The Davis Double Century May 16, 2009
Presented by the Davis Bike Club
Thanks to the Davis Club!
Davis is the 2nd oldest Double Century in California (after the Grand Tour in Malibu) and this year was the 40th edition, so you’d think the Davis Club would know how to put on a double century, and you’d be right. The Davis Club did a more than excellent job from any angle, and on several levels at once. Well, except for the weather, they couldn’t control the weather. However, they did do everything possible to help the riders adapt to the rather severe searing the sun was dishing out. So yes, the Davis Club is to be congratulated!
My Davis History
As if that weren’t enough to endear the Davis Double (well, at least to me), this was the first CA double that I had entered, way back in ’03 on the advice from my lovely wife, Jackie. I had given up doubles after Paris-Brest-Paris in ’91, but Jackie thought I should at least try a CA double, just to see if I’d like it. Of course it comes as no surprise to Loyal Rebels that Tom Parkes had also been harassing me to ride a CA double back then, so for a number of reasons, Davis was it . . . my first double in CA.
I’d been away from the Davis Double for three years, however, since the Davis Double happens to fall on the same weekend as the Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour; a Very Different Event (in WI and MN) that Loyal Readers may also remember. In ’09 Jackie and I decided we’d take a break from traveling to WI and MN and return to the somewhat shorter journey to Davis, CA. One change that I heard they’d made in my absence was the addition of the (Greatly Feared) Cobb Mountain Climb; having to replace the somewhat more gentle (but now officially closed) Big Canyon Road. Jackie (and others) had warned me that Cobb was not to be t*****d with, so there was that to consider too.
Rebels on the Ride
The drive up was seven hours (with a stop for lunch) from Whittier to Davis, arriving just before Registration was due to open. We talked with Rebels Colin and Julie Stokes in the lobby whilst waiting for Registration to really open, but oddly enough didn’t see anyone else we knew. The only other Rebel we saw was John Long who would be riding with Teresa, his new tandem stoker. Jackie and I met John and Teresa at the Motel after Registration, which was a good thing, really, since they were not to be seen (by me) during the ride. I didn’t see Colin and Julie on the ride either, for that matter, but later learned that they had started and finished about 20 minutes after me. Timing may not be everything, but it is something! John and Teresa didn’t finish, due to numerous flat tires on their tandem.
On My Way, Then
All that said, I was planning for a 5:00 AM start yet found myself ready to ride about half an hour earlier. Jackie had given me a ride to the Start (she would be going on 70 mi. ride later), and since I was ready to go, and didn’t fancy standing around the Start for No Apparent Reason, I hit the road on or about 4:30 AM in pretty much absolute darkness. There are few tricky turns at the start, through the actual city of Davis, so I followed a fast moving mini-peloton of riders who certainly seemed to know where they were going! There was certainly no shortage of early starters, with a long line of blinking tail-lights in the distance offering some assurance that I was, in fact, still on course. Sure, they could be lost too, but what are the chances? Ah, well, pretty good really, but in this case the riders were pointed in the correct direction, and we found our way out to the rural areas, by which time Davis Club volunteers were stationed at each turn, accompanied by a large flashing yellow lights on (Cal-Trans approved!) folding stands.
Darkness to Light
Making our way out into the countryside now, mini-pelotons would form and break up, as we passed (or were passed by) single riders, riders in pairs, and the occasional macro-peloton with a couple dozen riders. The Davis Double is a Big Event, by double century standards; with just under 800 riders entered in this years ride. The good news is that most are very experienced and accomplished riders, so it’s rare to see the novice mistake or really dangerous bike handling issues. Dawn arrived a bit earlier than it does in SoCal, and riding over the relatively flat farmland, as we were, the first hint of sunlight was a long time transitioning into adequate light to ride by. A lovely time to ride, actually, since motor traffic was almost zero, and the occasional vehicle we did see was most often a Davis Bike Club SAG van. Plus, it was still cool in the early morning, with temps in the low 60’s, so great riding weather this early on.
The Davis Double Route
The easy way to explain the Davis Double route is: 40 miles of flat roads, 120 miles of climbs and descents, then 40 more miles of flat roads into the finish. A bit over-simplified, but mostly right with the climbing “Middle-Loaded” as opposed to “Front-Loaded” as on the Eastern Sierra double, or “Back-Loaded” as on the Bass Lake Double. For this reason, Davis has often been recommended as a good First Double. With the addition of Cobb Mountain, this recommendation has been rescinded somewhat, but still, with this layout; if you can make it to mile 160, you can certainly make it to the finish. Not that The Finish was on anyone’s mind at this point, and it was a happy group of riders I found as I rolled into the first Checkpoint, Farnham Ranch, at Mile 23.1. Some riders (see the report from Curtis) had been keeping up a mighty pace to the first Checkpoint, but most (myself included) had been riding at a more sedate pace, saving energy and enthusiasm for the climbs to come.
