Finally! A Clydesdale’s Ride

Posted by SuperClydesdale on June 16, 2011 under Rides | 4 Comments to Read

Big dudes weigh more.  No running from that — believe me, I’d run from it, but my doctor says its bad for my knees.  Running blows anyway.  That’s why I ride bikes.

I remember the night before the Death Ride in 2009, I was staying the night at a friend’s house in South Lake Tahoe.   My host  – a little guy named Roger – informed me that, indeed, suffering was his friend — suffering being the key to a great ascent.   Roger weighs about 140 pounds, so while he is suffering on a great ascent, I am dying.  Literally.  Roger and I have different views of suffering, I think.  For him, suffering is fighting through the pain and exhaustion.  For me, it’s going a week without a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.   His pace while suffering crushes mine, even if I’m pushing myself to the brink of death.  I simply cannot keep up.  This is primarily because I have Roger by 100 pounds.  Gravity is a cruel bastard.

Two years ago, I wrote that the perfect Clydesdale ride would be one that enables a Clydesdale to leverage his strengths and minimize weaknesses.  In other words, it would be all downhill — pure descent.   Then, the tables turn and gravity becomes my friend.   Then, Roger simply cannot keep up.  It’s opposite day!   On monster descents, the challenge for me is moderating my speed around turns.   If I time my braking well, little guys haven’t got a prayer of keeping up with me.

For the most part, the idea of the all-downhill ride has been pretty much an idealized construct in my mind – a mythical thing, like a unicorn, or a hot chick that would talk to me.   The only downhill rides that I have been aware of are of the mountain bike variety – like they have at Northstar at Tahoe, the ski resort near me that turns into a downhill mountain biking course in the summer.  That’s really not appealed to me.   It doesn’t attract cyclists, it attracts danger junkies, many of which are totally unfit and look like they were dredged from the line at the ice cream stand at State Fair.  Not that I shrink from danger, but I have to go to work on Monday.  And, unlike many of these people, I have most of my teeth want to keep them.

There are some spectacular descents around me, but they are usually preceded by difficult climbs.   While I like to climb, and fancy myself somewhat of a mountain gorilla (see the Clydesdale Glossary), when I do these rides with little guys, they have such a tremendous advantage on the ascent that if I try to keep up with them, I’m damaged goods by the time we get to the top.   I want a ride where I have the advantage for once.  From the start.   There are few opportunities for such a ride:

  • The previously mentioned downhill ride at a ski resort, where you take a lift to the top and bomb down
  • A coordinated ride where you bring two vehicles, and drop one off at the bottom of a hill.  Then you and your lazy-ass, big-boned riding partners ride to the top of a massive hill for a free ride down.

That’s about it.

While downhilling is well established and popular, the second option just reeks of laziness.  I can’t bring myself to do it.  Although, I’ve thought about it many times.  We have some massive descents near me.

Unfortunately, I earn all of my descents.

Luckily, when I was on vacation last week on Maui, I didn’t have to collaborate in secret with some other lazy bastards.  All I had to do was sign up for the “Haleakala ride.”  This is actually a very famous and popular ride on Maui.  There a numerous companies that advertise this, supplying bikes, helmets, and a ride to the top.    The Haleakala ride is just as you might be thinking:  they take you up to nearly the top of the 10,000 foot mountain, and then you ride down.    It’s 10 miles of > 95% downhill.

Of course, I had to do it.

My wife and I ended up going to Haleakala Bike Company, in Haiku.   Why?  We got a screaming deal.  I fancy myself the cheapest man alive, and just because I have wheelsets that cost more than many people’s cars, doesn’t mean I don’t like a deal.

We selected the “sunrise ride,” which brings you to the top of Haleakala well before sunrise so that you can (hopefully) see the sun come up over the rim of the volcano.   It’s supposed to be pretty spectacular.   What “sunrise” really means is that you will have to meet at Haleakala Bike Company at 4:30AM.     That was pretty tough.

Now, had I been rewarded with a spectacular, or as the Haleakala Bike Company web site says, “…the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed,”  (shouldn’t that be “most sublime?”) – it may have been worth getting up at 3:30.  Unfortunately, within minutes of our arrival, clouds moved in an obscured the view, and made it even colder.   I could have been anywhere.  It reminded me of when I was in Scotland one winter.  Cold, damp, and foggy.

When we packed for Hawaii, we packed for balmy temperatures.   No pants, no jackets, no gloves.  No plan to do the Haleakala bike ride.   One key take away, even in the tropical environs of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s freakin cold at 4:30AM at 10,000 feet.  Really, bone-chillingly cold.  Especially when you are coasting at Clydesdale speed (aka “breakneck,” “borderline out of control,” “really fast”).

Haleakala is the centerpiece of Haleakala National Park.  In 2007, the National Park Service banned commercial touring companies from allowing riders to descend from the highest part of the park.  Apparently after numerous deaths over the years, with fools crashing into oncoming cars,  they decided that it was a bad idea, and now companies have to start the rides just outside the park.  Its unfortunate, because the stretch that it eliminates is insanely steep and twisty.  It would be fun to do the entire descent.

Even without the highest portion, the ride still has many miles of great road, with “the 29” – 29 switchbacks.   I’ll post some photos when I get back to the office.

My Clydesdale characteristics, as expected, benefited me greatly.  I kept having to pull over and wait for the others in my riding party to catch up.  Sometimes I’d let them go on ahead, then bomb past.  It was awesome.    Part of it was gravity, part of it was my love of speed.  I’m usually a pretty aggressive descender.  The only thing holding me back was that they do this darn thing on mountain bikes.    Hardtail mountain bikes with knobby  tires.  Not the best vehicle for an aggressive descent.  Maybe they’d had had fewer deaths if they put people on road bikes!   At least they had disk brakes.  Otherwise, I’d probably melt the rim off.   They’d have to have runaway bike ramps for the likes of me.

I liked Haleakala Bike Company because, unlike some, the ride is totally unguided.  You come back when you want.   No “guide” to slow you down.   You go as fast as you want, right into the oncoming traffic if that’s what you’re into.

We took advantage of the lack of a schedule and stopped at Kula Lodge, a neat old restaurant about a third of the way into the ride.   Talk about a Clydesdale ride!!!    Imagine, an all downhill bike ride with pancakes a third of the way into the ride!   I can die now.  Maybe that’s why they had the deaths.  People stopped, had pancakes, and then figured, “hell, it can’t get any better than this,” then go head on into the tour bus.  That’s how I want to go out:   downhill ride, pancakes, tour bus.  Maybe a beer in there somewhere.  And a naked chick.  I’ll figure it out.

Riding the Trifecta: Auburn California’s Confluence trails

Posted by SuperClydesdale on April 18, 2011 under Commentary, Rides | 2 Comments to Read

170-pounder Don "the wheel guy," and 150-pounder Joe the Hill Monkey as they were leading me to my doom. Never trust small, fit people.

Just when I was feeling somewhat conciliatory toward small people, I had another brutal experience to remind me why I hate them, that they are bad, and that everything that happens to them in the form of discrimination, income disparity, and inability to find women who are willing to date them is well deserved.

These are not nice people.

I was gulled into a ride yesterday, a ride with a vague description, “lets ride the Confluence.”  It was in an area that I was unfamiliar with and had always wanted to see, so I thought it would be great way of getting a guided tour of the trail.

The trails in question are just outside of Auburn, California.  There are many areas to access the trails, but the area is generally known as “the Confluence,” because one of the main parking areas is at the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the American River.   I had never been there, but knew it as a popular trail system for mountain bikers in the Sacramento area.

The guy who organized the ride is “wheel guy” Don, the guy who helped me re-tension the spokes on my Spinergy PBO Stealth wheels on my road bike.  Don’s a very experienced mountain biker and has been trying to get me to ride the Confluence with him since I took up mountain biking last fall.

