2014 Davis Dart: Delta Montagnards Ride Again!

This has been a tough year for the ol’ mmmmbike. Lots of bad karma coming back to me for whatever horrible things I’ve done lately have made me want to wash 2014 down the toilet asap. No time for bike riding and work, work, work is all I get. I’d like to say things are slowly getting back on track now (at least I have time to update my bike blog!) but I don’t want to jinx myself, so let’s just say I feel lucky anytime I can get on my bike for a casual 200K (plus or minus a few special K’s) with some very nice people.

That was exactly what I had in mind for the Davis Dart this year, and it did not disappoint. We did the same route as last year, with the same team mates and the same controls. We even had the same captain, though now he’s calling himself Capitain Jacques Zut-Alors or something… And he came up with a new team name this year: the Delta Montagnards. A perfect expression of the route, since we ride over high climbs and then ride along the delta to Sacramento. And since it seems impossible to be a mountaineer of a delta, we know we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. Capitain Zutalors promised us a 13.5 hour program teaching us “French for Randonneurs: How to Slowly and Loudly Pronounce English so the French Can Understand You at PBP Next Year”. Well, then at least he might not tell us his UFO story again! (Actually, he was just saving it for the train ride home. Gah!)

One great thing about this ride was that the route started in downtown Oakland, about a ten-minute ride from my new home and WHQ of Book Island Inc.

Broadway, now with bike lanes all the way!

Broadway, now with bike lanes all the way through!

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Brilliant red fall colors near Lake Merritt

 

Moving to Oakland has afforded me many perks: no more junkie-homeless-hooker-mentally ill people hiding from the cops on my block (!), no more construction dust from the continual conversion of all available space to $4000+/month apartments, and the Oakland hills are always in view, with their attendant greenery fair to see. There are five independent book stores within two blocks of my new place, a yarn store, a family ice cream parlour, and a corner two-screen movie theater, not to mention that Montano Velo is now my LBS. Not too shabby! And many randos live nearby, rando-pal and fellow Pelicanist Bryan C. probably closest.

Having lived in the bay area for only five years or so, and most of it in San Francisco, I haven’t explored the beautiful riding opportunities in Oakland and points east. The Delta Montagnards route has more significance for me this year now that I’m living here, so I pay more attention this time as we ride past the Chabot Space & Science Center and through Joaquin Miller Park.

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Views starting to appear on Butters

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Skyline is not too trafficky at this hour

Top of Pinehurst

Top of Pinehurst

We ride eastward, taking Pinehurst. We cross Redwood Creek, Indian Creek, and Moraga Creek. Lots of water-crossing today! Our first control is at the Safeway in Moraga. I take a bathroom break (I don’t need to go that badly, but there are not always chances to use a real bathroom on these rides) and make the unpleasant discovery that I have entered my moon cycle, as some might say…drat. I lose about 20 minutes purchasing some feminine hygiene products and dealing with all that crap, and we finally get on the move again. Then Andrea has to go too, so we meet her at the bike trail head over yonder from the Safeway.

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The whole paintbox

We traverse lots of multi-use paths from here to Black Diamonds, which is really wonderful. Lots of people are out jogging, walking their dogs, and walking with friends and companions. It is chilly, but sunnier than I remember last year. I am wearing all the extra clothes I brought, but wish I had my mittens. No worry, though, for before too long it starts to warm up, and we are climbing.

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It is going to be a beautiful day!

We take the Iron Horse Trail and Ygnacio Valley Road  to get to Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, a member of the East Bay Regional Park System. The oak trees are wiry, the trail surface is in great condition, and I’m feeling pretty ok. Last year the grade of the trail was a surprise and I just walked a bunch of it. This year I rode all of the first part, though now I look at the ridewithgps page and it shows some of the grade is 12-14%?!? Could that be right?? I did ride this part, but I was far behind my teammates, I think. This is such a unique trail and I like it a lot, but I still need to work up to it. It would be great to explore more of the trails in this park, since the part we ride is such a small percentage of the trails here. We have a descent, then some more climbing, some of it also at 13% or so… I have definitely taken off all my extra layers by now… It sure is beautiful up at the top, though, and you can see for many, many miles. It is a clear day with lots of sun and lovely crisp autumn air. The rains from several days ago must have improved the trail, because the surface is much more smooth than last year’s deep ruts. Hardly any other people are here, at least on this side of the hill. After we start descending we encounter a group of smiling, good-natured young hikers.

