The DMD is held in mid to late April each year and the Knoxville is held in mid to late September each year, and while the Knoxville is clearly the easier of the two, the Knoxville Double is clearly not easy. I have fallen into the pattern of volunteering each year for the Devil Mountain Double and then riding as a participant in the Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century. This year, I completed my seventh Kx Double and 21st Triple Crown certified double century. My riding companion for the day was finishing his 59th double.
More than any other long ride, the image and impressions set when I first rode the Knoxville in 2002 have stuck with me and continue to shape my expectations for the ride each year. I know going in to the ride that heat will probably be a factor, that I'll see dozens of my riding friends through out the day and that there will be a certain quality to the daylight, especially late in the day on Chiles-Pope Valley Road, that serves as a clue that Autumn is just around the next curve in the road.
My friend Bruce arrived at my house a bit before 4am for the drive up to Peña Adobe, just outside of Vacaville, CA, where the ride starts. Traffic was a non-issue at that hour and our estimate of the drive time was over generous, and as a result we rolled away from the parking lot a full fifteen minutes ahead of schedule (which itself was earlier than any other time I've done the ride, save once). Though we would only find out later, several other friends were leaving at just about the same time. Unlike any ride with a mass start, with no set start time on this ride it's hard to spot other riders you know unless you stumble across them in the dark as you prepare to leave. The darkness would also confuse us as we arrived at, and rode right past, the first turn that would take us around the Lagoon. Lucky for us a SAG vehicle was right behind us and herded us back on the right path. Heading west in the pre-dawn, a noticeable headwind slowed our progress and contributed to breaking up any pace-line that might form among the riders nearby. The early miles on this route would not be picturesque compared to the later terrain, but it is dark and the roads deserted so the riding is just fine. Bruce and I catch up to a pack of half a dozen riders as we turn into a subdivision on our way west through Fairfield. I'm surprised to find the pack larger than I thought when I counted tail-lights from a hundred yards back. I can only speculate that some of the riders can't be bothered by the weight of adequate lights through the full day of riding so they skimp on visibility in the hour before dawn. I've heard a few stories of riders that would bring good lights, and then put them in drop bags at the first rest stop for them to be taken ahead for later use, and then found those lights didn't arrive. I've just settled on getting good lights and keeping them with me all day and the weight has never been an issue.
The first climb of note is Mt. George, on Monticello Road (AKA CA 121). This road climbs up to a ridge top and then skirts the northern side of the approx. 1800' Mt. George, before dropping down into Napa. It's here, every year, on the climb up that the sun begins to rise on my day. On various other versions of the ride, the drop into Napa Valley has brought a variety of weather conditions, from a chilly 39F one year, to dense fog on another. This year, the weather was mild and benign at that point in the day. Bruce and I came across a fellow club member, Dick, wearing his Grizzly Peak Cyclists jersey and Dick hopped on our small pace line and followed our wheel to near the left turn to the first rest stop. At this stop I usually see several riders I know and many of the volunteers are familiar too and this year was no different. Sterling was working the food table and called out a hello, and we ran into Jack who was riding with some other friends that day. I also met Rick and Anna at this stop, riding their 52nd double. At the California Triple Crown awards breakfast the next day they would be added tot he CTC Hall of Fame. I had first met Rick and Anna when the were riding their very first double about seven years before, and had last run into them as they were volunteering for the Susanville Control on the Gold Rush Randonnee. Running into riders who were volunteering and volunteers who were riding this day was pretty much the theme here.
At this early hour traffic in Napa has not yet picked up in spite of it being harvest season for the many vineyards here. That will change in a few hours but by then we will be clear of the climb over Howell Mountain and will have passed through the less traveled back roads that go by the less well known vineyards of Pope Valley. After the tricky descent off of Howell Mountain, the Pope Valley Cross Road gives us a chance to relax and settle into a cadence that is both purposeful and comfortable. The climb up through Pope Canyon is noting at all like the previous climb out of Napa Valley and after cresting a few stair step like climbs we've arrived at the Lake Berryessa rest stop, and here again we meet familiar faces on both sides of the food and water table. We'll see Alfie and Lisa and several others later on at the first rest stop after lunch, but first after topping off here and setting out on the namesake roadway for this ride we have to pass through the lunch stop at Lower Lake and climb Loch Lomond.
Knoxville Road is a road full of vistas, heat, a dozen dry stream crossings, and scents from the warm brush exposed to the sun during the months long dry season, and those scents trigger memories of all the past rides through this remote part of California. There are not so many hunters camped along the roadside this year and later I spotted a sign relaying the prohibition to roadside camping in the preserve we pass through. On the ground, we don't get the clues that maps will later provide and there is no obvious demarcation when we complete the climb through Toll Canyon and begin the climb through Long Canyon. We also won't know as we pass by that the gravel road going off to our left is picturesquely named Devilshead road. I suspect that this knowledge would not have helped us as we hit what is often the hottest portion of the ride, and the charred landscape from a recent fire would not have given us any advantage in completing the climb either. Many times at this very point I could feel the energy draining from my legs and lungs but on this day I feel like I'm holding my own. It is an uncommon thing that I actually drop some riders, catch and pass others and arrive at the water stop more or less mentally intact. As hard as that stretch is, the traverse of Morgan Valley always takes me down a peg or two and while this year Morgan Valley was not easy, it wasn't nearly as hard as other years. A few miles outside of Lower Lake and past Lake County's version of Grizzly Peak I caught up to Tara, a club member and Sean whom I've met on so many double centuries through the years. We form a paceline and I pushed to try to arrive at the Lunch stop before 1pm but miss that goal by three minutes. The lunch stop seems quiet and I wonder if we are late in arriving but Mark, who usually passes me at the Berryessa stop just arrives before Bruce and I depart.
