014 Best of the Bay Century

95 miles, 8400 feet elevation, 9:45 hours (8:40 hours on the bicycle)

For my last century as a warmup before the Seattle to Portland double century, I decided to do the Best of the Bay, which I last did 4 years ago.  One reason this ride is attractive is that it covers some roads that I do not normally ride.

One aspect of this route that makes it rather unique is that it does not start and end at the same location.  Instead both the start and end are at BART (local commuter train) stations.  Most people go directly to the start then take the train from the finish at the end.  A few of us take the train to the start in the morning, then return from the finish.

Although the ride officially starts at 6:00am, the morning train riders are limited by the weekend train schedule.  The first train leaves at 5:45 and arrives at the ride start at 6:50 (with one transfer along the way).  By the time I got checked in at the start, I was ready to ride by 7:00.

7:00 am, 0 miles, 0 feet

The route offers several variations by offering a loop near the start and another near the end, either of which can be skipped.  Last time I rode the first loop but decided to skip the second one due to a lack of time.  This time I definitely wanted to do the second loop, so I skipped the first loop.

This meant my ride started by immediately climbing the Berkeley Hills, giving a scenic overview of San Francisco at the top.  As is usual for this time of year, it was too foggy to actually see San Francisco clearly.

8:45am, 17 miles, 1800 feet

By the time I reached the first rest area, I was still ahead of the main pack of riders who started before me but were riding the first loop.  The stop had outstanding food: hard-boiled eggs with pesto, and home made latkas (potato pancakes).

The route after the rest stop was mostly through undeveloped lands on the eastern side of the hills.  There was very little motor traffic.  It was a pleasant ride to the next rest stop in the city of Castro Valley.

10:20am, 35 miles, 3100 feet

Here again, the food was amazing – goat cheese crostini, frittata, puff pastry with caramelized onion, and I indulged myself again.  By this point it seemed that the main pack had caught up with me.

The route from here left the city and returned to mostly undeveloped lands.  It included a gradual climb, but my legs still had plenty of energy.  A couple riders who I recognized from the start passed me.  They had done the first loop (an extra 25 miles) and still caught me, indicating how much stronger than me some of the riders are.  The quiet road ended and then the route followed a fairly trafficked route with limited shoulders for a few miles.  It definitely was not pleasant being passed closely by cars on a 45 mile per hour road, but I had no problems.  This led to the town of Sunol and the lunch rest stop.

11:40am, 49 miles, 4800 feet

The rest of the route was back on familiar roads for me.  The next stretch in particular was part of the Mount Hamilton Challenge that I rode just two months before.  This time I was reaching it at an earlier point of the ride, so I covered it at a faster pace.

1:40pm, 67 miles, 5700 feet

The next rest stop was at the junction of the second loop of the course.  The volunteers asked that riders doing the loop check-in before and after so they can keep track of people on that part of the course.  The reason was that the loop contained a well known and steep hill – Sierra Road.  It's not that the road is impossible, but being so steep and coming so late into the ride, it is easy for riders to have difficulty making it.  Everyone remarked that it was fortunate that the day was cool and overcast, because it is easy to overheat on the exposed slope of Sierra Road.

I continued on and headed for the hill.  The difficulty of Sierra Road is not just its steepness, but relentless.  Once it starts climbing, it does not have any flat sections until the summit, 3.5 miles later.  I started out okay, but quickly felt the effect of already logging so many miles before this climb.  My legs started burning not too far into the climb.  I regularly kept having to stand and pedal on the extra-steep parts (I could have stayed seated if my leg were fresh).  There were ride volunteers at several points on the road to make sure the riders were okay, particularly that we had enough water.  I had not needed to drink as much as usual throughout the ride, but I was going through water quickly on this hill.  But I had enough since I filled up my two water bottles at the previous rest stop.  Eventually I made it to the summit.  Several other riders had stopped to rest there, but I just continued on knowing that the upcoming downhill section would give me enough chance to rest.  I looped back to the same rest stop and checked back in.

