Dan B and I had been trying to work out an east bay 200k perm route for a while, and I had spent a good deal of time on RidewithGPS hashing out possibilities. My sweetheart John P had created a route for the Davis Dart years ago that went through Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. I had ridden that route and a variation of it three times. I liked the route, but I wanted one that would start and finish in the east bay instead of finishing in Davis. Black Diamonds is one of my favorites of all my favorite East Bay Parks, is excellent for bike riding on road or MTB machines, and is remote enough that not too many people ever go there. The only problem with it is that it’s ringed with crappy ten-lane suburban roads with fast traffic, peppered with freeway interchanges and now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t bike lanes. This is true for a lot of the parks in the east bay, not just Black Diamonds. It makes creating a 200k perm route quite a challenge.
After hashing out a couple ride ideas, I finally stopped editing and sent what I had over to Dan. I was still concerned about areas around San Ramon and Castro Valley, towns with busy shopping centers that were sure to present problems, but they seemed to have bike lanes throughout, so why not try it? Dan tried a pre-ride with Eric M but didn’t make it to that section. I encouraged Dan to submit the route to the RUSA perms coordinator anyway, and it got approved. Dan and Eric had found a bunch of graffiti along the route (the secret control…) and decided to name the perm after some of it. OK cool. Dan had made some nice edits himself as well, like the addition of the East Ridge trail on the return leg. I had to go out of town for a conference the next weekend and was working the weekend after that, but we planned to ride it the following Friday. OMG weekday East Bay perm?!? If this works out, I’m in heaven, though it seemed risky.
7 am we agreed to meet at La Fournee, the start control. One of our friends had thrown down a course record challenge over email, and Dan answered by stating he would set a course record for the amount of calories consumed during the ride, intending to fill up on croissants in Black Diamonds and DNF. Silliness aside, I was feeling barely up to the ride much less set a course record. I was out of my usual training regimen, and even had a minor wipeout on Wooden Valley the week before during the Davis 300k. Somehow I banged my chest on something and it felt like a broken rib, though I had a visit with my awesome primary care physician (thank you Obama!) and she declared there was nothing broken. Anyway for my own part, I was looking at the route for potential points of bailout, and being an east bay route, there were several areas of close intersections with BART. Hey, it’s a tough ride, as Dan was to point out to me later.
La Fournee opens at 7, so it took us a minute to get rolling after purchasing at least one croissant each. The start control is right across from the Claremont Hotel, known to many cyclists as being at the base of Claremont Avenue which is a fun descent or kind of a hard climb if you happen to be going in the direction we needed to go. My original route had Claremont as the return, but for some unknown reason Dan changed it to use it going uphill. Hey, whatever… This way, just in case you were wondering if the route would be some work for you, you discover right away that it will be. Because of my small physical issue, I couldn’t climb out of the saddle without it being painful. I wondered aloud how riding this route was going to work. Dan said generously, “There aren’t that many spots where you would need to do that…” and his voice sort of trailed off. I just laughed, thinking of John’s old dart route in Black Diamonds. Well, I made it up Claremont without keeling over, so might as well keep going. On to Bear Creek and Briones. I’ve been riding in Briones in the evenings occasionally, which is quiet at that time of day, and the sunsets are nice. It was different in the morning, with the bright eastern sun in my eyes blotting out all the beautiful hills. There were some hikers there that morning; usually it’s just the huge, docile black cows sharing the trails with us. There was one nice mountain biker lady who came through the gate at the top with us and affirmed my greeting of, “nice day.”
