Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ride Report: 2015 Devil Mountain Double

It's funny how life comes back around in on itself sometimes, as though we construct moments not in a linear fashion (from beginning to end), but instead like a spiral, circling back on the people and places we knew that we thought were in the past. I've always hated the phrase that "things happen for a reason" (I don't believe they do)-- but I am learning the value of experience (and the rationale, perhaps, for embracing each moment in life fully); and also the immeasurable ways I have been blessed by having so many incredible people people my life.

This ride begins back in 2011 or 2012 when I met up with a ride group in the East Bay called the Diablo Cyclists. I was too injured to run and although I had joined a competitive master's swim team, too, I  missed being out on the roads and so I thought I'd do something uncharacteristic: try something new. I actually also wanted to see the bay by bike; I didn't know if would stick around after I finished the MFA program at Saint Mary's College (I was studying nonfiction).  A part of me feared I wouldn't due to the high cost of living there.
Riding with the Diablo Cyclists back in 2011 or 2012, learning the route to the DMD long before I'd actually ride it.

Enter: the Diablo Cyclists. I ended up spending my weekends riding with them, doing the longer rides on Saturdays (usually around 100 miles) with a crew of experienced riders and the more casual Sunday rides which usually around 50-60 miles or so. Looking back, I'm glad they put up with me: I was greener than green when it came to riding, but they taught me the basics of pace lining, fueling, not tackling every hill like it was the last thing you'd ever do, etc.  Jay-- who'd ridden countless doubles and always colored every ride with this anecdotal stories and photo-taking (later to be turned into either a video, a blog or both)-- nicknamed me "Rebecca-In-Motion".

I would listen to stories of Jay's latest double, of other riders' past double and century challenges; of windy rides, of mishaps, of proud moments. One ride, though, dominated our conversations back then. It was the "Devil Mountain Double", or "DMD"-- the end-all of rides. Several riders in the group trained for it and I tagged along.

So, going into the first stage of the Triple Crown Stage Race, I knew 80% of what I was getting into (I haven't climbed Sierra Road or Mt. Hamilton before.) I also knew I was facing a ride that challenged the strongest men I'd ridden with, years ago.  One of my many thoughts on race-morning was how funny to be back again, doing the one ride I thought I'd never do. 


Life is also funny with the people you meet. Again, with the spirals.  Who would have thought I was capable of not only riding but racing a double century? (This year, I even had a coach--NOT RICH-- tell me I'd never be a cyclist. I guess that's what happens when you're petite and solidly built.)  But, when the possibility of riding a double came up last year, Rich said "do it." And when he rode another with a friend (the toughest Double Century, the Alta Alpina), he said I could do that one, too (and criticize me too harshly for going out too hard that day and missing the end by about 20 miles.)

So when I'd mentioned I'd like to try for the Stage Race this year, I had my colleagues from the Diablo Cyclists and Rich to encourage me. Rich said he would ride the miles with me and pull me to the end; one of my former Diablo teammates lived just miles from the start line and offered us a place to stay. And Jay (and another strong rider, Dave) offered me a plethora of advice that would come in handy on the ride (something like "don't be a hero up the climbs-- yes, thank you for that one.)

We left Friday night after work, which meant we didn't get into San Ramon until after 10 pm. This is pretty rough considering the 5 am start time which meant the 4:00 am wake up time (I'm usually an 8-hour sleeper), but I was simply thrilled to FINALLY RIDE THE DMD (this is exactly what I was thinking before the ride.) Driving down to the start revealed cloudy, moist conditions, I half-hoped it was the marine layer which sometimes settles in over the valley and that once we got past the junction on Mt. Diablo, we'd see blue skies.  However, that would not be the case.

At the start, I layered up: shorts and tights, jersey, a warm layer and a rain jacket, I believed I'd shed everything but shorts and jersey later, but I didn't want to freeze coming down from the summit of Mt. Diablo (I knew, from my many rides up that mountain, that the descent can be brutally freeze-your-hands-off cold, even in the midst of summer.)