3:25pm, 84 miles, 8000 feet

Not needing to rest or eat, I just proceeded on.  There was nothing left but a few fairly flat miles until the finish.  There was nothing scenic about this stretch as it went through town, but the roads mostly had wide bike lanes.

I arrived at the finish point feeling good.  It was at a buffet restaurant, and dinner was included in the ride.  I ate salad (mostly beans for the protein), and (lots of) soup, and (lots of) cheese garlic bread.  It was the finale of a day with great food.  Most of the riders seemed to be talking about Sierra Road.  One other rider joined me at my table just before I left and that was the first thing we talked about.

4:40pm, 95 miles, 8400 feet

After eating I rode one block to the train station, loaded my bicycle onto the car, and left for home.  I definitely enjoyed the ride this year better than the last time.  The difference must be that I did the more challenging route.  Maybe one year I will be in good enough shape to do the most challenging route of both loops.  I feel like I will probably do this ride again.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 Sequoia Century

120 miles traveled, 10000 feet total elevation gained, 11:50 hours total (9:30 on the bicycle)

In preparation for my upcoming double century, I needed to get some more training into my schedule.  A good century for this is the Sequoia Century, which is one of the more challenging rides that happens to be organized fairly close to home.  I have done this ride two time before.  I am not often drawn to do this one because it covers a route that overlaps with many of my personal routes – so there is nothing novel about it.  But this year it came at a good time and was a good challenge to be part of my training.

Very similar to the last time I tried it, my ability to do it came into question by me getting sick just prior to the ride.  It was nothing major, just a cold, but that might be enough to jeopardize my being able to do a grueling century.  Two days before the ride, I started feeling better and decided that I would be recovered enough on ride day to be able to do it.

This year they changed the start/finish to a new location that is closer to my home.  I decided that I should just bike to the start.  Because it is local, I was able to check in the day before.  So I did not actually have to appear at the start location.  My route to ride the route joins the loop a couple miles down the road, so that is where I started.  Of course this does not shorten it for me because I will be riding back to that spot after the finish.

5:55am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I timed it so that I would join the route at the same time as if I had begun at the start at the official start time of 6:00am.  As I headed out, I could tell that although I was not 100% healthy, I was strong enough to do the ride.  I just might be slower than if I were fully healthy.

I was tested right away, since the first climb of the route was the short but very steep Redwood Gulch Road.  I had ridden that road many time so I knew what to expect.  I knew that it would determine whether I really was fit enough to do the ride.  I had the option of truncating the ride to either the 100 kilometer or the 50 mile route if I needed to.  I definitely struggled to climb it.  Several riders passed me, although no one was going fast.  I did manage to pass just a couple other riders.  It was a difficult climb, but I made it without feeling too drained.  The rest of the climb to the first rest stop was not as steep.

7:45am 21 miles, 2700 feet

After pausing at the rest stop a few minutes longer than I usually would, I decided that I should be fine to do the full 100 mile course.  I ate well (peanut butter jelly sandwiches and cookies) in preparation.  The next stretch was along the mildly rolling ridge of Skyline Boulevard before turning the descend the steep Alpine Road.  The day was cool to begin with, but this stretch was quite cold.  Having ridden down this road countless times, I knew to expect that.  One stretch of the road near the bottom is one of the coldest places I experience on my rides.  The second rest stop was near the bottom.

8:50am, 36 miles, 3400 feet

The organizers obviously expected riders to be near frozen by this point so the refreshments included hot miso soup and coffee.  I needed a cup of decaf to warm my hands and stop my shivering.

The next part of the route was to go over the hill between us an the ocean.  Once down the other side, we headed for the coast and turned south.  There was another rest top here.  The road went mostly parallel to the coast before eventually joining it.  We then turned to head north on Highway 1, and we continued that way for a while.

9:55am, 48 miles, 4200 feet

Although this 50 mile per hour road carried a good amount of traffic, it also has wide shoulders that make it convenient for cycling.  There is enough of a distance between us and the motor vehicles that it is not uncomfortable.  The road mostly follows along the top of the cliffs on the coast, and goes up and down in many places.  It would be exceptionally scenic if fog was not a constant presence, but it is a beautiful ride regardless.  There were many cyclists also headed in the other direction who were participating in a different ride that day.