I became a bit concerned when I learned that Joe McKeen was going to be on the ride.  I’ve written about Joe.  Joe is a 150-pound hill monkey that is probably the strongest rider, pound for pound, that I know.  I called up Don and expressed my concern about the pace of the ride.  Joe is so freaking fast on the hills that I didn’t want to hold up the ride.   Don assured me that he would be there to moderate the pace.

Don is no Clydesdale either.  He’s extremely lean, probably 5’10” and 170 pounds.  I knew that this could be a challenging ride, but what the heck?   I wanted to ride “The Confluence.”

Second red flag:  they seemed surprised that I actually showed up.

Don discussed our route for the day.  There are numerous trails at the Confluence:

  • Stagecoach
  • Lake Clementine
  • Connector
  • Forresthill Divide Loop (FHDL)
  • The Culvert to Confluence

These are all connected.   And, I found out that the plan (heretofore unannounced) was to ride all of these.   They call it the “trifecta” which is puzzling, since I count at least five separate trails here, and in researching it on the Internet, it sounds like we actually rode parts of other trails as well.

Map of the Confluence trails that comprise "The Trifecta"

The first piece, up an old stagecoach road from the Confluence to the end of the town of Auburn, is called Stagecoach.   I heard that many locals start at the top, then return up Stagecoach on the way back — which might make sense, but the idea of ending a ride with a 2-mile, 800-foot climb doesn’t sound like fun.  We started Stagecoach at the lowest point — from the Confluence trailhead, which means that you start a very steep climb as soon as you begin the ride.   This is not ideal for me, either.  I usually like at least a little bit of warm-up.   In the first two miles, you climb 800 feet.  But, that was just an appetizer.  As we started our first ascent, Joe said something to the effect of “I’m glad you came.  Most everyone else feels like they have to work up to the trifecta.“  Uh oh.


I was quite proud of myself up Stagecoach.  I hung right with the little guys, although I was distressed by the fact that while I was huffing and puffing, they were talking as if they were sitting at the bar.   Joe asked me if I was going to sign up for any of the big endurance rides this season.   “That… would… require…   endurance,”  I replied.   They spoke in complete sentences — between breaths.   I might be able to belt out a sentence, but it would be a few syllables at a time, jammed between frantic breaths.   At the top of Stagecoach, we stopped and they allowed me some time to put my heart back in my chest.

From near the top of the Stagecoach trail, a view of the American river. My car is one of those dots.

From the top of Stagecoach, there’s a paved road that leads you to a singletrack loop back to the main trail.  This was my first taste of “Confluence single track.”

From Clementine trail, going under the Foresthill Bridge. One of the highest bridges in the US.

Once back at the trailhead, we started the Clementine trail.    The first part of this trail brings you under the famous Foresthill Bridge.   This bridge has been used in numerous movies and commercials, probably the most famous being an early scene in the movie Triple-X, where they drive a car off the bridge.

The Clementine trail follows the North Fork of the American River to a perch above the dam that holds back Lake Clementine.   The North Fork Dam was built in 1939 to catch debris and protect downstream bridges.   It has no spillways, so water just flows over the top of the dam.  It’s a beautiful structure, with it’s arc holding back a long, thin finger of a lake.  Because it’s been an incredibly wet winter, the spring’s snowmelt has swelled the rivers, so there’s a tremendous amount of water going over the dam.   With the water flowing over the arc of the dam, it looks like a smaller version of Niagra Falls.   The view from above, combined with the incredible roar of the water crashing, was quite sight.

The Clementine trail meets up with Lake Clementine Road, which goes down to the lake.   Our ride took us up Lake Clementine Road to get to the next part of our ride, the Connector Trail.   There are places to park on Lake Clementine Road that provides access to the Connector Trail and Forresthill Divide Loop (FHDL).

The FHDL is a single track loop through the oaks, as well as some groves of Madrone.   Madrone is a relative of Manzanita, and the bottom parts of the trunk look like oak trees, and midway up the trunk the bark takes on the smooth, muscular look of Manzanita.  The Madrones must emit something that prevents other plants from germinating because there was virtually no undergrowth in those areas.  The sight of the trail winding through the Madrone trunks was surreal.

The trifecta is front-loaded with two massive climbs in the first 8 miles.    I kept a pretty good pace up these two climbs (Stagecoach and Clementine).  Too good.  I had no idea what I was in for, so I went out much faster than I should have.   While the rest of the ride (Connector, FHDL, Culvert, and Confluence) lack any long, sustained climbs,  they a littered with short, steep little climbs that really take their toll on a big guy’s legs.    My legs were getting pretty shaky from about the turnaround point on the far end of the FHDL.  Some of the steeper sections, where the gradient reaches into the low 20-percentile range, my cadence was about 12.   That’s brutal.  But, with a 1×10, I had nowhere else to go.  Too damn tired to “get on top” of the gears, so I had to grind it out at a gruelingly low cadence.  It felt like I was riding with my brakes on.  At one point, I actually stopped to check if my brake was rubbing – it felt like something was holding me back.  It was:  gravity.  Cruel, cruel gravity.

All of the single track in the Confluence trail system seems to have a certain flow to it which is very nice, particularly when descending.  These trails are heavily ridden, and the riders/trail-builders have invested a lot of time in making the descents enjoyable to just about everyone.  Although, it would be easy to get into trouble if you were foolish.  I have heard that the park system folks were going to remove some of the jumps just for this reason.  That would be a shame.

The way these trails are set up, if you want to stay on the ground, you can do that.   All of the trails have a lot of nice little features littered throughout to allow you to catch some air, and berms to let you aggressively rip through tight turns.   On one stretch on the final leg beginning with the Culvert trail and continuing on to the Confluence trail along the American River, there’s as much downhill big-air features as you like.   I nearly ate it a few times, and could only laugh that I stayed on the bike.

Most of the jumps have pretty manageable landings, and I was lulled into a foolishly false sense of comfort as to the nature of the trail.   At one point, I made a total rookie move and decided to hit a jump without knowing what the landing area looked like.   As I was hitting it, I realized that it actually had a bit of a gap to clear — a gap that consisted of a very sharp drop down to the river.   Luckily, I had just enough speed to hit the lip of the landing area, but it was a pretty sloppy landing and I almost ate it.  Knowing that I just avoided a potentially nasty crash – onto rocks, all I could do was laugh at my good fortune.   As I continued down the trail, I noticed some hikers coming up the trail had been observing me, and had looks of shock that after a nearly disastrous wipeout, that I was laughing and continued pedaling at high speed.   I had a huge grin on my face as well as I zipped past them.  I’m sure they thought I was a lunatic.   Stupid, maybe, but since I was still in possession of most of my body fluids, I’ll call that descent a success.   My standards may be different than yours.

So, while some people aspire to do the trifecta, I’ve now done it.   Now that I know it’s considered a pretty challenging ride, I’m happy to have done it.  Had I known it was such a ball buster, I probably would have waiting until a little later in the season when my endurance will be up and my weight will be down.

My totals for the trifecta (per my Garmin):

  • 29.16 miles
  • 4,394 feel of climb
  • 8.7 average moving speed.  Somehow when your cadence is 12, it lowers your average speed.
  • 30.5 mph max speed (it felt like 80mph – what a thrill!)

The elevation profile of the trifecta at the Auburn Confluence. Note the early, cruel climbs, apparently designed to knock the wind out of big guys.

A few lessons learned:

  • Never ride with hill monkeys.   I forgot this important rule.  Crushed yet again by Joe the hill monkey.
  • Get a bigger Camelbak.  2.5L was not quite enough.  A big boy needs his h2O more than the little guys.   I think I need a pony keg.
  • Put on the Ivy Block lotion whether you think you’ll need it or not.  You will.   Even though, ounce for ounce, it costs more than gold, it’s well worth it.  I’m itching up a storm.  And on that note:   the whole concept of right-of-way needs to be revisited if there’s poison oak on the sides of the trail.
  • Make sure you know what’s on the other side of jumps.
  • Reconsider the 1×10 for long rides with kick-your-ass climbs.  I may have to face up to the fact that perhaps I am not man enough to handle this gearing with a 34-tooth chain ring on the front.   Or, probably more accurately, that I am too much man for such gearing.   I am a whole lot of man.   A 240-pounder on a 1×10 on a tough early-season mountain bike ride with nearly 4,400 feet of climb… that’s a lot of energy output.