The race director talked a bit too long (as they usually tend to do) before we started off.  Down the wide-shoulder boulevards in the dark and the rain. Rich pulled me to the front of the pack and we reached the foot of Mt. Diablo with the lead men. Climbing, I immediately felt myself begin to overheat. Sweat streamed down my face and body and the rain just wasn't cool enough to cut the heat. About a quarter mile up (so not quite to the junction which is 6 miles up) I just couldn't take it anymore. I felt awful about shedding layers so early (and watching several riders, including two or t three women) ride past me when I did. I was a stream of apologies to Rich: "I'm so sorry, I didn't meant to ruin the ride, I ruined the ride, I was so hot" etc, etc until he told me to knock it off.

After I was only in my jersey, I felt like I could breathe and suddenly it wasn't really a climb at all. I rested low in my aerobars and heard the chirp of birds in the oak trees around me (one sounded just like one of my new chicks, Biscuit, and I thought: how cute. She came down to cheer me on.) 

The climb up Diablo was (mostly) uneventful. Rich entertained the other riders we'd pass by picking up pinecones and rocks while riding and tossing them off the road without getting off the bike. I tried to talk him through the climb since there wasn't much to see (too much fog and rain) with statements like (this is usually a really beautiful lookout.) To which he would reply: "Wow. What a beautiful view."

Greyness and clouds (and cold) surrounded us, but for that first climb I didn't feel the cold. I worried about the last quarter mile, however, knowing that it's steep and you're on a walking path and not a road. I remember feeling as though I wanted to puke both heart and lungs at the end of it every time I'd climbed it before. Funny how so many miles and training hours later, some things don't change. That part of Diablo is still hard and I still wanted to puke my heart and lungs at the top.

Rich and I at the top of Mt. Diablo after the first climb of the DMD.

It was cold at the top. I refilled my water bottles, ate half pb&j and drank some orange juice (I hadn't eaten before the ride and I'd been starving since the junction.) Rich took a quick picture of us at the top before I put all my layers back on again for the descent.  And that was where Diablo gets its name, perhaps (OK, not really) : but the ride down was so cold, I wasn't sure I was going to make it.

Shivering, I lost sensation in my hands about a mile down. I called to Rich and we traded gloves so that I could at least attempt to use my brakes on the way down. The shivering, though made it hard to hold a line and there were several moments when I felt my vision narrow from the cold-- so much so that I worried if I even blinked I might fall asleep and wake up to find I'd wrecked.

Once we were off Diablo, the fog began to lift as we rode through the streets of Walnut Creek and out toward Clayton. We'd passed one of the girls on the way down and she hung with us for a while, actually, even to the top of Morgan.

I have always loved the Clayton-Morgan Territory ride. Clayton does its best to impersonate a "western" town and Morgan Territory is a winding road cut through pastures and ranches and then finally a narrow tree-canopied canyon, lush and green and all the things Nevada is not. I loved riding this stretch of road years ago because it is always sheltered from the wind and shaded-- so even on the worst hot, windy day, Morgan guarantees a long, steady climb without the added bonus of weather conditions.

Wild turkeys greeted our group of three (Rich, I and the other girl) as we began the staircase climb to the top. I didn't push the pace knowing the climb was long and the ride, longer. The woman who rode with us was a Biology professor from L.A. and was amused with my graduate degree in creative writing. Her lithe frame helped her considerably on that climb and she left Rich and I with about a half mile to go-- until we caught her in the step section right before the top, where we pulled into the second rest stop of the day.

This is where Rich would discover "crack"-- those little "cutie" oranges. He would carry a sack with him for the rest of the ride and when either one of us felt the cusp of bonking, out would come the cuties.

I also discovered (while worrying about this woman passing me) that I really shouldn't worry at all-- although I want to compete, I also just wanted to finish this ride and have fun (as they say, "a bad day on the bike is better than a good day at work.")  As I filled my bottle with more water, I turned to Rich and said "I took my FuckItAll pill and I feel fantastic."

And so, I'd keep a steady supply of those "FuckItAll pills" in my back pocket-- a reminder to enjoy life and not take everything so seriously. Another pb&j, some fruit, a pitstop in the PortAPotty. Life was very beautiful, indeed.

"Bundle up," one of the volunteers said as we departed. We would definitely need the warmth although, looking back, we hadn't shed a single layer.