The route headed a short distance inland for the next rest stop.  This was the official lunch stop and I had a cheese sandwich along with chips and cookies.  We had covered quite a few hills by this point and I was feeling the effect.  I gave myself a few extra minutes to rest before leaving.

11:45am, 71 miles, 5500 feet

The next section contained a loop which I briefly considered skipping.  My legs were tired and I had used a lot of energy.  There was still a big hill to climb even without that loop.  However, that loop was the only part of the route that was new to me, so I just could not resist exploring the new roads.  The route headed back to the coast and followed Highway 1 to the city of Half Moon Bay, and another rest stop.

12:40pm, 80 miles, 5800 feet

Then the route headed into the hills.  The first climb (Higgins Canyon Road) was not too bad but I was definitely feeling tired.  Then there was a descent (Purisima Creek Road) followed by another climb (Lobitos Creek).  This one was hard.  Making up for the pain of the climb was the beautiful scenery.

Finally the climb leveled off and headed back down.  But it led to the final, long climb (Tunitas Creek Road) away from the ocean and to the valley.  My legs were pretty spent at this point, and I was crawling at a pretty slow speed.  I stopped to take off my arm warmers, then to have some of a snack bar, but both times were also and excuse to rest my legs a short while.  Eventually I made it to the top and the last rest stop.

3:15pm, 100 miles, 8900 feet

I did not really need to rest here since all the major climbing was done and there was a long descent coming up for rest.  But I was pretty tired and decided to indulge myself for a few minutes.  There was a relatively festive atmosphere at this rest stop as everyone was happy to be done with all the difficult parts of the ride, and although there was still 20 miles left, it was mostly downhill with no significant challenges.  I continued on to do the descent back into the valley.  From there it was a mostly direct route back to the finish at Foothill College.

4:45pm, 117 miles, 10000 feet

I parked and got some dinner.  It was an energy rich meal of eggplant parmesan, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and grilled vegetables.  I ate and rested for a bit.  This is a big ride with over 800 people registered, and quite a few were at the finish.

I headed for home, and I guess I technically was not done with the route until I reached the point where I started it in the morning.  From there I rode the easy 4 miles home. 

5:45pm, 120 miles, 10000 feet

I ended up being sore for a few days afterward, a sign of a great training workout.

Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 Strawberry Fields Forever Century

100 miles total, 5000 feet total elevation, 9:20 hours total (8:30 on the bicycle)

There are many century rides in the Bay Area each year, most of them regularly recurring events.  My decision on which ones I do is based on several factors: (1) how challenging is the route (2) is the route, or part of it, new to me (3) am I available at the scheduled time (4) is it at a time when I could use the training.

I had investigated the Strawberry Fields Forever ride before but had not done it.  The route is not particularly challenging (less than 6000 feet total elevation) compared to the other centuries I do.  This year, it came at a time when I need to do more training (in preparation for the Seattle to Portland ride).  It does include some roads that are new to me, so that made it interesting.

The ride starts and ends in Watsonville, which is a one hour drive from home.  The check-in to start opened at 7:00am, so my plan was to leave home before 6:00am.  I prepared everything I needed the day before and had everything ready.  I woke up at 5:00am, got ready and left at 5:50am.  After driving for about 20 minutes, I scratched an itch on my head and immediately realized that I forgot to take my helmet with me!  I had no choice but to return home since a helmet is a strict requirement for all centuries.  Luckily this happened at a point in the road right before an exit where I could turn around.  If I had the discovery 2 minutes later, I would have started the climb over the mountains had would have had to proceed a few miles further to get to a usable turn-around point.

I returned home, ran in to get the helmet, and took off again right away.  (I texted Vaishali what I was doing so she would not be startled by hearing the garage door open and close.)  I lost 35 minutes, but was happy to have discovered my oversight well before arriving at the ride.

7:45am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I reached the starting point (at a high school), parked, and proceeded to the check-in.  There was a long line to get our rider numbers.  As soon as I got mine, I started.  There were many people doing this ride that although I was not familiar with the route, I did not have to look at my printed directions because I could just follow the pack.  I did have to pay attention at the point where the 100 mile and the 100 kilometer routes diverged a few miles from the start.