Additional information:

The Quick Hit short rides on a long road trip

Posted by SuperClydesdale on October 6, 2010 under Commentary, Rides | Read the First Comment

Three years ago, I was on a road trip from Northern California to Arizona and New Mexico.  I have a penchant for taking the “scenic route” – and this trip was no exception.  I like scenic routes, they take a little longer, but since – as the saying goes — I drive my car like I stole it, it doesn’t take me all that much longer than it takes “other people” to get their the normal way.

One side effect of the scenic route, is that I have a lot of “oh, man!  I’d love to ride this on my bike” moments.  There are always these roads, or side roads that you pass by that you know would be a beautiful or challenging ride.

I should have known that Highway 168 was going to be a difficult ride. That's just disrespectful.

During that 2007 road trip, I was going from Big Pine up over highway 168 down over into Nevada.  Highway 168 is just spectacular.   It’s a winding 2-lane road up from the high arid Eastern Sierra (just south of Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, etc.) up into Inyo National Forrest.  This road hugs the mountains, and at times, the road squeezes down to a single lane through some gaps in the rock.   You are just praying that a truck doesn’t come flying down the hill at that moment.  You ascend through a small mountain range, at the peak of which are the Bristlecone pines, some of the oldest living things on Earth.

At the crest of the pass, there’s a turn-off called “White Mountain Road” which goes to the actual bristlecone pine forest.  It was at this moment in 2007 where I told my wife, “I’ve got to ride this road sometime!”

On our return trip in, I drove through the Tehachapi mountains.  The Tehachapis are rolling high-desert hills, where it’s windy 7×24.  Its windy enough that there are giant wind farms littered throughout the passes.

As you drive from Barstow to Bakersfield – and we’re talking the middle of nowhere – there are a number of exits for roads that you can never remember the name of.   But, again, the scenery is such that you can’t help but promise yourself that “I’ve got to ride that road sometime.”

Well, 2010 rolls around, and I’ve got my Interbike ticket.  Everyone I know is flying to Las Vegas for the show.  Not me.  I am driving, and I’m taking my bike.  It’s time to follow-up on some of those promises I made to myself in 2007.

One the way down, I stopped at High Sierra Cycle Center in Mammoth, and spoke to Tom, the owner.  Tom is the guy who made my 195mm cranks for which I have become a fanatical evangelist.  I saw Tom and kept going to Highway 168.

Highway 168 immediately makes me want to get on my bike.  I love narrow rural roads that twist and turn.  But, I keep on going because I know exactly where I wanted to start my ride.   I parked at White Mountain Road and headed off to the Bristlecones.

It’s about 10 miles to the peak – where White Mountain Road ends.  I figure it’s a great way to get in an hour or so of cardio – the “quick hit.”  I am thinking a ride to the bristlecones and back, maybe ride a bit more on highway 168, then back to the car to continue the drive.  A sign by the car said the bristlecone forest was 10 miles up the up.  Bristlecones or bust!  And off I go…

There’s a peculiar consequence of sitting on your butt for 4 hours.  It makes you surprisingly unprepared to ride a bike up a steep hill.

After about 1 mile, it’s getting steep.  Really steep.   Its also at altitude – my car was parked at 7200-foot elevation.  Going from trying to stay awake for the prior two hours  to suddenly trying to ascend a steep hill at elevation was… humiliating.

The elevation profile of the ride up to the bristlecones. Ridiculous climbing from the moment I got out of the car. Perhaps a warm-up in the plan next time?

At about the two-mile mark, I decide that perhaps my goal should be 7 miles.  I’m getting gassed, and the hill just gets steeper as I go on.  Damn!  This is beautiful!   Look at those rocks!

About 3 miles into my ride, I figure “holy crap!  This is absurd.  It’s getting steeper with every pedal stroke!”  I re-adjust again, telling myself I’ll just go 5 miles, then I’ll turn around, and ride on highway 168.  A solid hour still, and I’m getting destroyed by this hill.

At mile 4, I’m really suffering.  My body is not ready for this.  I need to warm up before Viagra jumping into a significant climb!  I struggle on, with each new turn, I can see the road is getting even steeper.   At 4.5 miles, I’m done.  I’ve climbed 864 feet in 4.5 miles, and I’ve had enough for now.  Besides, its getting dark.  Yeah… that’s it.  Safety first!

I rode back to Highway 168, and down the road a bit, trying to at least get a few more miles in before packing up and getting back on the road.

One thing’s for sure – I wasn’t going to be falling asleep any time soon.  What a great way of getting the blood pumping!

After Interbike, I return back via another route, taking Highway 58 from Barstow to Bakersfield.  My chance to hit that Tehachapi ride!   Highway 58 winds through the Tehachapi mountains, which is a well-known wind-farm area.  The hills are dotted with massive windmills.  I’ve always wanted to see those up close, and I made a mental note of Cameron Canyon Road in my previous trip through.  I pulled over and near the freeway, and headed up Cameron Canyon Road towards the windmills.  Again, night was falling, but I had a window to get at least a few miles in.

The elevation profile of my second "quick hit" ride, this time on the way back to NorCal from Las Vegas. This one was up through a beautiful canyon road to the giant wind farm in the Tehachapi Mountains.

Apparently, every place where I say “man, I’d love to ride that road someday” is at the base of a big climb.  This was no exception.  As  luck would have it, the three-hour drive I was on had not prepared me for a long, steep climb.  I was shocked.  What looked like a gentle path winding through the hills was a 3.5-mile climb – significant at times – up a narrow two-lane road that is used to maintain the wind farm.   On this road, you can get to within a couple of hundred feet of some of the monsters.  They are every bit as large as you expect, then a little bigger.  Very impressive.

The windmills in the Tehachapi Mountains -- my second short, intense ride on the Interbike road trip.

With the sun going down, I turned around at the 4.25 mile mark, and had a great descent back towards the car.  Fast, but not quite fast enough to beat a very long train.  I was in a full tuck, pedaling hard to get to the railroad tracks before the train.  The engineer must have seen me, because he started blowing his horn furiously as if to say, “don’t try it, buddy!  I’m faster than you think.”  And he was.  Just feet away from my car, I had to stop and wait for quite some time for this incredibly slow-moving train to pass before I could pack up and get back on the road.

The quick hit concept

I concluded my road trip thinking what a great idea these short little rides were.  I was invigorated.  It really broke up the drive, and allowed me to see some parts of the State that I had wanted to ride for some time.

I wrote a note on to see if perhaps they could implement the “quick hit” concept, which is to enable “fitness travelers” – people who want to combine a road trip with a series of short excursions (biking, hiking, running, etc.).  First, it allows people to enter routes and designate them as a “quick hit.”  A Quick hit includes the starting point, the route, but also where to park, etc.  They need to have a safe place to park and stage the ride from.   Then, You pick the route you will be traveling by car, and can see what “quick hits” are available along the way.

I would love to have this ability – it would change the way I travel.

10/8/2010 update: Another great “quick hit” ride.   Rode Jalama  Road near Lompoc.  Wow!  What a spectacular ride to break up a long drive.   And, keeping with apparent tradition, it’s mostly climbing.  This time, I at least had several miles to warm up before hitting the big climb.  If you are ever in Lompoc, I strongly recommend Jalama Road.  We could have kept going down to the ocean, and there are many options to loop back to town, or you can just turn around and climb up the back side of the main climb, which we would have done had the sun been higher.