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Familiar

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Quercuses…or Quercae???

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Andrea is happy in Black Diamonds!

At the trailhead on the other side of the park, we exit and start rolling over the silky smooth blacktop road out of the park. There is a momma goat with an awkward little kid in the middle of the road. We slow down, and an oncoming car sees us and slows down too. We all watch as the the two goats clamber out of the road and back onto the farm.

It is now time for lunch! We speed out of the park and say, “Till next time, beautiful and difficult trail!,” heading for our lunch stop at the Pho place in Brentwood.

mmmm

mmmm

It is marvelous, just like last year. In fact, the salted lemonade is better and I think I could drink two. I am amazed at Capitain Zut-alors’s ability to find a place like this, truly a golden noodle in a haystack of inedible junk food. But seriously, it is also kind of an art form to cobble together a 200k ride from various pieces and segments one might want to ride on. This ride has some fantastic segments all in need of connectors, something I would not have been able to figure out! We try not to tarry too long as we are already behind schedule. Last year we made up a lot of time on the delta because of its luxurious flatness, but we may not be able to do that this year because as Subcommandante Sordo brought to our attention the week before the ride, our ferry (the Real McCoy II) is out of service! Fortunately, he found us another waterbus, the J-Mack (how do they come up with these names?). Just a couple kilometers further upstream, and we would be back in business.

Last year, riding over the Antioch bridge over the San Joaquin River was pretty scary for me; the walls on the sides of the bridge leave just enough space for a cyclist to ride on the shoulder, but there is a lot of debris in the shoulder (flat tire potential), and traffic moves fast. This year, I was prepared for that, but I was not prepared for the bottle thrown in our path from a passing pickup truck. Not cool! What was also not cool about it was that it was a bottle of Martinelli’s apple cider, one of my favorite kinds! The kind with the bottle shaped like an apple. Oh well. I have never had something thrown at me during a ride, so at least now I can check that off my list.

We had another stupid traffic incident later when another pickup was pulling out into the roadway to prepare for a turn, blocking our path and forcing us to merge into the lane of traffic. Maybe people were pissed that the Real McCoy II was out of service? Really no excuse. We certainly did not experience anything like that last year.

Finally we got to the ferry crossing. The J-Mack was much smaller than the Real McCoy II, and the operator was very nice and smiled at us. I deduced there had been other dart riders on the ferry before us. Being on the ferry made me feel completely released from the stress of being in traffic. The Sacramento River was so lovely, and so green. There were lush grasses and other plants on the riverbanks and the still surface reflected the blue sky. The soft buzzing motor pulled the ferry along its cable, simply going back and forth from one bank to the other, from that bank back. It’s a different pace of life when you depend on a ferry.

Calm and clear

Calm and clear

We disembark from the ferry and are back on our route from last year, which follows the sloughs and channels, levees and islands southwest of Sacramento. It seems more beautiful than last year; the weather this year has been much clearer, and even the suburbs looked better. We are still behind the clock, but not as much as I thought, and Capitain is happy.

Is everybody happy??

Is everybody happy??

The light wanes, and we get to the washboard-y part of the road, surprisingly coming across a car. It’s still quite pretty around the fields where some crops have been cleared, and in others there are still grape vines.

Delta Dusk

Delta Dusk

Around this point, a young hawk kept following us

Around this point, a young hawk kept following us

We arrived in Clarksburg still about 20 minutes behind schedule, and stopped outside the general store there to put our night time reflective vests etc. on and check our lights. We roll past the bikes of another dart team that is dining at a barbecue joint there, but we don’t stop until we get to the Sacramento Food Coop–our last stop.

