It’s been a year and a half since I moved to Oakland from San Francisco, and thus my desires to do perm routes over here in the east bay have waxed accordingly. There are many great ones, thanks to Kitty G and others, but for the month of February I was beginning to settle in on Eric L’s Diablo Territory in spite of its daunting amount of climbing. Hemming, hawing, stalling, and probably reading the group’s list serv too often, I picked up on an announcement from Eric that he had a new perm building on SFR luminary Bruce Berg’s Del Puerto 200k. Eric’s version, at 200 miles, would have a start and finish in Berkeley, following familiar roads to and from the start/finish of the Del Puerto 200k. At 318k, it still has much less climbing than Diablo Territory, so yes, I admit to a bit of laziness in choosing it…
Anyhoo, Eric sent me my card and some words of encouragement after having completed the inaugural ride the day before, and I luxuriously slept in my own bed the night before the ride (for SFR brevets starting in San Francisco, I now stay over at John’s the night before, sometimes leading to uncomfortable realizations the morning of the ride such as important items left at home in Oakland). I woke on time, left on time, and got my receipt at the 7-11 at precisely 6:00 am! I was in such a great mood that I chatted with the clerk, who shared with me that he’s a distance runner and sometimes likes to ride “but only 40-50 miles”. He had huge biceps, and I could tell he was in good shape. It was kind of cool chatting with a random stranger who didn’t think riding 200 miles in one day was totally batty, which is usually the reaction I get.
Off I went, climbing up Spruce up to Wildcat. Familiar, easy way to start the day. The sun rose over Mount Diablo as I was still rounding swirly corners on Wildcat.
Down Wildcat, into Orinda and onto St. Stephens Trail, one of my favorite east bay multi-use paths, of which there are many. While I just started getting into a groove, I noticed a pair of bright yellow hi-viz patterned arm warmers riding up next to me. I looked up and saw my fleche teammate and John’s cousin Russ, woohoo! He was riding out to Alamo and then meeting his son who would be mountain biking on Mount Diablo. We rolled along, chatting about our route stuff for the fleche this year, and about his son, who is on his high school’s mountain bike team. Yadda yadda and all of a sudden it was time for him to turn off, leaving me to continue the route through San Ramon, the next control.
At this control, I went into the gas station a bit confused, as it was too early for me to really want anything. I grabbed a bag of plain pretzels and walked up to the counter, Here, also, I ended up chatting with the clerk, this time about yoga. I have never really talked too much to clerks at controls, but today was very genial and relaxed, so why not?
I continued on, admiring the beautiful hills of Las Trampas backing up the city of San Ramon, and soon I passed the start of the SFR Del Puerto route. Now the sun started cooking, and although I had applied sunscreen liberally at the last control, I could feel a sunburn coming on. Drank plenty more water through Livermore, and as the buildings and man-made structures on Tesla Road started to thin out, I stopped to shed layers, put on fresh sunscreen, and take out my camera.
One of the true jewels of this route, Tesla Road shimmered in the sun. Unlike when we ride here in parched November with the club, the hills were a bright, luscious green. Wildflowers were popping up all over, orange, yellow, and purple. Rams, sheep, cows, goats, and chickens were out.
Descending Tesla was peaceful and quiet on this sunny Sunday. There were lots of trucks hauling ATVs to the ATV park on Corral Hollow, but they all passed me in a pretty chill and respectful manner, slowing down and/or pulling all the way to the left. Rando heaven, I think they call it.
Before long I got to the section of orchards and farmlands preceding the route’s next control.
Those boxes on the ground are beehives! The bees were actively buzzing around throughout this whole area. Bees love my hi-viz windvest, and I found a few clinging to it as I rode. No stings. It just heightened the experience of the day, though–beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky, the hills all cheerful and green, orchards with rows of trees in bloom for acres, and of course bees buzzing everywhere. Is it spring yet?
At Jimmy’s One Stop, I found another chatty clerk, the last of this ride. I just got some water here, my favorite mineral water, and didn’t tarry. I was ahead of time according to my plan, and didn’t want to lose ground.
I must have had a tailwind then, and stayed within my plan all the way to the next control at Patterson. This is the turnaround, at almost 100 miles. I still felt pretty good at this point. I ate some solid food, drank something yummy and cold, washed my face and rinsed my water bottles, and put on more sunscreen. It was time for the second beautiful jewel of this route: Del Puerto Canyon Road.