The Jalama Road elevation profile from The 1.4-mile climb was a great climb situation for a Clydesdale, less than 10% grade, and nice and cool with the ocean breezes. Those 195mm cranks made this easy!

2010 Ride For A Reason

Posted by SuperClydesdale on August 16, 2010 under Rides | Be the First to Comment

I am doing something here this week which goes against every fiber of my being.  I will not make fun of anyone, belittle anyone, or otherwise berate or embarrass people in this article… or at least not many.

This article is simply to celebrate.

This past Saturday was the 2010 Ride For a Reason, a large charity ride in the Sacramento area.   To call it a ride is really selling it short.  It’s an event.  You don’t participate so much to ride – although I did get 40 miles of pretty vigorous riding in – you participate because it’s just a great time.  And, you just so happen to be on or near your bike most of the time.

Ride For a Reason is a big family-oriented fitness party with some cycling thrown in.  It’s a celebration of people’s survival of cancer, and a dedication to those who have been taken by cancer and Parkinson’s Disease.  The ride itself is pretty flat, with an optional hill, so riders of all levels can participate without any problems.  The course loops around Lake Natoma in Folsom, California.  The idea is to do as many loops as time permits.  The loop is about 13 miles, or with the optional hill, 19 miles.  There are three rest stops, although you don’t rest at them, you play games, race tricycles, shoot plastic arrows at a big sumo-looking blow-up doll with a bikini (?), use a catapult to launch projectiles at a castle.  All of the games provide raffle tickets as prizes, so kids have a gre

Me racing trikes at a "rest stop" with my buddy Chris. Chris is a Clydesdale wannabe, and one of my primary riding partners.

at time doing these fun and easy games and collecting tickets.

Ride For A Reason is put on by two terrific people, John Crews and Lori Scheel.  John – who also is the owner of one of the largest bike shops in the Sacramento Area, called Bicycles Plus — was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at 40, and Lori lost her father to cancer Penis Enlargement.  The event inspires people to find a “reason” and then commit the ride to that reason, and any optional fundraising.   I got to know Lori this year, and she is a pretty amazing person, basically dedicating several months of her life every year to putting on this event.

While I have lost numerous people in my life to cancer, and have close friends that are cancer survivors, my reason for participating in Ride For A Reason is… because it’s a big-ass party!  And, I buy so many raffle tickets that I almost always win the prize I target.  This year, I won an Oakley watch.   Not just a watch – a titanium Minute Machine – a sweet looking watch that is Clydesdale-sized.  Now, this would be terrific on its own, but I am simply upholding a tradition that I established three years ago, by winning an Oakley watch in 2008.  I won a second Oakley watch in 2009.  And now, a third!  I have to keep coming to Ride For A Reason if for no other reason than to keep my streak alive!  That’s my reason, cancer be damned.

“What’s your reason, Jack?”

“I’m here to win another watch.”

I’ve always been an energetic fundraiser, and for the last two years, I have selected Ride For A Reason as my benefiting charity.   It’s also my riding team’s mandatory ride for the year.  I’m with a great local team called Team Revolutions, and they had at least a hundred riders there.  It was an impressive display.

This year, it was a race to the finish, but with the help of readers of this site, as well as generous friends and co-workers, I was able to come out as the top fundraiser for the 2010 Ride For A Reason.

Thank you to my generous readers for their support.  For those of you who donated more than $25 through, your T-Shirt is on the way soon!   100% of the money you donated went straight to the charity.

The fundraising king on his throne.

The Mt. Shasta Summit Century

Posted by SuperClydesdale on August 10, 2010 under Rides | Be the First to Comment

I had a great time on August 1st at one of the most beautiful rides I’ve done.  The Shasta Summit Century rides the roads that surround Mount Shasta, in Northern California.   For those unfamiliar with Mount Shasta, in and of itself, the mountain is spectacular.  It rises above and towers over everything within many miles:  billions of trees, millions of trout, hundreds of miles of rivers, and thousands of hippies.

On our way to Shasta -- it starts dominating the landscape from about 30 miles away. It's just massive. Speaking of massive, check out me in my snappy Superclydesdale shirt. Don't be jealous, its such an ugly emotion.

If you’re going to go to the Shasta area, don’t just go for the ride – there are a lot of things to do up there, and its a long drive from anywhere.  Around Shasta you’ll find some of the best fly fishing in California, but there’s many more options than fishing — besides I don’t want you to fish there.  That’s for me.

The ride was on Sunday, and we came up Friday night.  The event apparently included a hill climb time trial on Saturday (which I didn’t know about or I would have crushed those guys), but we chose to take a tour of the caverns at Lake Shasta.  We stayed in Dunsmuir, just South of Shasta (I’ve fly fished the Sacramento River there.  Shhhhhh).

high-level map of where Mt. Shasta is in NorCal

Proof: Mt. Shasta is in the middle of nowhere. Actually, go to nowhere, then drive about an hour North.

The Shasta Summit Century is a small ride – they were looking to get up to 700 riders this year, small in comparison to many of the larger rides nearer some of the State’s population centers.  They ended up with 670.  But, that’s part of the attraction of the ride – it’s in the middle of nowhere by California standards.  The organizers promised sparsely-travelled roads, and it lived up to that.  Many of the roads, even the minor highways, had very few cars on them compared to what I am accustomed to.  All of the main roads had nice bicycle lanes as well, so even with the few cars wizzing by, I never felt threatened.

For me, it was exciting to be able to do a ride with both my longer cranks (195mm) and my new Spinergy Stealth PBO wheels.   I had the wheels retensioned on my way out of town, and had only been able to do a single ride before the whole PBO spoke fiasco that I wrote about last week.  On the Shasta ride, the wheels seemed to meet the objective of retensioning effort, because they were quiet — and got quite a bit of attention – not a lot of Spinergy Stealth wheels out there, and they do look sharp.   Recall that the PBO spokes, being supple, are supposed to take some road chatter out of the ride.   Some of the Shasta roads, while quite and rural, also had cracks as wide as your hand (and, as a Clydesdale, I have big hands).   There were stretches that had these monster cracks about every 20-30 feet.   It sounded like I was riding down railroad tracks – on the ties.  I was impressed that the wheels were still in one piece at the end of this thing.   Luckily, the PBO spokes did in fact seem to take the brunt of these impacts, and my back didn’t really get much of a beating like it could have.  Although some of the cracks were so big, you just had to get up out of the saddle or risk the disintegration of your bike.  A Clydesdale’s bike can only take so much.

The sun rising over Shasta -- what a spectacular day. Good climbing weather -- cool but not cold.

The Mt. Shasta Summit Century is a climbing ride — the anathema of the Clydesdale classes, but I fancy myself somewhat of a Mountain Gorilla.  There are several choices available, from a 30 miler with 2,100 feet of climb, a 60-mile “metric” century with 4,000 feet of climb – although my Garmin said it was 4,731, a true 100-mile century, with 10,500 feet of climb, and  the “full ride” which is tougher than the famed Markleeville Death Ride at 135 miles and 15,000 feet of climb.  It’s a very difficult ride.  Bicycle Magazine named the Shasta Summit Century one of the top climbing rides in payday loan reviews 2010.

This ride was supposed to be a family ride, as I had signed up the entire family (myself, my wife, and my two sons) for the metric century.  If it were just me, I would have been honor-bound to ride the 135-mile ball buster.   By ride time, it was just my wife and I – my boys ended up going out of town for an end-of-summer trip to my sister’s house.

Me in my tribal tats (they are removable)

The metric century was a pretty easy ride overall, with a massive hill thrown in towards the end.  Although, while the hill was long, the gradient never got very nasty, probably ranging from 5%-8%.   I know that the “full ride” had long, sustained climbs — both steeper and longer than what I did in the metric.

