Sadboiz 200k

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 listening to fellow rando Pete Dixon’s Monday night radio show on kfjc

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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!