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.

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