A tip to my fellow riders:  When I ride with my wife, I normally ride at my “normal” pace up the hills, and when I get to a convenient spot, I’ll turn around and ride back down to where she is, then ride the remainder of the hill with her.  This allows me to get a tough workout on the hills, and still stay with her throughout the ride.  She likes it because she can go her pace without feeling like she’s holding me back.    This has been my own secret to marital bliss.  Normally, avid riding and a good marriage don’t go together all that well.  Riding soaks up a lot of time.  One alternative is riding a tandem, but I’ve heard tandems referred to as divorce machines, so I think I would treat that as an absolute last resort — to be considered right after picking up after myself, occasionally asking for directions, or putting the toilet seat down.  Also, while I do think I look good in my lycra shorts, subjecting my poor spouse to 4 hours of that spectacular view doesn’t sound… fair.

My method also allows me to get more climbing in, because I end up doing the hills 1-1/2 times.   On this big hill, however, I told her that I would ride all the way to the top, then come back down.   The main climb is six miles long, and I was looking forward to the challenge.

From the very start, I decided I would climb fast.

I really put the hammer down, and was flying past everyone.   My physiology is such that I can ride for a very long time at a pretty high heart rate, as long as I keep it below 179-180.  Then, after a while, I will start significant suffering.   On this climb, I kept an eye on the heart rate monitor, and whenever it was getting up to 179, I would back off a hair.  The average during the climb was probably 177, and it felt great.

This was my first sustained climb with the 195mm cranks, and they are everything that I was hoping for.  What an amazing difference.  I had 195mm cranks with a 12-27 cassette, with a 39-53 in the front.  I really felt for the first time like I had some sort of unfair advantage – I was flying past people.  There was one skinny little bastard – a devil worshiping pedophile more than likely — that did pass me.  He was probably all of 150 pounds.  We talked for a while – he was doing the full ride — before my heart rate got up to 181, and told him I’d see him at the top.  I could have tried to hang with him, but I came to my senses.  I would have exploded at some point, and I wanted to keep up a good, yet sustainable pace.  So, while the 195mm cranks make a tremendous difference, they cannot work miracles.

After the big climb, it’s pretty much a cruise back to the start.  Incidentally, the start/finish is a small park that boasts that it is the headwaters of the Sacramento River.  The Sacramento is one of the largest rivers in the West.  It created that massive central valley that occupies the interior of California.   It starts at the headwaters, and ends up in the San Francisco Bay.  At this park, there’s a large spring where a pretty impressive amount of water emerges from the hillside.    Because of its believed purity, the hippies/local folk were all over it.

We stayed in Dunsmuir -- right on the river. A great fly-fishing town.

Gravity is Cruel – 16.5 miles 4,000 feet of climb

Posted by SuperClydesdale on January 4, 2010 under Commentary, Rides | 2 Comments to Read

When my alarm went off at 7:00AM on New Years Day, it looked like it was still raining.   It wouldn’t have mattered.  I had given my buddy Chris such grief at the idea that he might not show if it were raining that I was pretty much committed.  Luckily I only had four glasses of wine and three Irish whiskeys in celebration of the new year the night before – a lesser man (i.e., some skinny little wimp) would probably have been damaged goods.  Luckily, the rain had stopped, and it was more of a light drizzle.

It was time for the New Years Day hill repeats.  Ug.    Up the dreaded Beatty hill in El Dorado Hills, CA.

Beatty is just an absurdly ridiculous hill.   400 feet of climb in about .7 of a mile — this New Years tradition was not started by a super Clydesdale.   I would prefer something like an annual “coast down highway 50”  — about 45 miles of 6-7% downhill ride from the peak of the Sierras to… somewhere much lower, with some “hair of the dog” rest stops about every 5 miles for some libations.

I told myself that the first one was going to be the toughest.  That way, I could motivate myself up the first one with some fantasy that it would get easier from that point on.   That’s typically (kinda) true.  The bloodflow doesn’t seem to be there.   Even a brisk warm-up does not prepare your muscles for the required steady power output required for a substantial hill climb.   The pipes are just not open.

A profile of suffering. Beatty should be shut down and a bike escalator installed.

Not to be disappointed, the first one was definitely tough.  On something like this, the first one is always a time for self-reflection.  And dread.

“What the hell was I thinking?  Damn, this is steep!   How am I going to do ten of these?”

Each one was the toughest.    It wasn’t getting any easier.   The tenth was especially difficult.  Knowing it’s the last one seemed to make it harder, not easier.

As usual on this type of thing, there were several small, strong riders who started after me, yet finished the 10th ascent before me.   Not unexpected, but the relative ease with which they ascended was impressive.   They didn’t fly past me but, they seemed to move so easily.   Somewhere in the middle of this misery, I developed an affliction known as Clydesdale’s Climbing Tourette Syndrome (CCTS), which has similar characteristics to, yet is unrelated to the more well-known Tourette Syndrome.  I shouted “I hate you” or “you make me sick” as these little guys slowly passed.   I think that little research has been done on CCTS, and it must be because it doesn’t last very long — once the climbing was over, all of the symptoms seemed to clear right up.

Those little guys were all composed and smooth going up, but with each pedal stroke, it must have looked like I was wrestling an alligator.  It felt like it took my whole body to get that crank around sometimes.  I was determined to do all ten repeats – so I kept it at a pretty controlled pace.   That has been the key with all of my big climbs, keep a steady pace, keep the heart rate and breathing down, and just grind it out.  I accept that I cannot keep up with the little guys, and go at a pace that will allow me to finish.  Last year, on the first two ascents, I stood up quite a bit.  My heart nearly came out of my chest and flopped around on the ground.

Despite  my deliberate cadence, my pace actually wasn’t bad.  Since it was very damp from the earlier rains, I kept my descents at a much lower speed than I normally would (other than the last one, which I opened up a bit and got up to 45mph).  You can absolutely fly down Beatty, and we’ve had people crash descending there before, even on dry days.  A slower descent gave me more time to recover as well.  I’m sure that the slower descents impacted my average speed, which was 9.6mph, including the descents.

These Beatty hill repeats really helped jump start my conditioning in 2009, and I look to build on this year’s as well.

Next year… eleven?  I think I feel a bout of CCTS coming on…

Levi’s Gran Fondo – Ride Report

Posted by SuperClydesdale on October 12, 2009 under Rides | Be the First to Comment

October 3rd, 2009 was Levi’s Gran Fondo, out of Santa Rosa, California.

This was supposed to be a ride that I would do with my wife and kids, and had already pre-registered myself,  my wife, and my youngest son.   We didn’t register my oldest son, 15, because we were not sure that he would be ready or willing to do the ride.

Me, my wife, and my soon-to-be clydesdales
Me, my wife, and my soon-to-be clydesdales

Somewhere in August, he really got the bug, and we started taking him out on longer rides.  He was riding a crappy old garage sale bike, a “Benotto” from about 1986.   It was probably a pretty decent ride in 1986, but for 2009, not so much.   By September, he really started demonstrating a desire to ride, I decided to make the investment in his riding “career” and built him a bike from spare parts, eBay, and craigslist.   It’s a pretty decent bike – an S-Works frame with an Ultegra groupset.

When it looked like he would enjoy the challenge of a longer ride, we got him interested in joining the rest of us on the Gran Fondo.   Unfortunately, by then, the ride had sold out at 3,500 riders.

Having been to quite a few century rides, I knew that there’s always some people that don’t show up and many rides will allow “day of” registrations to fill the gap.

We showed up to the community center in Santa Rosa to pick up our packets.   It was a bit odd.   Clearly, this was designed by a lawyer, or someone who has not done many organized rides.   Or even worse, a lawyer that doesn’t ride.   I did see someone that looked suspiciously like Gloria Allred there, bossing people around.

I'm pretty sure this was the woman who checked us in...  or at least she acted like it.
I’m pretty sure this was the woman who checked us in… or at least she acted like it.