The Coop is great like last year, but I’m feeling antsy about leaving our bikes outside in the dark, even though we amply locked them. Carlos and John are having some kind of disagreement probably stemming from having done too many Super Volunteer Series together, and I go to the washroom to run some cold water over my face. I’m pretty exhausted in spite of the many flat miles, and am looking forward to our arrival at Sudwerk, the final control. We eat our food and take off, crossing the Sacramento River for the last time that day. It is completely dark by the time we get to the bike path next to I-80, thankfully separated from Interstate traffic by a high concrete barricade and fence. We pass a dude hanging out on the path  which is sort of limited in width; he has a big overloaded grocery cart and is fussing around in the dark with something. John said later he had a green glittery helmet on, but I thought it was just a hat. Later when we were talking to another team at Sudwerk, we found out when they traversed the same path, the guy was on the ground, and one of the team nearly missed running him over! They doubled back to find out why he was on the ground. One person asked him if he needed some help, and he said, “Can you help me get my ex-wife back?”

It was terrific to see everyone at the finish at Sudwerk! The dinner was much nicer this year too. It seemed like most teams’ routes took it easy this year, no epic Davis darts.

The train ride back was great other than the aforementioned telling of the UFO story (which rousted Subcommandante Carlos out of his chair in disbelief that John was really going to tell that story yet again). We did get to talk to Eric L about his recent riding of the new 1000k Shasta Mountains SFR route. John and I had both just read his written account posted to the SFR list, and it’s a real page turner!

Thanks again to my sweetheart for another great day on the bike. I know it must take a lot of planning and expertise to put together the route, and a lot of patience to lead us all around all day! And of course, a big thanks go to the Davis crew for organizing, but my biggest thanks go to Andrea and Francisco for the ride home from the train station at the end of the night. Thanks for the lift!

 

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R11: Delta Beach Patrol

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Twilight on the delta

California’s landscape continues to amaze me. As soon as I think California is one way or another, I see something else that completely turns me upside down. In early November I went to San Diego, and flew over the length of the coastline in the afternoon. I saw the Monterey Peninsula and the Central Coast mountains from the air. Even seeing Los Angeles that way was a total surprise. I began to feel that I could live out the entire remainder of my years never leaving California and yet always seeing new things.

One thing I’d been missing this past fall, though, was the fall colors that other areas of the country enjoy. For whatever reason, we don’t seem to get them too much in San Francisco–maybe due to greater density of coniferous trees? Eucalyptus don’t turn colors either.

Another thing I began to wonder about was whether I would ever see anything flat again. Sure there are valleys here, but mountains still loom within view. Hill, mountain, ridge, rise, peak, roller, cliff, valley, lowland, etc here are like the Sami peoples’ 180 different words for snow/ice. Maybe I was still thinking back to Old Caz, but flat bike riding was becoming a hazy, distant reflection of a memory.

Both of these concerns were answered by our route for the Davis Bike Club Dart 200k team ride. Riding through the deltas of Solano county, we saw beautiful fall colors on the deciduous trees and enjoyed flat flat flat miles across levee roads lining old local waterways. We saw lots of cool old ferries and bridges in use, and we even got to ride on a modern ferry. Many thanks to my cool boyfriend for coming up with a route that provided some balance to my year in randonneuring!

The first part of our ride did include the requisite bay area ridiculously steep climbing, just to make sure we didn’t feel too let down by a perfectly pleasant, flat ride with delightful weather.

bumpy ruts

bumpy ruts

this was not the hard part... though I did walk it anyway

this was not the hard part… though I did walk it anyway

nice view

nice view though

oak trees and good friends

oak trees and good friends

wide view

taking the long view of things

On the (new) Rivet, Andrea is pleased

On the (new) Rivet, Andrea is pleased

This was not the hard part either, though I walked here also... didn't get a good start on it

This was not the hard part either, though I walked here also… didn’t get a good start on it

We love a good doggie

We love a good doggie

Rose Hill Cemetery contains the remains of old coal miners

Rose Hill Cemetery contains the remains of old coal miners

You...!

You…!