The longest climb of the route started right away.  I had ridden part of the top of the road, but never had been to the bottom, so much of it was new for me.  It was a long, but not particularly steep route.  The first rest stop was at 22 miles and at the top of the climb.  I ate some snacks there but did not rest for very long.

9:45am, 22 miles, 2100 feet

The next part of the route was from the top of the hills back towards the ocean.  That meant the next few miles were all downhill. After the descent, we were back in town and going through city streets.  The route required managing several turns at intersections.  I am not at all familiar with these roads, so I needed to navigate the route.  I could have consulted the printed route sheet, but that was too inconvenient.  Instead I chose to follow the other cyclists who seemed to be on the same ride.  This strategy worked quite well, until the small group I was following took a wrong turn.  We ended up on a frontage road next to a beach that appeared to be a dead end – clearly not part of our route.  I observed the group in front of me also look around as if searching for the actual route.  We all turned around, and returning to the previous intersection, we discovered that we needed to take a sharper turn that goes up a hill overlooking the beach.

A few miles later we reached the second rest stop near the ocean.  Although I had snacks at the first rest top, I was very hungry by this point.  I ate a lot of peanut butter jelly sandwiches and cookies.  They also had kalamata olives, an atypical rest stop treat, which I indulged in.

11:35am, 47 miles, 2500 feet

The section of the route after that rest stop is the start of the namesake of the route.  The area is a seemingly endless sea of strawberry fields.  However, farm fields just are not scenic, especially compared to the mountain roads at the start.  The route headed inland but was mostly flat.  More than two-thirds of the route was completed by the time the next rest stop was reached.

1:05pm, 71 miles, 3600 feet

This was the official lunch stop, which was set up at a local park.  The main food was sandwiches, and I made a big cheese sandwich.  There was a live band playing for our entertainment.  I sat and rested here longer than at the previous stops.

The next section of the route was again mostly more farm fields.  The next rest stop was only 12 miles, but it was the last stop before the finish.  The group I was following decided to skip it, but I decided to stop.  And I am glad I did.

2:30pm, 82 miles, 3700 feet

I did not really need the rest, but it was worth stopping for the snacks.  It was at Gizdich Ranch, which is a locally known berry farm.  They supplied an incredibly sweet fresh berry juice, and fresh apple pie.  They also had a live band here.

The final stretch of the route contained some more climbing as we headed back into the hills.  This time we did not go as high as we did in the morning, but my legs were tired and I had to go slower than I expected.  I returned to the finish and had dinner there.

4:05pm, 100 miles, 6100 feet

I changed clothes and made the hour drive home.  This route was much less challenging than my usual centuries, but it came at a good time in the calendar for it to be a useful training ride.  It is always nice to see new roads around the area.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

2014 Mt Hamilton Challenge

131 total miles, 8300 feet total elevation, 13:40 hours total (12:05 on the bicycle)

I wanted to try this ride for the fifth time.  I did not try it last year because I did not feel like I was in shape.  Well, I also did not feel in shape this year either.  This winter had only sporadic riding, and my spring training did not ramp up. But I am planning on doing Seattle-to-Portland again this year – this time in one day.  I need to increase my training to be able to do my first double century in nearly 6 years.

As usual I got up early, got ready, and got dropped off in time to make the earliest start time of 6:00am.  However, a quick inspection found that I had a loose headset.  A mechanic was on hand to tighten it for me, but it delayed my start.

6:20am, 0 miles, 0 feet  (start)

I kept a moderate pace to start, knowing that my energy level would not be as good as previous years.  It was relatively cold at the start – upper 40s.  The initial stretch was a familiar route through some of the more industrial part of Silicon Valley.  One new sight for me this year was seeing the nearly completed Levi's Stadium, which did not exist the last time I rode this event two years ago.