This was the most over-organized registration process.  Room #1 was where you got a set of three documents that you had to sign.   I don’t know what they were, but I figured I needed to sign them to ride, so I looked for every line that required a name or a signature and filled it out.  For all I know, I bought a timeshare.  We’ll see what shows up in the mail or on my credit report.

Room #2 is where you hand in the papers and get your packet.   With 3,500 riders, they had boxes and boxes of packets.   We were coming in with about 20 minutes to spare before the cut-off, so there were quite a few people that had not come in.    In order to get your packet, you had to show a picture ID.   They want to be sure that before you ride this recreational ride, you are who you say you are.  No riders shall ride for charity without proving who they are – I’ll bet that it’s easier to vote in Santa Rosa than it is to register for Levi’s Gran Fondo.   I don’t think that they allow you to transfer your registration to another rider.

At this point, I revealed that my oldest son was not pre-registered, and would like to do a “day of” registration if possible.   They said that the ride was completely sold out, and that therefore, they could not allow any new registrations.   I looked at the packets still sitting there, and asked them if everyone that registered had shown up?  They said “yes.”  I asked, “with 3,500 riders you had 100% registration?  That’s impressive.”  That’s also statistically impossible, but I kept that to myself.   They could be handing out bags of money, and some loser out of 3,500 people would manage to not show up.

They looked at me.  They said, “well, we were actually only permitted for 3,000 but we allowed 3,500 people to register, so we are full.”  So, what was the real issue here?   They knowingly allowed 3,500 people to register, but now are sticklers about whether they have 3,501?  Or, more realistically, about 3,101 (since several hundred people likely didn’t show up).

To me, this is really weird.  Even some of the most coveted rides, like the Death Ride, allow for “day of” registrations by releasing all reserved spots that nobody showed up for after some deadline.   The Death Ride is of a similar scale as Levi’s Gran Fondo.  People train all year (or even more than a year) to get ready for that ride, and they still have no-shows – and a process to handle them.

Oh well… long story short, I gave my son my number, and I rode anyway (big surprise—like I drove for 2 ½ hours, reserved a hotel room just to say, “oh, okay.  I won’t ride.”).  I just didn’t take any of their food or anything at the rest stops (other than water).  For a 65-mile ride, you really don’t need much more than a couple of energy bars anyway).

In your packet, there’s a number for you, and a number for your bike.  The bike number had a chip in it to allow for timing of the ride.   Again, kind of strange, as the web site makes it very clear that it’s not a race.  So, I’m not sure what they’re trying to do.  I’m sure whoever had the chip put in didn’t clear it with Gloria Allred because to me, it implies that it’s an informal race.  So, if I were a litigious type, and I was taking some risks to better my time, I might argue that I was given incentive to take chances because I knew that I was being timed.  Something bad happens, and it sounds like grounds for a lawsuit to me.  Gloria – you’re slipping.

There are three routes that you can select:  the GranFondo which is the maximum distance of 103 miles with about 6500 feet of climb and featuring King Ridge – a locally famous route which is also a very popular spot to film car ads, the MedioFondo, which is 65 miles with about 3200 feet of total climb, and the PiccoloFondo designed for beginners at 35 miles without much climbing.

I had originally signed up for the 103 ride before making it a family ride.  Even though 6500 feet should make it a pretty tame ride, we decided to all do the 65 to keep it doable and fun – nothing over the top that would turn it into a grind for the kids.  I wanted to make sure that they had a good experience on their first long organized ride.

The start of the ride is strange as well.   Because, as it turns out, it was being timed, everyone had to start off by going through the starting line.  Which was about five feet wide – all 3,501 people.  So, once the ride “started” you basically just sat there waiting for enough people in front of you to go so that you could leave.  The ride was supposed to start at 8AM, and we probably left at about 8:25.

Once we were underway, we wound through town for a couple of miles, and headed west through the coast range.   It was chilly, but I was fine with just arm warmers.  Some people had jackets on, but for the most part, it was “pleasantly cool.”  If I had been doing the 100-mile route, which goes up King Ridge (with lots of climbing), it would have been perfect climbing weather – nice and cool so a big guy doesn’t overheat.

I didn't know Lance was going to be there, so it was nice to be able to ride with him.   I kind of struggled to keep up, but Levi just stood there.

I didn't know Lance was going to be there, so it was nice to be able to ride with him. I kind of struggled to keep up, but Levi just stood there.

We rode  through big redwood trees, then down along the Russian River until we hit the coast.  The views of the Pacific were spectacular – my favorite part of the ride.  I don’t get to ride along the ocean much, so it was a real treat.  Very windy, though.  Luckily, it was mostly a side wind.  My youngest had trouble keeping the bike on the road sometimes.

We ride down highway 1 for a several mile, then made a sharp left turn to go East up a private road.  Suddenly, it became very steep.  We went from level to 19% grade in about a half mile.  Steep climbing, mostly 11%-16%, continued for about 2 miles, then leveled off somewhat.   At the top of the primary climb, you find yourself several hundred feet above the Pacific, and there’s a great spot to stop and take it all in.  After the initial steep climb from the ocean, it was sawtooth-type riding up over the rest of the Coast Range back to the hills toward Santa Rosa.   It was pretty much a re-trace of the ride out to the ocean other than a final stretch along what must pass for a “creek” in Santa Rosa, that had a gravel path.   Other parts of the State might call it a ditch.   As you got on the gravel path, they said, “be careful, the next mile is gravel!”   That was a very long mile.   More like 3 or 4 miles.  A super clydesdale is always concerned about pinch flats, and a gravel road with large (1”-2”) rocks scattered throughout could easily cause problems, so I ended up standing while riding for this stretch.   It was a real kidney buster as well.

Since we were doing the “Medio” or medium-distance ride, there were a lot of less experienced riders.   Many of them ended up walking their bikes up the steeper climbs.  I don’t recall ever seeing that number of people walking their bikes up a hill.  I told my son, “that’s the walk of shame.”  It’s better to stop and catch your breath than to walk it.   Once you walk, you didn’t complete the ride.   If you stop, catch your breath, then continue on, at least you rode every foot of the ride.

Despite the warts, the GranFondo goes down as a great ride.  I will definitely sign up the family again next year.    It had perhaps the most diverse scenery of any ride I’ve done, it was well (too well) organized, and the time of year is ideal for a big guy – nice and cool.   With those conditions, I could climb all day.

The Roads of El Dorado County

Posted by SuperClydesdale on August 5, 2009 under Commentary, Rides | Be the First to Comment

El Dorado County - where it is

El Dorado County - where it is (source: El Dorado County)

I’ve ridden in many states across the US, and where I happen to live in Northern California is one of the best places in the country to ride road bikes.   The climate is great (albeit a bit hot it the peak of summer), and there’s an incredible amount of variety.   I live on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada, in El Dorado County.   The road I live on, Deer Valley Road, is one of the most popular cycling routes in the greater Sacramento region.   If I tell a (real) cyclist that I live on Deer Valley Road, they always know where I’m talking about.    Moving here is what got me back into cycling after a long layoff, and Deer Valley is well-named.   There are countless deer — you have a greater chance of running into a deer than getting hit by a car on Deer Valley Rd.  I’ve had several close calls.

Deer Valley Road in Western El Dorado County, CA

Deer Valley Road in Western El Dorado County, CA

El Dorado County has some of the best rural riding around.  Not a single bike messenger – or anybody else that would tell you that they ride a “pista.”   A few hardy souls that ride what we call a “fixed gear,” and if you do that in El Dorado County, you’re a pretty strong rider.  I have a fixed gear.  Technically.   It’s never been on a road in El Dorado County.

El Dorado County is massive.   It stretches from the Eastern edge of the Sacramento Metropolitan Area at about 25’ above sea level to the Nevada border.   It has Folsom Lake on the West end, and Lake Tahoe on the East end.   Simply spectacular.   Most rides in El Dorado County that I do have about 80 feet of climb per mile.  That’s a pretty respectable ratio.   When you get at or above 100 feet of climb per mile, you’re talking about a pretty tough ride – a ride specifically to emphasize climbing – and a ride where Clydesdales and whippets are fairly incompatible.   The whippets are waiting at the top for the Clydesdales and the Clydesdales are cursing their names.   Or getting pinch flats.   I choose to do both.