Then we descended to Reliez Valley and over to the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Dan had told me at the start that his battery headlamp wasn’t working and we briefly discussed the possibility of taking a slight detour to Rivendell so he could buy a new one. But I wasn’t sure if their store was open that early even though I thought the level-headed staff had decided to shift their hours to begin the day earlier. So we kept rolling, and Dan said there might be a bike shop at the control in Blackhawk.I was still wondering if I would make it that far today and wasn’t sure how the day would end for me. However, I wanted to follow the lesson I learned from King Ridge this year. I DNFed that ride, mostly because I didn’t have confidence I would get through it, and took a long break early on. I wasn’t thinking things through very well, and it didn’t occur to me that I could have gotten through it if I hadn’t taken that break. So the lesson is to just keep riding as if you’re planning to finish. No more abandoning the ride before giving it a chance! So I picked up the pace a little on the CCCT where possible. There were lots of people, dogs, elderly, and children out on the trail though (a good thing!), so I didn’t want to push it. I had a lot of experience riding this particular trail, so I had a good feeling for how to ride around all the pedestrians politely without losing too much time on it. Before long, we made it to the turnoff for the Ygnacio Valley trail–good views!–and Ygnacio Valley Road. The road has wide shoulders, and a prolonged climb though at a low grade. Once on the Davis dart I got John to hang back with me on the climb and snuck up from behind to take the Concord city limit sign, which is at the summit. Not so today. I don’t think I took a single city limit sign all day! Bummer but given my fitness condition, I was just happy to be out on my bike.
After Concord was Clayton, where we stopped at their ornamental town hall park with water and bathrooms. A guy rolled up who was on an electric assisted tricycle. He was fun to talk to so we chatted with him for a while. He said he had taken that bike “all over, ahh, what’s it called, the old mines, you know…” “Black Diamonds?” Dan asked. “Yeah!!,” he said, as he waved his arm up and down to indicate the shape of the trails there. Color me impressed by this guy in casual sneakers and a golf shirt, 72 years of age by his own admission. But he said the handling of the bike wasn’t to his liking and he had tipped it over once, so he wanted to try something else. Dan suggested an electric assisted mountain bike… We had to get back on the road, so we rolled on and left him to his bike dilemma. On to my heart’s desire, Black Diamonds.
In many ways, it was just like I remembered it from the dart. So scenic, so steep!
This time, the trail was a lot more dusty, with the dust forming deep patches of powder. I pushed my bike in the same spots I had pushed before, and Dan waited for me in the same place my team had waited for me before.
This time though, instead of going up on the stupid-steep road, we went down when the trail turned to a paved path. I liked not having to do the stupid-steep part, but I had enjoyed the descent that trail affords.
This time was also different in that we got to continue on the dirt and pass by the ranger station, instead of passing through the parking lot and going to Brentwood on suburban roads. In the new section, there was a beautiful golden valley and huge rock outcroppings above us. It went on forever and it could have gone longer as far as I was concerned. But all of a sudden there was a short steep descent and it was all over, we were on Empire Mine Road. The sun was warm, the grass was dry, but I still had plenty of water in my pack. I started to go fasterfasterfaster to get to the next control but noticed Dan was not with me and heard him calling out to me so I turned around. The secret control! With all the graffiti on the road. So we photodocumented the moment and then moved on. I looked at the rusty old building of the mine and bid farewell to Black Diamonds this day.
The Brentwood control is a huge shopping center with tons of food possibilities, but I was feeling overwhelmed by the choices, and just opted for the simplest thing: tomato soup and a bagel at the Safeway. Sometimes Safeway controls are boring, but they can sometimes be simple and fast, and I wanted to do this ride like I was going to finish, even though I still wasn’t convinced.
We slipped out of that control relatively quickly, and started up Marsh Creek Road. The last time Dan rode this part, he said it was the most dangerous riding he’d ever done, but today the mood was mellow and courteous! Bonus! Sometimes drivers just do what they’re supposed to. Dan got ahead of me on Marsh Creek, but waited for me at the turnoff to Morgan Territory. Dan had waited for me at the top of each climb so far that day and I tried to show my gratitude for this by being able to roll through when I reached the top of each climb and not waste time. Unfortunately, Morgan Territory kind of sacked me and I had to take a break at the top of that one. My chest hurt (though I could climb out of the saddle now!), I was out of shape and Morgan Territory was the highest elevation of the route, soooo I just needed a little breakie. That done, we started the wild descent down, down, down the other side. I think you can see all the way to Fremont Peak, and it feels like being in an airplane. I don’t think I’ve ever taken pictures of the scenery here because I need to focus on the road, and I don’t feel like stopping. So you’ll just have to do the ride yourself to see!