After riding the flat approach to the mountain and beginning the ascent, I warmed up enough to where I took off my jacket and switched to open finger gloves.  But before the halfway point of the climb,  we entered the mist of the cloud layer.  I expected to ascend out of this layer and see clear sky, so I kept the warmer clothes off for a while.  I overheard another rider state that his thermometer was reading lower 40s.  That combined with the mist and wind meant it was definitely cold.

I could not take the cold anymore so I switched back to full finger gloves and put my jacket back on.  I was surprised to find that we never left the cloud layer.  I did not see the observatory at the summit until we reached it.  I was even more surprised to see small patches of snow at the summit.  We have been having consistent Spring weather throughout the Bay Area.  We had a light rain a couple days ago, but the colder temperatures up here meant it fell as snow and stuck.

10:20am, 35 miles, 4300 feet  (rest stop 1)

I ate my snack quickly and continued on.  I did not want to linger since I was getting colder just sitting idle.

The start of the descent was cold, due to it being still foggy and windy.  I noticed that my left foot had gone completely numb.  However, after about 2 miles of the descent, I was back under the cloud layer where it was much warmer.

The route through the valley on this side of the mountains was as scenic as ever.  The recent rain had filled several roadside ponds.  Some of the meadows were seas of yellow wild flowers, while some others were a mix of yellow, orange, and purple.  The wind was a constant presence, often an annoying head-wind or side-wind.  But sometimes it was a pleasant tail-wind.

1:30pm, 62 miles, 6300 feet  (rest stop 2)

I reached the second rest stop and found it to be emptier than usual.  I asked the staff about the main pack and they said that the majority of riders had left a significant time earlier.  I tried to eat quickly and stretch.

The next route section is usually an easy gradual downhill, but here is where I experienced the most significant wind of the day.  What is usually a zero-effort, fast descent was this year a mild-effort, medium speed descent.  By the time I reached the valley floor in Livermore, the usually flat route to the next stop again turned into the wind and required more energy that I would have liked.  However, this stretch usually has a headwind, so it was no surprise.  It was, in fact, less effort than I expected considering how strong the wind was on the previous section.

4:00pm, 92 miles, 6300 feet  (rest stop 3)

Again as I reached the next stop, the crowd was thinner than I usually experience.  I noticed I had arrived only about 30 minutes before the stop closes.  This meant I really need to conserve time to be sure to finish before the cutoff.  This was the first time I had been so far behind.

I ate quickly, then gave a call home to report my status.  I headed out, knowing I should be monitoring my pace to ensure I return on time.  There was less wind on the rest of the route, and my energy level never dropped too low, so I made better time than I expected to.

6:25pm, 115 miles, 8000 feet  (unofficial rest stop)

As usual, I made a stop at Ed Levin Park.  Somehow, the distance between the Pleasanton stop and the finish is too long for me to go without a bathroom break.  The unofficial stop at Levin park is convenient since the facilities are just off the road.  It was a very brief stop.  The ride back through Silicon Valley was easy and familiar.

7:15pm, 129 miles, 8000 feet  (finish)
I arrived back at the finish and checked in.  A few riders arrived after me, and I heard one of the staff announce, "that's the last of them."  It was the first time I was among the last finishers.  Although, it was my latest finish time, it was not significantly later than previous years.  As usual, I decided to ride home rather than have someone pick me up.

7:50pm, 133 miles, 8000 feet   (home)

The ride seems to be a much-needed precursor to my later ride plans.  My legs had soreness for about a week afterwards.  That is much longer than what I usually experience, and indicates that they still need to be built up.  If felt good to do this one, but I probably need to do some more centuries to prepare for the double century.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


In my 7 years of bicycling roads, I have been lucky to avoid crashing.  I will not count a few times falling over trying to stop or dismount and getting my foot tangled.  These are merely "falls" (and none causing notable injury) rather than an actual crash.

My luck ran out 28 September 2013, when I toppled while descending a mountain road.  Fortunately, my injuries did not include anything serious or lasting.

The ride started normally.  I met my friends Atri, Krishna, Prashant, and Shiva early near home and started off on a challenging route.  One of the climbs was the infamous Bohlman - On Orbit.  At the top of that climb, there is a one mile dirt trail that connects to Montevina Road on the other side of the mountain.

