Sunday, August 28, 2016

2016 Tour of Napa Valley

21 August 2016
65 miles, 3250 feet total elevation

This year our friend Rom started to do more weekend cycling.  Early in the year he had some interest in trying to ride a bicycle event and asked Vaishali if she wanted to try one also.  She had gotten in to shape through her recent exercise routine, so the idea of trying a ride was reasonable even though she had not been cycling.  This gave her motivation to finally do some cycling.  I said I would join them in the event to give them company.

The event we picked was the Tour of Napa Valley.  I previously rode the century route 3 years ago.  Rom and Vaishali were interested in the 35 mile route, which was totally flat and a reasonable goal for novices.  My interest would be the 100 mile route.  I did some research and saw that those two routes have no overlap.  However the 40 mile and the 65 mile completely overlap for the first 25 miles.  I suggested to them that they consider that instead.

Obviously they needed to handle 5 miles more than their originally considered route.  However the big difference is that the 40 mile route also had 1700 feet of total elevation gain.  Rom had done some rides with elevation, but that would be a totally new level for Vaishali.  I encouraged both of them to consider that since they had months to train, and they agreed.

Rom and Vaishali did some training rides together in the months preceding, and I did some rides with Vaishali too.  Both of them got to a level of conditioning that made them feel comfortable with the challenge.

Napa Valley is a two hour drive from our home, and Rom is right on the way, so we planned to pick him up on the way there and drop him on the way back.  The only question was how to carry three bicycles in the car since my rack only holds two.  I found that I could also fit my bicycle in the back of the car with one seat folded down if I took off the front wheel.  That would also leave room for 3 people to sit comfortably.

On the day of the ride, Vaishali and I woke up at 4:30am and left home at 5:30.  We picked up Rom in San Francisco at 6:30 and continued to Napa.  We found the ride headquarters, parked, readied our bicycles, and proceeded to the registration.  We were underway at 7:30am.  The air was a little cool, but we were dressed appropriately and had no problem with that.

The first part of the route wound through the vineyards in the floor of Napa Valley.  Rom and Vaishali commented that traversing the valley on a bicycle gives a more scenic view of the area.

After about 15 miles, we made a turn out of the valley and the road pitched uphill.  All of the climbing for the 40 mile route would be concentrated in this stretch.  The singular rest stop for the route would be located at the top, so that was the target.  Rom kept a faster pace, while I stayed with Vaishali.  She was able to handle the moderate incline.  But when the road reached 10%, she need to stop and recover.  The grade fluctuated but did not get much steeper after that.  Soon we were at the summit and found Rom as we entered the rest stop.

We relaxed at the stop and had some snacks.  The hard part was done.  We left and rolled through mostly flat ground.  We did stop at one point to take some pictures, and another rider stopped and offered to take a picture of the three of use.  We continued to a T-junction where our routes diverged.  Rom and Vaishali turned left to head downhill to the valley and back to the start.  I turned right.

Up to this point I was keeping a much slower pace than normal so I could stay with Vaishali.  Now that I was alone, I pushed myself to keep an aggressive pace.  Almost immediately, I began to pass riders.  Normally I do not pass too many.  That is because I am usually on the longer route (which starts earlier) and the people who are slower than I start afterwards -- meaning we don't cross paths.  This time many of the slower riders had passed me.  And the riders who are faster than me were already far ahead.

I headed into another rest stop, but stayed only briefly.  I did not have much to recover from since the last rest stop.  I continued on and soon found the next hill, which was more challenging than the one before the first rest stop.  Again, I felt energized from starting out slowly, so I was able to keep a strong pace.  After passing another group of riders, one cyclist joked, "Why are you going so fast?  Are you trying to make us look bad?"  That was funny, mainly since I never usually am considered "fast".

My energy burst seemed to last the whole climb, though I did start to feel tired close to the summit.  There was a minimal water stop (no snacks) at the top, but I did not even stop.  Since I knew there was a long descent coming, I just figured I would get my rest coasting back down the hill.  I reached the bottom, and there was just a long, flat valley segment left.  After two miles, there was the final rest stop.  It had gotten pretty warm by now, so I stopped mainly to cool down and refill my water.

The final stretch was uneventful.  Again, I tried and succeeded in keeping a pace faster than I normally would.  I finally reached the start and looked for a place to park my bicycle.  Fairly quickly, I saw Rom and Vaishali's bicycles together, so I left mine nearby.  As I walked to the the finish area, I saw Rom.  He had changed clothes and explained that Vaishali had moved the car to the nearby parking lot and was taking a shower.  We got food and Vaishali met us.  We found a shaded spot to rest and eat (though Vaishali had eaten earlier).

Soon after, we packed up our bicycles and headed back.  The drive back was uneventful.  We dropped Rom back in San Francisco on our way home.  We had left Aasha and Manoj with my parents since we obviously needed someone to watch them while we were gone, so we picked them up after we got home and put things away.

We all declared the day a success.  Rom and Vaishali completed their first bicycle event and enjoyed it.  That may be it for them this year, but we are all eager to try doing something like this again next year.  I probably will have another event or two after this.