Down the narrow one-lane road through more ranches and en route to Patterson, I fell behind Rich and we pace-lined quickly in the wind. Rich is one of the strongest athletes I know, but his true strength reveals itself when he can find a steady pace and hold it. My strength, at least for now, is being able to hold on.

We caught up to another girl (one who, I think? was in the lead) and she asked me at a red light if we were triathletes.  I said: "well, I am..." but before I could get any more words out, the light turned and Rich was off. I did my best to catch him, fall into his draft and, again, hold on.

This is what I did for the flat or flattish, even sections of road: hang on!

Out the Altamont Speedway, we had the wind at our backs and cruised along at a considerable speed. I've never been able to hold my own in sections like this--- I'm not a powerhouse and the wind tends to push me around too much, but behind Rich, we made good time. At the traffic porkchop, we made a break away from this other girl (a very strong rider) and she couldn't hold on. I didn't know any of this, however; I only looked ahead, to what waited for us.


Every time we rode this with the Diablo Cyclists-- or, every time I came along, it was horribly windy and cold. Today was really no exception. We had a strong headwind and the windmills were turning. Granted, I'd felt harder headwinds in the past, but on those days I hadn't also climbed Diablo and Morgan already.

I explained to Rich about the false summit and he took the news well. We climbed together to the mini-aid station where the volunteers let me know I was "the first of the female kind they'd seen here." I wondered a bit at how that was stated-- but I downed a V-8 and grabbed--but not eaten-- a single package of fig bars (my "Patterson Cookie" as they would henceforth be called) and started out again.

** I should note this is when my Diablo Cyclist-friend Matt, who offered his home to Rich and I for the night before, arrived. Matt had opted for the 6am, not 5am start, and so made some impressive time! In fact, he would ride strong all day and finish about an hour ahead of Rich and I. 

The summit of Patterson was a wall of considerable elevation gain and a headwind, as usual. Down the other side, Matt and a bunch of the faster men caught us. However, Rich did what he does best and found a pace and we all formed a paceline behind him for ten miles until the Mines Road rest stop. I'd begun to fall off (I was hungry, again!)  By this time, they had potatoes (OMG my favorite on rides) and more fruit, water and juice. Once I felt human again, we were off (and once again, we hadn't taken off any clothing.)


Mines Road was one of my favorite rides, years ago. From Livermore, it's a gentle climb out to the junction which could take you (and would take us) to Mount Hamilton. On fresh legs, you can really push the climbs and feel strong. In the cold, the wind and on legs that were definitely not fresh, Mines Road presented the challenge of patience. It seemed to take FOREVER.

I remember, years ago, thinking this stretch of road had reminded me of Nevada (when I had been away from home for years.) Riding it, and feeling just plain drained, I told Rich I must be crazy-- this looked nothing like Nevada at all! Scrub oak, pastures, greenery-- there was not a single trace of sagebrush. I wondered at the marvel of perception, and how funny it is that these things change.

Halfway up the last final climb on Mines Road, I started to feel hungry and tired again-- as if I wanted to crawl into a ball onto the shoulder of the road and sleep. I wondered if this was really fatigue or if it was something else. To test my theory, I opened my package of fig cookies I'd gotten up at Patterson and ate a fig bar. I felt immediately better.  A minute later, Rich offered me his cutie-crack and I was better, still.

It was also on this stretch of road that I stopped being able to shift from my front derailleur. I could go from big to small, but not the other way. It would be an annoyance the entire way (after lunch, I would have to get off my bike and have Rich shift the bike for me. How embarrassing.)

The lunch stop was held at "the junction"-- a biker-bar turned "cyclist-biker bar." I guess they have changed ownership in recent years because "pulled chicken sandwich" and "salad" were unheard of before. I remember the menu featuring hot dogs and fries and burgers as the main fare with the hilarious addition of a $4 pb&j. Today, the owner ran food out to the picnic tables, taking orders eagerly. I ate 3/4 of sandwich, salad, watermelon and a sparkling water. Rich had nearly the same thing.  I hate to say that (because most people would say the last thing I need is a sandwich) but I needed that sandwich. Nothing could have tasted better after those cold, windy 115 miles.

