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.