The last receipt control is Blackhawk. I was not looking forward to climbing Redwood, but when I thought about the possibility of taking BART back from Castro Valley, it seemed too depressing. It’s a long BART ride, much longer than climbing Redwood Road would seem anyway. Dan and I stopped at a juice bar that was next to a Starbucks, and I was able to gulp down a fresh beet-apple-lemon juice. Dan looked up the bike shop on his phone, and said he’d only be a moment if I’d stay at the juice place. I sat down on the cement and drily chawed on an energy bar. When Dan came back, we were still poised to leave the control well before the closing time–always good for a penultimate control. That was my cue to identify whatever would help me finish this ride and consume it immediately! I picked an espresso from Starbucks, some kava and an ibuprofen from my bag. We were out of that place like a shot, and moved along with the fast suburban traffic in the fast bike lane, turning off where the route directed to use a quieter road. Late in a brevet is when I get my energy most often, one reason why randonneuring is a good sport for me. Even after all the climbing that day, I still had something left. I was anticipating riding the East Ridge Trail in the dark and was getting pretty excited about it.
On the northern edge of the town of Castro Valley, Dan and I regrouped for the last time that day. I wanted him to ride ahead because I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish within the time limit. I did have plenty of energy, but my chest still hurt and I was climbing well below my usual pace. Dan admitted he did want to get credit for the ride to put toward his R-12. I was just thrilled I had made it that far, and was ok with taking it easy through the final 20 miles. We rolled on together for a few more minutes and he explained to me where the trailhead for the East Ridge trail was: a key piece of information since I’d never ridden the trail before.
As I climbed Redwood Road at my ponderous pace, I considered skipping the trail and just taking Pinehurst all the way home (forfeiting my chance at getting credit). But Pinehurst has a steep, winding, thickly forested descent where I’d seen many creatures of the night popping out of the bushes before. Riding the trail definitely seemed like a safer alternative. I suspected the trail stayed up on the ridge instead of dropping down and then having to climb back out as I would have to do on Pinehurst. At the trailhead, there were maps, and I saw that there weren’t any turns that might get me lost. It was completely dark by this time. So I proceeded up the trail, which had a huge rut on the right side that loomed even larger as my headlamp cast shadows beyond it. In the past couple years, I’ve been riding trails at night with random randos. It’s been fun, and a good learning experience. I’ve learned that my headlamp makes little bumps look big, so not to worry, and I’ve learned that if I can keep my head together, riding trails in the dark is a transcendent experience not to be missed.
That night was quiet; the trail was completely empty. No bunnies, no skunks. There was a short section with some frequent owl hooting, but other than that, the woods were still. Thanks to Dan who patiently waited for me throughout the day, and thanks to my putting off the decision to bail always until the next control, I made it to this quiet trail in the woods. This trail following the ridgeline, surrounded by cool night air.
I got to the end of the trail and started descending my usual training-ride roads: Skyline, Old Tunnel. Usually I am cautious and slow here. Potholes, off camber curves, wild turkeys, drivers coming uphill are all hazards on which I fixate while riding Old Tunnel. But I calculated I didn’t have a lot of time left, so I descended with dispatch this time… and finished… with only seven minutes remaining on the clock! Getting credit for the ride was a completely unexpected bonus, but when I told Dan I had finished and he offered to file my results, I accepted graciously. I guess I will be the CR holder on the low end probably for some time, which I also accept graciously. I can still see the landscapes of Black Diamonds from that day in my mind when I close my eyes, and I know I’ll be out there again soon.
-typed while listing to fellow rando Pete Dixon’s Monday night radio show on kfjc