We all started descending together, but got spread out, with Atri and me at the back.  At some point I thought I heard an unusual hissing/scraping noise.  The descent was steep and fast, so there is usually a lot of wind noise.  And since the brakes are engaged to keep the speed in check, those add noise too.  Still, the noise I heard was bothersome so I stopped and checked to see if my brakes were fine, which they were.

I continued on and started hearing the noise again.  I could not figure out what it was.  Soon I felt the handling of the bicycle was not normal, so I started slowing down.  I decided I should stop again.  As I was slowing, the road turned sharply to the left.  As I leaned into the turn, I felt the bicycle start to slip from under me.  It happened fast, but it seemed like slow-motion to me.  I tipped over to the left, slammed to the pavement on my left side, and slid to a stop in the middle of the road.

I laid there staring at the sky, dazed.  Fortunately, Atri was behind me.  He stopped and helped me get up.  He picked up my bicycle and got it and me off to the side of the road.  I was still dazed, and it took a while for the situation to register.  I had a pain in my left hip, and scrapes in multiple places.  Atri happened to have three bandaids in his bag, so he put them on my three deepest scrapes – two on the side of my knee and one on my elbow.

Fortunately my helmet kept the side of my head from hitting the road.  There was a deep gash in my left glove.  I must have place my hand down to absorb some of the impact.  But no skin was broken on my hand underneath, so the glove took all the damage.  I was mostly worried about my hip.  I forced myself to walk around to evaluate it.  It was hurting, but no sharp pains.  It seemed clear that I did not break anything in my hip.

We examined my bicycle and saw that my front tire was flat.  That explained it.  The noise I was hearing was the tire deflating.  Once enough air was lost, it had no traction on the left turn, hence I went down.  Atri nicely had me sit while he replaced the tube.  We both checked the tire to see if we could find anything still embedded in it that caused a puncture.  We could not, so we pumped up the new tube and continued the descent.

Futher down, we encountered Krishna coming back up the check on us.  We explained what happened and continued.  I did not have to pedal on the descent.  Once we reached the flat section at the bottom, I found that I was able to pedal without pain.  We met the other guys who were waiting.  We explained to everyone what happened.

I decided that I would abort the ride and head back home.  I told the other guys that I would be fine by myself, so they should just continue their ride.  They seemed a little reluctant at first, but I insisted.  So we parted and I headed towards the unpaved Los Gatos Creek Trail.  By coincidence, this was the first time I can remember that I forgot to bring my cell phone with me on my ride.  I was planning to ride to Los Gatos and have Vaishali pick me up, but I had no way to contact her.  So my plan instead became to ride the remaining 9 miles home (slowly).  The route would be mostly flat so it would not be a problem.

However, after a quarter mile, I could tell my front tire was becoming soft again.  I stopped and confirmed it.  I had another spare tube, but there would be no point replacing it.  Clearly there was something sharp embedded in the tire.  My only reasonable plan would be to walk my bike to Los Gatos and borrow someone's phone to call Vaishali for a pick up.

The walk on the trail was three miles, and I pushed my bicycle.  I could walk fine, so it was no real problem.  One cyclist coming opposite on the trail stopped and asked if I was alright, seeing that I was a bit bloodied.  I explained the situation and said I did not need any help from him.

I continued walking and got off the trail in downtown Los Gatos.  I knew that a lot of other cyclists congregate here so it would be a good place to find a friendly fellow cyclist to borrow a phone from.  Just half a block from the trail entrance was a popular coffee shop with a couple groups of cyclists outside.  I parked my bicycle at a rack and asked the nearest cyclist if I could quickly borrow their phone to call for a ride.  He did so without hesitation.  Fortunately I was able to get Vaishali on the first call.  I explained that I had a crash, but was not hurt seriously.  I told her that the bicycle was now unrideable so I needed her to pick me up.  She said she would ask my parents to watch the kids while she came. I told her which coffee shop I was at and that I would just wait there for her.