Lunch, though, would be where I discovered the worst-bad news of the day: the stitching in my shorts had come out so the chamois had bunched itself up on one side and had rubbed me to the point of bleeding. It would be a discomfort-- and a major obstacle-- later in the day, and it was the least-fun moment of the day, always, when getting back in the saddle and the five or so minutes after.

After lunch, the next climb was Mt. Hamilton-- and that's something I've never done before. For some reason, I always pictured Hamilton as this moon-scape, barren, dry, steep mountain you wouldn't climb for all the money in the world. And now, I was going to climb it.

We made good time on the way there, passing several single male riders on the way who were in various degrees of cramping. Once we finally began the ascent, I can't say it was horrible. It was, matching the theme of the day, long. And hard. It was beautiful, too-- not brown and barren at all, but tree-covered and green. And did I mention, cold?

Although I can't remember much from climbing Mt. Hamilton, here I am climbing Mt. Hamilton. This is about 1/4 mile from the top. 

I can't really remember much from the climb. I remember that I told Rich it didn't seem like we were climbing at all-- instead, it was like we were riding really slowly with two flat tires apiece to which he replied: "No, we are definitely climbing."  Mt. Hamilton, like Patterson, too had a false summit and I admit, I was taken in by it. I wanted to be done climbing, to be given some "free" (downhill) miles.  Shouldn't I be strong by now? Shouldn't I know better-- that in in toughest moments, sometimes the only thing life can do is get tougher (at least for a little longer)?

We did make it to the top where we stopped between the two space observatories and ate some of Rich's "crack" (cutie orange sections) while he slipped me from the small to big ring on my front derailleur.

The descent down Hamilton was brutal. The corners aren't angled right, Rich said, so you can easily find yourself in oncoming traffic, which kept our (or, let's be honest, my) speed low. By that time in the day, my shoulders and arms ached from gripping the brakes so hard and this descent was brutal on my upper body. It was also unbearably cold.

At the bottom, we re-grouped and paced ourselves across the rolling terrain to the next rest stop located at someone's house (odd). The house was up a climb and the driveway a steep downhill, which meant, basically, it was a rest stop you had to climb in and out of.

They had a billboard-sized elevation map above the garage I studied as I ate my cup of hot ramen soup, three potato chips and a fig bar.  One of the ride volunteers told me the delights (horrors) of Sierra Road, the next climb we faced. 3.9 miles and nearly 3,000 feet of gain. At that point in the day, that did not sound fun.

What was I going to do about it, though? Quit. Heck, no! My FuckItAll pill was still working and I was still going to finish this ride. I was already 130 miles or so into it and even if I had to crawl with my bike strapped to my back, I'd finish.

It was heartbreaking to see that hill, though. We rode through town, hitting stoplight after stoplight. It was mostly flat, save for the mountains to our right. And then, I saw the road sign "Sierra Road" and my heart dropped a little. When we made the turn, it dropped a lot more.


I think my FuckItAll Pill wore off at that moment.

What can I say of Sierra Road? Ouch, ouch, why, why? It may be the slowest I've climbed anything. I wanted to walk at several points, but the happy Filipino people who came out to cheer (everyone? or particular riders?) with their drums and sweet-smelling food made me feel guilty for wanting to walk. They came to see a show, I might as well give it to them? Rich told me to hold my pace slow and steady and I definitely did-- the slow part, I mean. At the near-top (maybe a mile from the real top. What is it with these climbs and false summits?) we saw a Golden Eagle which circled above our heads and which swooped down to "buzz" me twice.

"What is it with you and eagles?" Rich asked me and the only reply-- which I didn't have the breath to say at the moment-- was that an eagle was a much better omen than the vultures we'd seen before.

Sierra Road might have done me in. I'd been pretty good about not cramping and I admit, my legs still felt strong at this point. It was the other parts of my body which suffered-- my triceps (for some odd reason) were on the verge of cramping, my lower back was unbelievably tight and my shorts had done even more damage to my crotch (I asked Rich to take me to the hospital when we were done riding while climbing Sierra Road.)

When we reached the next aid station, I drank more water, refilled my bottles, drank a sip of Rich's Coke and was about to leave when the nice lady offered me chocolate. Like really nice chocolate. What I didn't know is that she laced the chocolate in "FuckItAll" so after that aid station, I would be more or less back. Granted, we still had Calavaras, Sunol, Palamaras and Norris Canyon before the finish line, but I knew I could do it.

