Monday, October 26, 2009

Countdown to R-12: ten out of twelve down

For my October 200km I was busy on the day of my club's Winters 200km brevet (I worked the ride instead) but with so many local permanents to choose from, I still had lots of options. I chose the route that started the closest to my home, RUSA Permanent #555. I happen to know quite a bit about this route, including it's genesis. Bruce Berg, the permanent owner based the route largely on a club ride with the Grizzly Peak Cyclists, the Berkeley to Davis route. I've liked this route from the first time I ever rode it with friends from the GPC, and I've always felt it had an element of adventure to it. What adds that element is that the route is not an out and back or a loop route. It's a one way route. Return is almost always by Amtrak, which when the group is big lends an opportunity for everyone to get a chance to talk to other riders that they may not have ridden near all day, or when the group is small a chance to compare notes on the day.

What sets the Berkeley to Davis permanent apart from that favorite club ride are two things: overall distance and terrain. In order to reach the minimum 200km distance an out and back leg was created where riders leave Berkeley and head mostly south to Castro Valley, and then work their way back north reaching a total of 50 miles at a point where the more direct route from Berkeley would be maybe total 10 miles. As for terrain, those extra miles are anything but flat. This changes the ride from 90+ miles to 129 miles and the latter version has 6855' of elevation gain, with 4500+ of that coming in the first 50 miles. The GPC club version of the ride is often listed as an early January century and would attract riders who like the distance but maybe have been less active over the previous month or more. After doing this route a second time (first time was in August) I'm convinced this is no mellow club ride, and under the right conditions, it can be a butt kicker.

On Saturday I met Bruce just before 7am at the original Peets on Vine in Berkeley and after scarfing a fudge brownie we rolled off toward Tunnel Avenue and the first climb of the day. The weather the day before had been very mild and with a forecast high near Davis of 79F we were expecting a pleasant day. So far the morning was proving to be just that: very pleasant. While the whole route save for the very last few miles has become very familiar to me, the first miles of this route are even more familiar. This is my cycling 'back yard'. Once reaching the top of Tunnel Road and Skyline, the route more or less follows the crest of the ridge formed by the East Bay Hills. The route alternates between residential sections and Regional Park land and finally descends toward the watershed for the Upper San Leandro reservoir. A somewhat quick stop at the Peets in Castro Valley to acquire proof of passage and we head back north on Redwood Road making our way toward the San Pablo reservoir where we'll turn northeast, aiming for the Zampa Bridge where we cross the Carquinez Strait.

By the time we've reached Vallejo, all the serious climbing is behind us, and what remains are grades more toward the gentle end of the spectrum. With Vallejo as point A, and Fairfield as point B our route is not the most direct and straight line. The area in between lacks roads and would be a series of canyons to cross. Instead we take the E Ticket ride down Lake Herman Road which culminates with a grand view of Suisun Bay and the Mothball Fleet, and from there we skirt along Interstate 680 with the wetlands that feed into Grizzly Bay on the opposite side of the freeway. The second control on the route is in Cordelia, which largely offers a selection of kwik-marts and fast food outlets. We chose the Burger King for the high calorie to dollar ratio, which comes in handy when riding for 10 hours or more, and because it had seats and tables (something lacking in the kwik-mart). The lunch did not make me feel over full, which often happens on long rides, and I was happy for this.

Even though we had long ago passed a sign announcing the city limits of Fairfield, it was quite a few miles before we were really within the city limits. What we passed before was simply marsh land that was annexed to the city for some unknown reason. The stretch from Cordelia to the outskirts of Vacaville is intermittently rural and suburban, and a good deal of it is cheek-to-jowl with Interstate 80 and as a result, pretty noisy. Pleasants Valley and the turn north bring silence and a rolling terrain with the beginnings of the Vaca Mountains immediately on our left. Bruce had ridden this permanent four weeks before and I had ridden it a bit more than two months before, and for each of us, this time was in milder weather than before. The route takes us across the west, northwest and north edge of Vacaville and quickly we are out in rolling countryside and winds from the north begin to pick up immediately. We no longer have the protection of the Vaca Mountains and our trajectory is more northward than it has been. Our goal was the 3:50pm train if we were having a great day, and the 4:55 train if we were having a good day. Estimating the distance left, the time it would take to cover that distance and the need to acquire receipts before getting train tickets leaves us with little room to play with. The first time I had covered this ground was on the SFR Davis Overnight brevet. On that ride I was trusting to luck that I could eventually catch the lead pack, or at the very least keep their tail lights in view. They had riders among them that knew the route and the area, and I did not. Traveling over that same ground now for the 3rd time this year, I had a lot more confidence in my route finding and it wouldn't be until much later in the day where I would be a little unsure and unfamiliar with the exact turns. The advantage then though would be that if on my own, I could eventually get into Davis with little trouble even if I didn't take the most efficient route. The central valley is extremely flat and Davis and the UC campus there are marked by a tall water tower. Naturally, we did make a wrong turn, heading south instead of north and we added at least two miles to our total that we didn't need to add, and worse, put ourselves about 8-10 more minutes in the hole in trying to make the 4:55 train.

Each of us were now pretty weary and pulling into the wind trying to maintain 17+ mph was draining. With about four miles to go, I began to slump noticeably and for the first time all day I was dangling well of the back of Bruce's rear wheel. I managed to regroup just as we passed under I-80 for the last time, but I could hear what I thought was the train whistle of our departing train. We still pushed on to the train station just in case, but upon arriving there we had it confirmed that we had missed the train by minutes. While we each didn't want to be on a later train, at least we had the opportunity to relax over a dinner that would be much better than what the 'dining car' would serve on Amtrak.

Having completed this ride twice now, it seems to be a 10 hour ride for most of us. We finished in 10 hours, 3 minutes compared to the August time of 10:08. My total mileage for the day once I arrived back home was 139.85 miles. My total climbing including the commute to the start, and back home from the train station was 6900'+.

Just two more to go to the R-12.


Bruce B said...

As usual Rob, a great write up. For the rest of you, it is worth note that Rob pulled for about 95% of this ride and even with that, I had to keep asking him to slow down. He's obviously in great shape these days. Without me slowing things down, he would comfortably have made the 4:55 train.

rob hawks said...

What I forgot to include was the delay caused by my flat tire near Castro Valley. The 10 minute delay still wouldn't have given us enough time to make that train what with how long it took us to get our tickets purchased plus getting receipts for the brevet cards, but together with the wrong turn delay we might have made it but with little spare time.

It's cumulative total of a series of things (flat tire, wrong turn, headwinds) that cause you to miss a time goal.