I had to wait about 30 minutes for Vaishali to arrive.  I alternated between sitting and walking around.  I chatted with the cyclist whose phone I borrowed and a couple of his friends.  After explaining what happened, he remarked that I looked to be in pretty good shape for someone who crashed on a descent.  I agreed.  Basically my elbow and knee were scraped and bloodied, but the three band-aids I had on hid the deeper scrapes.  The bruises were starting to become noticeable, as my hip knee, elbow and shoulder were all developing stiffness and pain.

Vaishali arrived and I loaded the bicycle in the car, and we returned home.  Both my parents were at home too, and they helped dressing my wounds.  The first thing I did was take a shower and wash all my wounds well with soap.  After I had taken my outfit off, everyone could see the size of the abrasions on my shoulder and hip, and they were bigger than they expected.  Now my mother's experience as a retired nurse would come in handy.  She brought some larger bandages that she had at her house, plus some more from the drugstore.  She put anti-bacterial ointment on the wounds before covering them with bandages.

I felt beaten up for a couple days.  The soreness of the scrapes was expected, but the main effect was the deep bruise on my left hip.  I could not lay on my left side for three weeks.  My scrapes were all mostly healed in a week.  I had no problems going to work, since I can spend my time mostly sitting in the office.  And all my bandaged wounds were concealed by my usual office attire.  Most of my co-workers did not suspect that I was injured.

Surprisingly, my clothes did not look too bad considering that I slid on the hard pavement.  It was a warm day, so I was wearing only a cycling shirt (thin, form-fitting polyester) and biker shorts (lycra).  There is a quarter-size hole in the shorts, and the area around it looks thin, but the shorts are still usable.   More surprisingly, there was not much sign of wear on the shirt.  The skin of my shoulder underneath the shirt got scraped, but the sturdiness and smoothness of the fabric meant it slid on the road mostly without catching or tearing. There was minimal scratching on the left torso side.

Looking back on what caused the flat tire, I guessed that the puncture must have happened riding the dirt trail before staring the descent.  Although my front tire looked like it was in decent shape, I checked my logs and found that the tire was 5 years old and had 8000 miles on it.  That is an OLD tire.  It is likely that the rubber tread had gotten so thin that there was very little protection to offer the inner tube.

Usually rear tires wear faster than front tires, since the rear is the drive tire.  So rear tires get replaced more often.  But this was a reminder that a bicycle must always have a good front tire since that affects overall stability more.  I put a brand new tire on the front wheel.

Atri said he noticed that I had slowed down considerably before the crash.  I subsequently tried to estimate what speed I had been going the next time I rode downhill.  I got down to the speed I felt I was at when I crashed and saw that it was 15 miles per hour.  On a steep road like Montevina, I usually descend at 20 to 25 miles per hour (more if the road is straight and smooth, less if it is rough or winding).  Though it may not seem like a big difference, a crash at 15 mph is much less catastrophic than at 20 mph.  Above 25 mph, it seems unlikely to escape without broken bones.

It did not take me long to get back on the bicycle.  After a few days, I started commuting to work by bicycle again.  But longer rides were more difficult.  And surprisingly, the issues were more mental than physical.  Having an unexpected crash injected a paranoia into my mind that is taking a long time to dissipate.  Riding on flat ground and going uphill are no problem.  Riding downhill was initially terrifying, and is still (more than 3 months later) still unnerving.

I was never a carefree descender.  I usually kept a slower speed that others when going downhill.  But now I find it uncomfortable to go past 20 mph, and there are many roads where I normally would easily be comfortable doing 30 mph.  The biggest difficulty is that I am now overly sensitive to noises and shaking coming from my bicycle.  And these are irrational fears, because I have been riding the same bicycles for years, and they are no louder or shakier than before.  On my first ride after the crash that included a downhill section, I got completely spooked when a lawn sprinkler went off as I passed.  The hissing noise it made was too similar to the hissing/scraping noise I heard just before the crash.  But I know that it is just a matter of time before I am fully comfortable on the hills I know so well.

I normally take good care of my bicycles and keep everything in good working order.  But now I will be monitoring the state of my front tire in a more formal way.  I will probably keep track of the mileage on it an replace it more often.