Other areas – many places — have nothing to offer cyclists.   Putting in bike lanes, bike trails, and the like is what my friend Dan says is “polishing a turd.”  These are communities with no place to go, nothing to see, and yet they are investing in infrastructure to aide cycling.

El Dorado County, on the other hand, does nothing to embrace cycling.   Cycling isn’t even mentioned as an outdoor activity on the “visit El Dorado County” parts of the County web site (but gold panning is) Its bike lanes consist of the stripe on the side of the road, and many locals don’t even want to concede that.   What El Dorado County does offer is remote roads often with breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada, remote valleys, or fields full of wild turkeys or deer.    Twisty strips of blacktop cut into oak studded hillsides or draped over ridges that may be nothing more than old chip-seal roads from the turn of the century, and whose origins are likely from the Gold Rush, or like Green Valley Road, which Deer Valley starts and ends on, which was a Pony Express trail.   There’s rolling hills of green grass in the late winter and spring, which turns into a wonderful gold in the summer, dotted with massive oak trees.  Then, as you ascend into the heart of the Sierra, there’s conifer forests, rivers & streams, waterfalls, and small one-store towns.

In El Dorado County you can taste wines right at the wineries, or get your methamphetamine straight from the lab – all on the same bike ride.   Where else can you do that?  You’ll find rocks – big ones – just sticking up in the middle of a road.  Where else can you see that?   It’s a diverse place.

Deer Valley Road - waiting for repairs that will never come, just the lame road maintenance crew.

Deer Valley Road - waiting for repairs that will never come, just the lame road maintenance crew.

It’s a sparsely populated county with thousands of miles of roads, more roads than people to maintain them, and a small road maintenance crew that seems… not so good.  In my own area, the problem is compounded by some local road maintenance activist who goes around pulling the broken road bits out of potholes, to try to force the county to fix them.  He’ll paint a square around the hole, and write “fix me” on it.  Between that idiot and the moronic transportation department, my road can be treacherous to a cyclist.   Small guys may get pinch flats, big guys could end up trashing a wheel.

Another job well done!   This will last at least a couple of weeks.

Another job well done! This will last at least a couple of weeks.

The road maintenance crew has been a puzzle to me.   I’m sure that they are limited in manpower, but rather than making repairs that could last, and avoid having to come back mere weeks later for another “repair,” they do the short-term fix.   Every time.  Over, and over, and over.  Almost all of their repairs, even for fairly large areas, amount to some dufus  shoveling some cold patch and then patting it down with a shovel.   It’s a little keystone-coppish.

What our roads lack in refinement, they more than make up for in sheer beauty and variety.  You can ride pretty much year round, and If you want a Paris-Roubaix experience but hate the French, just come to El Dorado County, and get your bone-jarring thrills.

The 2009 Death Ride – Tour of the California Alps

Posted by SuperClydesdale on July 12, 2009 under Rides | Be the First to Comment

Riding up the front side of Ebbetts - still smiling

Riding up the front side of Ebbetts - still smiling

This ride is tough for the runts, let alone a super clydesdale.  Few organized rides punish a heavy rider more than the Markleeville Death Ride.   This is a ride that I’ve wanted to do for some time, and I was lucky enough to get a ticket this year.

For the uninformed (i.e., people that don’t read this blog), the Death Ride is a pretty famous bike ride based out of Markleeville, California.   Markleeville is 5500 feet above sea level.   It’s about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe, and is the gateway to a number of major mountain passes:

  • Monitor Pass (8314 feet)
  • Ebbetts Pass (8730 feet)
  • Carson Pass (8580 feet)

There are also some other passes around it such as Luther Pass and the ride to the Blue Lakes campgrounds, but they are not a part of the actual ride.   The Death Ride starts at Turtle Rock Park, just North of Markleeville, and goes:

  1. Up Monitor Pass, then down the back side of Monitor Pass
  2. Up the back side of Monitor, then up the front side of Ebbetts Pass
  3. Up the back side of Ebbetts pass, then back through Markleeville to Picketts Junction (7000) feet
  4. From Picketts Junction up to Carson Pass where you get your “5 pass finishers pin” and an ice cream bar.
  5. From Carson Pass, you ride back to Turtle Rock Park

Before you start, you’re supposed to declare how many passes you are going to attempt.   Why anyone would sign up for the Death Ride and not attempt all five passes is a mystery to me.   Assuming a five pass attempt, the well-known toughest part of the day is after the 4th pass, when you’ve just descended back down the front side of Ebbetts and now must ride back through Markleeville and past Turtle Rock Park on your way to Picketts Junction.   You’ve already ridden 88 miles and climbed about 12,000 feet, and now you have to ride past your car.  And your ice chest full of beer.   And your sandals.   Not a problem for me, because I had already bragged so much about doing the Death Ride before I even started that I would have to slink off into the woods and hang myself if I didn’t finish.    I was able to stop at the car, drink some water, and then continue on.    I can tell you that many others were not facing death, because they didn’t get back on the bike.  Lucky.

In training for the Death Ride, I did a ton of climbing.   The goal was to have at least 100 feet of climb for every mile I rode.   For me, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it’s easy to find a lot of roads with good climbs.   There’s a terrible, nasty, and unfair road out of Lotus, CA called Prospectors Rd.   It used to be the main road between Lotus and Georgetown — both are important centers of industry for California, and account for about .000000000000001% of California’s GDP.  Lotus is about one mile from Coloma, where George Marshall discovered gold and started the Calfiornia Gold Rush.  It’s an amazingly beautiful area.

One advantage of having the Garmin 705 is that I am constantly being informed of how miserable I am.   Going up Prospectors Rd.,  you see the percent gradient of 10%-20% for a little over 2 miles.   I call it my little 20 minute slice of hell.  The first time I rode up it, I felt like I had a flat tire.   I got to the top and discovered that I actually really had a flat tire.   It’s still hard, even without a flat.

One thing that Prospectors convinced me of was that my Ultegra 12-27 cassette simply wasn’t going to cut it for the Death Ride.   I was planning on going to Markleeville to do some of the passes in preparation for the actual event, and I wanted to go there with the exact bike I would be using for the ride.

Harris Cyclery saved my life.

For those who are not smart enough to know who Sheldon Brown is/was, he was the grand poobah of all things cycling.   Mr. Brown (I don’t think I deserve to call him Sheldon) was a bicyle mechanic’s mechanic who published many articles on any number of topics.   The shop that he worked for is Harris Cyclery, outside of Boston.  If you do your own bike maintenance and you haven’t read Sheldon Brown, you’re really missing out — stop reading this and read Sheldon Brown now.

Harris Cyclery makes custom cassettes.   I have a Dura Ace 7703 long cage rear derailleur, and was hoping to put a mountain bike cassette.   I got a Shimano-compatible SRAM 11-32 and put that on, but the teeth on the big gear (32 teeth) were directly touching the derailleur inner wheel — it wasn’t going to turn smoothly and would grind down the nylon wheel in a hurry.  I did notice that the 28-tooth cog had room to spare, so I guessed that I might be able to fit up to a 30-tooth cog.   Harris Cyclery assembles a 12-30 Shimano compatible 9-speed cassette called the “Century Special.”  I put that bad boy on, adjusted my tension screw to “maximum” and I was off.   Having the tension set so high made the shifting a little dodgey at times, but I only needed it for a short while.   That gave me a 30/30 gearing, and I could practically climb the walls.  No, this isn’t cheating.   A semi truck needs special gearing to haul heavy loads over the mountains, and so do super clydesdales.  It didn’t slow me down.   I finished the Death Ride in 10 hours and 10 minutes.   Not bad for a wide load.   I actually think that I was among the first bigger guys to finish.