This was through the Black Diamond Mine Regional Preserve, part of the East Bay Regional Park District. We passed a few hikers and a couple bikers on the trails there, which were deeply rutted in spots. The combination of the ruts and the pitch of the trail was a bit too much for me, not to mention my lack of prior route study, and so I dismounted for a short stretch. I had slept quite badly the night before–was that the night I got food poisoning from the Yemeni restaurant near John’s place? It might have been… Anyway, after walking a short stretch and topping off that little climb, the serious climbing began. The part after the dirt trail led into a paved trail was particularly memorable. I think we all walked for at least a part of that and got about half an hour behind schedule. The ruts on the trail going downhill felt pretty hard on my true blue bike (as always, with fenders), but it held together well. I wish I had gotten more sleep the night before, or pre-rode this part of our route to get a little practice, because it sure was pretty, and nothing like I had ever ridden on before. I would like to go back and ride it again.

Because of the rules governing randonneuring team rides, we were able to cut our losses and take a short cut out of the Black Diamond trail without losing credit for the ride. On our way out of the park we passed by a goatherd and his dog, and an isolated, very old cemetery from the days when this land was a coal mine. I’m so glad it’s not a coal mine anymore. Let’s say it together: “PUBLIC LANDS RULE.”

food

Yum! photo swiped from bonkifyoudontknowvelocio.wordpress.com without asking

Not too long after Black Diamonds is our lunch control. It is a Vietnamese family restaurant in a strip mall in Brentwood. Nothing fancy, but the ladies inside see us piling up our bikes outside and insist that we bring them into the restaurant while we dine. The food is wonderful. I got “salted lemonade” to drink, a taste explosion I may never experience again, but it was perfect mid-ride. Mmmm, that whole meal was delightful and the people working there were sooo friendly despite the inhospitable suburban drabscape outside. Good captain that he is, John filled all our water bottles while we cleaned up and he and Carlos attended to Andrea’s rear brake which was dragging on her wheel all through Black Diamonds. Yeow.

We passed over the Antioch bridge without incident though it scared the crap out of me to be so close to fast-moving traffic, and then we got to The Flat Section, which was pretty much the rest of the ride to Davis.

Flat! Whuut?

Flat! Whuut?

A Happy cyclist is a non-serious cyclist

A Happy cyclist is a non-serious cyclist

Nice old bridge, Carlos's new Magnic lights in effect

Nice old bridge, Carlos’s new Magnic lights in effect

We really scooted through lots of gorgeous scenic farmland and wineries. I found my second (tail)wind and got accused of being a Serious Cyclist… Andrea and I rode up front to devise a plan for our December R-12 installment, and that allowed Carlos and John to engage in guy-talk at the back for a while. We regroup, and John slyly shares with us that “Carlos doesn’t want us to know, but he is royalty…” I will remember this time as some of the most fun riding I’ve had all year: humming along in perfect weather, enjoying good company who is all happy to be there. What a privilege it is to do these rides; once again I feel like the luckiest person on the planet.

Approaching Sacramento, the roads become more like highways, and we go through a town with a city limit sign that John wins pretty easily. I start to switch on my city-limit-sign radar and notice a giant water tower ahead that says Sacramento. I see the Sac sign up ahead, though it is far. Too far for a lead-out? I have lost these sprints in the past trying to lead John out for too long, but this time I think I have the energy for it. I quietly downshift a bit, but John sniffs my resolve and speeds up. I match his pace and keep my eyes on his front wheel. I pedal harder and don’t let up. I pull ahead just enough to take Sacramento!!! Yessss!

Insert victory song here

Insert victory song here

Sacramento Food Co-Op, we love you!

Sacramento Food Co-Op, we love you!

Captain is happy

Captain is happy

After the food co-op where I had a fantastic turkey sandwich and John had an excellent chicken soup, we rode the short distance to Davis, part of it on the bike path next to the highway: weird, but if you need to go that way by bike, it’s nice to have that there. We saw another team along the way, we stalled a bit at a gas station in order not to arrive early, and finally arrived at Sudwerk. After some brave struggles the nature of which only a randonneur would be able to endure, we got our food and beer. With the rest of the group we hopped on the Amtrak train back to San Francisco, sitting with Angela and Steffan and their team. It was great to hear their stories from a route crafted with the purpose of visiting four swimming holes along the way, with two people who had never randonneur’d before! So cool!

Thank you, Davis Bike Club for sponsoring and spurring our adventures. Thank you team Delta Beach Patrol. And thanks to my sweetheart for the quality miles; I wish many happy returns for us both.