The winter rains over the 2005/2006 winter washed out Big Canyon road which was used by both the Knoxville and the Davis Double Century routes. Big Canyon is a beautiful and quiet link between Middletown and Lower Lake but there are no plans apparently to fix the washout. Where on the DDC the replacement climb up Cobb Mountain comes before lunch, the climb up Cobb from Lower Lake is after lunch on the Knoxville Double, and coupling this with the heat of the day and Loch Lomond is a challenge. Bruce and I began to be passed by several riders as we slowed and stopped for a variety of minor issues we wanted to address before starting the climb. Of the two options, climbing from the Middletown side or the Lower Lake side, the Lower Lake climb up Loch Lomond is by far the easier, but that is not to say it is easy. The lower section includes the steeper parts but joyfully, the incline nearly disappears for the last mile of Loch Lomond before the turn on to CA 175. There is still more climbing to do after that turn and without slowing we ride on toward the summit near Cobb and Hobergs ahead. Tara joins us again along the rollers before the big drop toward Middletown, but we all three get separted on the long descent.
The next rest stop at Detert Reservoir is at mile 130+ where I will meet up again with Alfie, Lisa and several other volunteers. Arriving first, I end up having a pretty long rest and chat with Debra a bit before she leaves. I'm not sure if Tara leaves ahead of us when Bruce and I roll away, but we'll see her later on the course. Years ago the rest stop was at Guenoc Winery and I do miss the air conditioned rest rooms but I didn't miss the climb up to the winery on a dirt and gravel road. Butts Canyon road climbs a bit near the county line but the drop down into Pope Valley is slowed by a rising head wind. My energy level seemed to drop a bit just as we crossed the county line and ebbed further as the road surface worsened. I was looking forward to the long and fast run into the next rest stop as my speed and energy level dropped further. Jack and a friend caught us on Chiles-Pope Valley road and our small group then met up with a few other riders as we finally hit the down hill run. We all spread out again before the rest stop though and came in to the Hennessy rest stop separately. While I had been noticing but managing a slightly queasy stomach all day long, it really hit me here. I had a hot dog as per normal (years ago I was a vegetarian and it was at this rest stop one year where I fell off the veggie wagon and succumbed to the lure of a salty hot dog) and chased it with a soda and some V8, hoping the added saltiness would settle matters. Debra was at this stop when we arrived and she decided to wait for us and ride along rather than alone. The roadway climbs in several places on the early part of this leg and I lagged behind a bit. I decided to add some Endurolytes and some Clif Shot Blocks to the contents of my uneasy stomach, and it turned out to be just the thing. Before we hit the CA 121/128 junction I was feeling better and able to push ahead with a little more verve.
The early morning gains on my usual times to various miles points had completely disappeared, and now I was running a bit behind even my slowest times. Because of the earlier than usual start though, we arrived near the Cardiac climb just after the sun set. I always am just a little concerned about traffic here, as this is where we begin to be on the same side of the road as all the departing boaters leaving Lake Berryessa. As with any cross section, the vast majority of drivers were considerate and a small minority stood in stark contrast to the maturity level that should be required to drive a car or more importantly, a truck. One favor the jerks usually provide is a loud announcement of their presence but alas, one driver felt compelled to honk long and loudly the exact moment before he passed riders. We could hear him honking at riders ahead and out of sight as well and while I reacted by yelling when he passed us in this manner, after a moment or two all that anger passed. Once I spotted the road sign of the truck driving down a wedge of cheese I knew there was a nice long run of mostly down hill riding into the penultimate rest stop at the Pardehsa Store. Debra had gotten ahead and I pushed a bit harder to catch up and we arrived at the rest stop just ahead of Bruce. I had a hankering for chocolate milk for the longest time and this stop afforded me that chance. Forgoing all the food and drink offered by the Quacks out back, I managed to snag the very last bottle in the store, a quart bottle I shared with Bruce. Ah, liquid heaven.
After a fairly short break we all three pushed on for the last 15 miles to the finish. So many times I've ridden this road and so many of them have been in the dark. Though this version of the Knoxville Double would be the longest time for me, this section passed quite quickly. Pleasants Valley Road will have several individual rollers along it's path, but generally the segment of road is higher in the middle miles. We could see a few bike lights behind us though no riders caught or passed us for the last 15 miles. Slowed a little by the slight incline on the first half, we settled into a good pace for the final miles and at last caught a glimpse of headlights on the Interstate off to our left a bit, which is the signal that there is but one mile left on the ride. In spite of the small low spot after the Hennesey rest stop, it was a great day on the bike. The weather never got unbearable, though it tipped into the 90F range. The clear skies for most of the day were great, and of course the company all day long was top notch.
201 miles 16 hours, 25(ish) minutes