We put our jackets back on (shivering. We had never completely dried off from that morning and now, with the sun dipping low, it was starting to get truly cold out. The good news, I guess, is that the wind had died down.)  We ripped the undulating, but mostly downhill, terrain. I sat low in my aerobars behind Rich and kept pressure on both my pedals so that I wasn't sitting, exactly, in the saddle.


When we reached Sunol, it was a bit after 7pm and the sun had nearly set. The aid station workers were drinking beer and I hated them, slightly, for that. Not that I wanted a beer, exactly. At that point, I didn't really want anything (to eat or drink) at all. I just wanted to be done with this ride. I'd been wet, cold, tired, hungry, thirsty and chafed to death for 14 hours. Enough is enough.

I even asked Rich if I could call it a day. Looking back, I'm glad he mostly ignored me. I was only 20 miles from the finish. One CompuTrainer class. I could run that (technically) if I had to.  I won't lie, though, that the final PortAPotty stop made me cry. I've never had that kind of issue before. I tried to ease my discomfort by applying a chamois cream which set my raw, bleeding skin on fire. Clipping my feet into the pedals and sitting back on the saddle brought involuntary tears to my eyes. I can't even describe that pain.

Soon, it became apparent: I had to pick my pain. I could stand up for 20 miles or sit down. Once I picked my position, the fabric of my shorts would stick to my bleeding skin and changing that position was enough to make me almost fall over. So, as the sun faded in front of us as we headed down a canyon toward Palamaras, I chose to sit and let myself cry behind Rich until that part of me became too numb to feel anymore, and I could continue riding.

Up Palamaras, Rich practiced his Peacock calls and I tried not to run over Salamanders as the light faded to near-dark. We reached the top sooner than I thought we would and the downhill, in the near-dark, was terrifying. We hadn't stopped to turn our lights on, only for Rich to put me back in the big ring again. I prayed to not hit a pothole. Luckily, there weren't any or someone likes Rich and I, in the great beyond.

At the bottom of Palamaras, we turned our lights on and made our way back to Norris Canyon. It was completely dark and silent (except for the odd car which would pass, the sound of frogs and crickets) and our pedaling. I thought about completing this race, how it was such an accomplishment (ME? Ride the DMD?) but also a let down (I was going to have a very, very slow finishing time.) I can't say I wanted to stop or to go; by that point, I was operating solely on a mechanical level, pushing and pulling the pedals around and around, but not clinging to any single thought or emotion.

Norris, in the dark, seemed to last forever. So did the downhill. Rich asked me if I wanted him to shift me into my big ring for the ride down and I replied "no." I didn't want to stop; I wanted to stop at the finish line and call it a day.  So, down we went and for a while, I struggled to keep him in sight.  Then, for whatever reason, I felt a click on my feet and my chain switched over to my big ring. I used my motivation to finish to catch up to Rich and we held a fast pace to the finish line at the San Ramon Marriot.

My finish was not impressive as Rich's, though: he rode his bike down the stairs while still in the aerobars to the room where the officials took our numbers to record finishing times. Since I was a runner, and a triathlete, I unclipped, but my bike on my back and ran down the stairs to say that #80 had made it, finally.

At the finish in the San Ramon Marriot. I think I have to work on riding my bike down concrete stairs in my aerobars if I'm ever going to place against this guy. :-)  Seriously, what a great day and I had the best company in the world.

It's funny, though: back in 2011, who would have thought that I'd ride a double century? That I would become a triathlete? That I would, in four years, ride the DMD and finish in the top of the field?

It is funny how events, places and times circle back in life, gaining meaning as we move through the years. I'm so grateful for the people and places I've been.

And, I can't wait for where I'm going.


Monrezee said...

Congrats on finishing the DMD.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your finish--good recap. Like when you were overdressed going up Mt. Diablo--my WTF DMD moment was when I froze one of my water bottles for later--thinking "how much will I drink on a cool uphill climb." I had to pull over at the Junction to refill. Incredible how its like a hothouse going up and an igloo going down. Best--Jay (I can't believe we never rode up Mt Hammy when you were out here)