Monday, June 23, 2008

Zen and the Art of Riding a Double Century on Minimal Training - Alta Alpina Double Test Ride

I’m not sure how that email invitation found its way into my inbox, but it sure sounded enticing: ‘test ride a new double century for the Alta Alpina Cycling Club!’

The course would be the Deathride in reverse for the second half plus another 3 passes, 70 miles, and 5000+feet for the first half. More elevation gain than the Devil Mountain Double or Terrible Two. Altitudes ranging from 4700’ to 8700’ – spectacular alpine scenery, beyond comparison.

Last year it would have been easy to say yes in less than a heartbeat, but this year was different. I’d been racing and putting in two hours of intervals plus a 50-60 mile race or road ride on most weeks. I had only done a handful of rides that would normally be considered on the shorter side of long distance training rides. A very windy New Year’s Day ride with Tom Milton and the LA Wheelmen, a couple of rounds on the Sweet Terrible One, including one where HW kicked my butt up and down the hills. Then there was the hotter than hell Mt. Diablo crawl on the day of the Davis Double. Not much distance training beyond that.

Last year 50 miles was truly a short ride and it had to be well over a century with a bunch of climbing or headwind for me to consider it long. Now 50 miles was a long ride and 100’/mi felt like a real workout. Any sort of wind in my face left me looking for a draft. Sadly, I felt more at home powering a roller at max. effort than slogging it out all day.

Would this lack of training (avg. 5.5 hours per week since March) suffice for what promised to be the hardest of all double centuries? Two weeks of lead-time wasn’t enough for any serious training and even the race training I had done earlier had tapered off since my last race, a 30-minute criterium in May - the antithesis of long distance cycling! I wavered back and forth until Tuesday before the actual event and committed with a heavy heart. Knowing that this was a test ride, where one could do as many or few passes as one liked without the specter of “DNF” hanging overhead certainly helped in my decision.

The drive up to South Lake Tahoe was uneventful, which was good since I had serious concerns about the ‘Duckling’ making the distance. It is a Honda, but it does have 250K miles and a bad vacuum advance… At the motel I promised myself some early sleep, only to stay up late in order to watch ‘300’ – even at midnight there was no sleep as I could hear my next door neighbor through paper thin walls. Forgetting ear plugs came at a price.

3:30AM: I start slathering on copious quantities of sunscreen, while simultaneously devouring a couple of whole wheat bagels, milk, and water. Out the door at 4:10AM I make it to Woodfords by 4:50 and am happily rolling along in a random group of six by 5:04AM. It turns out that group contains Peter Burnett and Graham Pollock. I had done a bunch of DBC brevets with Peter and we both started PBP in the 84-hour group and finished around the same time (Peter rode a fixie!!!). I rode in the lead group with Graham on last year’s SFR 400k and also knew him from some of the doubles. Both can hammer for endless hours and I knew my day would be long enough even without trying to stick with them…

We approached Kingsbury grade in the glow of a beautiful sunrise over the Nevada mountains to the East. It’s a quite manageable mountain, with sustained climbing in the 6-7% range. Midway, Peter pulls ahead and Graham flats. I continue with Nick, who’s riding a single speed. At the top (Daggett’s Pass) we check in at the rest stop and start back down the hill. Going 45mph I catch a gust of wind in my bladed Ksyriums and the front wheel wobbles like crazy. I brake on the rear, but gripping the brake makes things worse. I imagine impending doom. Ease off the bar, out of the saddle, gently brake again. Pinch the top tube. After a few eternities and passing the center line the wobble stops and I gingerly continue. Slow descents are in order for the remainder of the ride. At the bottom of the hill I stop and get rid of arm and knee warmers, dropping and breaking my sunglasses in the process. Ahhh, that’s what the extra wraps of electrical tape on the handlebars are for…

Graham is back and we hit the Emigrant Trail rest stop on our way to Luther Pass. The rest stops are simple, but effective, stocking bagels, delicious cookies, bananas, and Cytomax. Going up the hill toward Pickett’s Junction Graham slowly pulls away from me and I pull away from the single speed. There will be no chasing on my part today – I’m just trying to survive and finish. Every rider has to ride at his/her own pace. I feel the lack of sleep and the altitude. My eyes have that hollow burning feeling and I’m tired. I know these feelings come and go throughout long rides, but it’s always more fun to ride on a high than on a low. The gap to Peter has grown and continues to do so with every subsequent pass.

Luther and Carson go by in a blur before I head South on Blue Lakes Rd. – It’s a bit of a false flat, but the scenery is beautiful. Lush, green meadows with granite rock outcroppings and colorful flowers. One could almost be deceived into thinking that we’re not having a drought. There is a bit of a climb, but it’s really benign. After the rest stop I turn around and head back, ignoring the ominous 9% grade (uphill) sign and settling in for the long downhill to the lunch stop in Woodfords.

At lunch I briefly consider calling it a day. It’s hot, relaxing, I’ve just cowed down a huge turkey sandwich, and the car is right there. It takes a few moments to get a grip on my vagrant thoughts and I retrieve the front light from the Duckling. Even with long daylight hours I may not finish this one before dark. The approach to Ebbetts is feels long and hot, but the climb is merciful. I go down the backside and hook up with Dan and Reve at the Hermit rest stop. After riding by myself since before Pickett’s this is a welcome change. The pace is benign and for the most part (I consistently got dropped on the downhills) we stay together.

The West side of Monitor is a bit of a bear. It feels so much easier at the start of the Death Ride, when one doesn’t have over 14,000’ of climbing and 150+ miles in one’s legs. We crawl up the mountain and despite Dan’s promises of calming winds I get pummeled going down the East side. We briefly stop at Topaz and head back up the hill. Last pass - this ride is in the bag! Wow, there’s a rider coming down and a few minutes later another. It’s the couple with masks over their faces (supposedly that helps with humidifying the air you breathe in prolonged dry conditions – I’d rather cough a bit for a few hours). Good for them! We thought we’re the last ones. Reve smells the summit rest stop and takes off, Dan and I pose for a SAG video. We near the top at dusk and head for Inge’s RV at the summit. Cup-O-Noodles makes a wonderful meal and we stretch and relax in the RV. There’s no hurry…

The final big descent is uneventful. It’s cool, but my Ziplock knee warmers and a borrowed jacket do the trick. There’s still a bit of wind, but Dan and Reve aren’t hammering down the hill and are blocking for me. We’ve got SAG lighting up the night in front of us and are homeward bound…

There were 39 riders who participated in the test ride and 8 of us who finished all 8 passes. Peter came in around 14 hours (a bit less I think), which is an amazing ride considering the distance, altitude, and elevation gain. My Polar stats showed: 198.1 miles, 20161 feet, 14:37 ride time, 17:09 overall time. IMHO this ride is significantly harder than the Terrible Two and harder than Devil Mountain. I haven’t done the Everest Challenge, but even that doesn’t approach anywhere near the single day elevation gain or distance of this double.

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