I guess now I have a really good explanation for riding such long distances if I ever need one. The beauty and remoteness of this place is so mind boggling each time I ride there. It may be hard to imagine why a person would ride their bike 100 miles just to get to ride on this road. I might argue that one of the reasons why it’s so enjoyable is because you have to ride 100 miles just to get there. And you can tell it’s rather far from anywhere meaningful to hurried texters. There could be a massive apocalypse or even the next version of iPhone could be released and this place would not change one bit.
Another special thing about Del Puerto Canyon Road is the natural spring. I often seem to find it at an ill-timed point when I don’t really need water, but I can’t resist.
This road is so beautiful, remote, and the landscape so rugged that you would almost not notice that you are experiencing a long, steady climb. In about 26 miles, you climb about 2900 feet, which would not really be that difficult if it weren’t for that one mile where you climb 900 feet of it. I like John’s description of the sign you’ve gotten to the hard part: you see a lump of hardened concrete on the ground where it must have fallen off the back of a concrete truck because of the sudden steepness. For a cyclist of meager ability such as myself, it is a crushing climb. This day was no exception. Thankfully, the next control is near the top, so you get to stop and take a breather. In the SFR route, we stop and have a sandwich and beverage at the Junction Cafe, but the Junction is between owners at this time and there are no sandwiches available.
I arrive at the Junction about half an hour before sunset and still precisely on schedule. Whew. There are still a few bumps before the very top, but about 30 miles of descending after that, and with the sun going down I decide to add a few items of warm clothing. I want to save most of my layers for later, as I fear the night in Chabot and Redwood Parks will be frigid.
The point in the photo above is the true top of the climb. Here begins the long way down. The sun is sinking, and although I was pretty much still on my schedule, my mind started to spin out of control here. I did not like the thought of descending Mines Road in the darkness, since it is narrow in parts and has some tight turns. It hugs the edge of a deep gorge, and even though I’d be riding on the inside of the road, it seemed terrifying. It was also getting colder very quickly, but because I wanted to get as far as I could while there was still any light at all, I didn’t want to stop and put on my mittens, even though it was starting to affect my ability to use the brake levers. Yikes! I also became painfully aware that I was only 25 miles in to my 100-mile ride home from the turnaround, and it was already almost dark–I would have to ride the entire remainder in the dark.
Fortunately, I regained some semblance of mind during the descent, as I traveled around curve after curve, gaining confidence with each one safely passed. I thought of all the times I’ve done the Davis Night Brevet, a ride that begins at 8 pm. I thought of Cousin Russ and the fleche, another all-night ride I’ve done. I remembered the stillness and quiet to be found while riding at night, and remembered how enjoyable it could be. Of course, all those other times, I’d ridden with others, and now here I was, just me and the moon.
I made it to the next control, the Castro Valley Safeway, right around the time I had planned to be leaving it. I was pretty exhausted, and my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. It wasn’t particularly warm inside the Safeway, and they did not have any more hot soup at that hour. I couldn’t quite decide on what to eat, definitely the low point of the ride for me. I think it was mostly due to my fears of how cold it would be when I eventually went back outside. Later I found it had been in the high 30s/low 40s. I had already put on all the layers I had brought with me, and my teeth were still chattering. So…I started to look around the store for any kind of extra clothing they might have for sale, anything at all. I found some cotton tights in the Health and Beauty Aids department, and they looked pretty good. I got a slightly larger size and put them on over my cycling tights. I was finally ready to go.
Riding that last stretch was hard. I never felt those roads contained quite so much elevation gain as they did that particular night…though I’ve never ridden them after already riding almost 300 kilometers. I definitely felt out of my depth…or out of my height, I guess. But I just kept going, did what I could, continued on. Although the climb warmed me up, I was still glad for the extra layer. The moon was full and provided a surprising amount of visibility. And there were loud choruses of frogs croaking all around to keep me company! It was a little scary to be out there all by myself, but it was peaceful too. I’m actually pretty grateful for this experience, since you never know when you might end up riding alone at night, even on a brevet. It’s nice to know I can get through it and even enjoy it.
This route was just the challenge I was looking for–mostly familiar, but with new connections and twists. The scenery was excellent, the traffic was low to moderate, controls well placed. I would love to do it again after daylight saving, to have more light, and to see what the orchards look like in a few months’ time. As is so often the case with the well-worn SFR routes, simply riding them at a different time of year yields brilliant results. Thank you Bruce for your contribution of the Del Puerto route to our group, and thank you Eric for making it more accessible and challenging with adding the Berkeley start. A new classic!