While it takes a long time to drag my big butt up 10 to 15-mile long climbs, I can descend with such speed that, were it not for the crowded roads that kept me in check, I may have actually burned up coming down some of the roads.   It would have been like a little red space shuttle re-entering the atmosphere.   Thank you crowds of little people.

The completion of the California Triple Crown

Posted by SuperClydesdale on June 15, 2009 under Rides | Be the First to Comment

Well, that was easy.

I finished the last of my planned three double centuries for the calendar year — the Davis Double.

I rode 600 miles and all I got was this lousy jersey?

I rode 600 miles and all I got was this lousy jersey?

I now can wear my California Triple Crown jersey, which seemed like a lofty goal when I set out.   Triple Crown winners are a somewhat exclusive club made up entirely of people that have no sense.  In retrospect, I feel like Mark Twain — I don’t know that I want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member (a butcher job of his famous statement to be sure).   Not to take away anything from the fine people that achieve Triple Crown status, but I am left to wonder…  if I could do it, how hard could it be?  Now, I feel compelled to repeat the feat, but change it up a bit.    A fixed gear is passe — plus, I saw some poor fool walking his fixie up Cobb Mountain during the Davis Double.   Perhaps I should do it on a unicycle.   Or doing a wheelie.   Maybe this time I’ll wear clothing.   Have to think about it.

Riding double centuries is different from lesser rides (I can say that, now that I am a Triple Crown Winner and you’re not).   The people are polite and mellow.   Not a lot of hammer heads, and not near as many younger riders.   Not a lot of clydesdales either.   During the Death Valley Spring Double, I was passed by two guys from Scotland riding in a little mini-paceline, switching off about every minute or so.   I knew that they were Scottish when one of them shouted out “my god, you’re as big as a house!” with a thick accent.    I think that they were doing the “100-mile option” or there’s no way that two young thin riders would ever have passed me.   It just doesn’t happen.

Death Valley Spring Double

Posted by SuperClydesdale on February 28, 2009 under Rides | Be the First to Comment

I finished the 2008 riding season in the best shape I’d been in for about 20 years.   I dropped from 252 pounds to 220 pounds, felt strong and was ready for some significant challenges for 2009.  I decided that I would try for the California Triple Crown, which is a special designation given to riders that complete three double centuries in a calendar year.  In the Fall, I signed up for the Death Valley Spring Double.  I figured this would keep me honest during the Holiday season, and force me to keep riding and my weight in check.

February, 2009: My first double century.   Although I had been preparing all winter for this ride, I was very nervous.   I was also a little heavier.   During the Holidays, I had added about 5 pounds.

While I’ve ridden more than 100 miles in a day many times (including 26 days in a row once when I was stupid), I’d never ridden 200 miles in one day.   I tricked out my bike with a cool gel pad cover for my seat, and put on a Ritchey adjustable stem.

My biggest concern wasn’t my butt, but my back.   I was in a car crash a couple of years ago that resulted in damage to a disc in my lumbar region.   Riding in a normal position for more than a few hours can become excruciating, and the only way to stop it is to stretch it out.   I’d read that the key to completing these very long rides was to keep riding — don’t stop for more than a few minutes to get food and go to the bathroom.   So, I wanted to prevent a severe back issue before it started, and I adjusted the stem as high as it would go, which allowed me to ride with the handlebars about 2 inches above my normal riding position.

The downside of the raised handebars is that you dramatically increase your profile and become much less aerodynamic.  Since my goal was to finish simply to finish the ride, I thought it was a reasonable trade off — comfort for speed.    My detractors (there are many) have often said that I am built for comfort not for speed, and I think that installing the adjustable stem confirmed it.

I had two rules for the day:  first, no stopping for more than a few minutes.   Second, no drafting.   I wanted to complete the ride entirely under my own power.

Double centuries are long.  It would take a long time to drive the route in a car.    Since this was a winter ride, when the days are short, there’s virtually no way for anyone other than the fastest riders to finish the ride before dark.   I am not that guy.   This means lights, because Death Valley is officially in the middle of nowhere.   When the sun goes down, it’s can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark.  If you don’t want to carry the lights with you all day, then you can opt to have them waiting for you at one of the rest stops.  Just put them in a bag with your name on it, and they are waiting for you.  They publish a note to encourage riders to carry their lights for themselves.   Something like, “lights really don’t weigh much, so you can really just ride with them during the day.”   Whatever — here’s my bag.

Unlike most organized rides I’ve done, the Death Valley Double has strict starting times.   It’s a timed ride, and they want to know when you start.  Double centuries, I’ve learned, have a maximum time as well.   After that time, you are officially a dreaded DNF — Did Not Finish.   You don’t want that stench on your name.   After all, the list of finishers (and DNF-ers) is on-line for everyone to see.  For years.

The route goes from Furnace Creek, out the Eastern edge of Death Valley National Park to the small town of Shoshone, back throughFurnace Creek (past your car and your motel room, and a steakhouse, and beer), out toStovepipe Wells, then back to the start at Furnace Creek.

At the West entrance to Death Valley

At the West entrance to Death Valley

Being a newbie to double centuries, I started off the day at a pretty conservative pace.  At one point I was passed by two Scottish riders, who commented, “My god, you’re as big as a house” with a thick accent.   Heartwarming little bastards.   Down with the Scots!

For the most part, the ride is a bunch of rollers, but the road surface, while it looks great from a car, is very rough.  A super clydesdale is always battling road friction more than a lighter rider anyway, and the courseness of the road really compounded it, and you could feel it.    Add in a really nice headwind that started at about mile 120, and you had a frictionfest.   The “no drafting” policy resulted in a lot of extra effort.  People that I had flown past earlier in the day were forming up pacelines and passing me back.

In February, the temperatures didn’t get above the mid-80′s all day, so the heat that one might expect in Death Valley was never an issue.

There are two significant climbs in the Death Valley Spring Double.  There’s a pass that takes you from -255 feet (below sea level) to 3121 feet.   Then, on the way back from Shoshone, you climb the back side with a very similar elevation profile.   Add up those climbs and all the rollers, and my Garmin says abnout 9,800 feet of total climb for the day.

The desert is beautiful, but it doesn’t vary much.   To help with the monotony, I brought my son’s iPod with a special playlist selected just for the ride.   Once sun went down and the iPod battery ran out, all I had to think about was how miserable it was to ride your bike all day.  About mile 160, I was in full-fledged pissed-off didn’t-know-what-I was-thinking-signing-up-for-this-stupid-ride mode.   It was a blast.  Because there’s little vegetation, and you’re pretty much in a huge valley most of the day, you can see for many miles.  In the dark, you could look across the valley and see the tail lights of the people ahead, and headlights of the people that had already reached the turn-around point of Stovepipe Wells and were on their way back to the finish.   Lucky people.   Drafters.  Cheaters.   I hate those people.

At the top of the first big climb.  A very unflattering picture.   Why am I posting this?

At the top of the first big climb. A very unflattering picture. Why am I posting this?

On the plus side, you are presented with a never-ending stream of goals, in the form of people in front of you.   Just keep trying to pass the people in front ot you.  It gives you something to do.   From mile 160 on, I just wanted the get the ride the HELL over, and knew that I didn’t want to do another double century.   What a bad idea the whole concept of the California Triple Crown was.  What was I thinking?   Who would do this?   Is this supposed to be fun?   Why am I doing this?

5 days later, I signed up for my second double century, the Solvang Spring Double.

I want to recommend the company that put on the Death Valley Double, Adventurecorps.   These guys really love cycling, and it shows.   It was well staffed and well supplied.   I had people coming out to greet me at the rest stops to take my bottles and my bike.   I felt like a sponsored rider.  If you ever have a chance to do an Adventurecorps ride, I recommend that you do it.