Nothing to Eat but Food
This is also where I first discovered that there would be no “Sustained Energy” or similar liquid food available on this double (as there is on most), so I had to adjust to eating what is colloquially knows as Real Food. Not that this is a bad thing, other than the fact that it’s more time consuming than dumping “Funnel Food” into a Camelback, and a bit more difficult to take along on the bike. No real worries, though, just a slight modification to my ride plan! Nor was I getting hungry by this time, but I knew that if I waited until I felt hungry it would be far too late, having learned a thing or two after riding a couple dozen CA doubles. At this first Checkpoint, I saw Ron (spingineer from bikeforums.net), and he introduced me to Pete (taxi777 on bikeforums.net), plus mentioned that Curtis (cccorlew from bikeforums.net) had just left the first Checkpoint a few minutes earlier. I ate a PB&J plus a few Oreos, and then grabbed a few Fig Newtons to munch as I rolled back onto the road after a ten-minute stop.
Touring the California Farmlands
As I returned to the ride the roads were oddly vacant, with maybe one rider visible way ahead and no one coming up from behind. This lasted for maybe half an hour before I hooked up with another rider, trading pulls through the seemingly endless miles of California farmland. Eventually a good sized pace line came by and we both jumped on, riding a fairly effortless pace until the road tilted up for the first climb of the day, about a mile up to the dam at 6 and 7%. Everyone seemed to be quite pleased to be able to climb, particularly after 40 miles of flat and somewhat boring roads. There was some scenery to entertain our eyes, the lovely lake in the morning mist, the mountainsides and lots of trees! Now we were definitely into the climbing and descending miles of the Double and the next challenge on the chart was the climb affectionately known as “Cardiac.”
The Climb Called Cardiac
I started the climb with one other rider, who almost immediately stood up and sprinted past me. “No worries,” I thought, “If you want to hammer up Cardiac, you go guy!” But when he was about 40 feet ahead of me, he sat down and slowed down. I kept my same steady pace/cadence and before long I’d passed him. “Okay,” I thought, “That guy burned out quick!” But no, he wasn’t burned out, just taking a break I guess, because a minute or two later he came blasting past again, standing up, sprinting his way up the climb. “Well, whatever,” I laughed to myself. You just never know what some riders are up to. As before, I slowly climbed past him, wondering if the scenario was due to repeat. And yes, it did, twice more, in fact. I found it amusing, so the next time I passed him I smiled and said, “You know, I can see a pattern developing here!” He didn’t say anything for a while, just gave me a look that seemed to say, “What are you, a smart-ass?” Finally, he remarked “Oh well, we’re at the top now.” Which was, in fact, the case, and while I wanted to thank him for making the climb a bit more entertaining, I was afraid he might take it the wrong way!
Checkpoint #2, at Mile 45.5
Cardiac led to a wonderful descent, which I thought I was taking competently quickly, until I was passed by a huge peloton (led by a tandem), going at least 10 mph faster than I was! I had my top gear (53t x 12t) all topped out, and I was tucking on the steep bits, but still . . . these riders just flew past me! That’s what I get for thinking I was moving along rather well. Good reality-check, actually! Regardless, I was passing some riders through the next series of climbs and descents, and feeling good about my progress and the fact that I wasn’t really hurting anywhere quite yet. Eventually and by and by I rolled into the 2nd Checkpoint, at mile 45.5, only to be met with more Real Food. Okay, I was getting used to it now, and gave myself a little talk about how the extra time spent actually eating things didn’t matter, this is not a race, after all, etc. So . . . more PB&J, some kind of Quaker energy bar, the requisite Oreos and Fig Newtons (yes, from the “cookie” food group!), some orange slices, half a banana, fill the Camelback with Gatorade; okay that’s enough fuel, now back on the bike!
Checkpoint #3, at Mile 76
The next stage involved several climbs, but nothing brutal or extended. The day was heating right up by this time (approx. 10:30 AM), and I’d taken my jacket off at the prev. Checkpoint, so now I was down to just the basics with nothing more to remove if the day were to get hotter still. We were well out into rural California farming country now, rolling past what looked like rather small family farms, but overall very nice scenery, without anything truly dramatic. Checkpoint #3 was one I recognized from prev. David Doubles, this one featuring a crew that was loud and enthusiastic, i.e. very encouraging to the riders, and that’s always a bit of a boost. After filling my bottles and Camelback I spread sun block over my exposed surfaces (sun block donated by a friendly recumbent rider from Corvallis, OR). More Real Food here, but not much variety, i.e. pretty much the same as at the prev. two stops. Still, food is fuel, so I took on another couple of PB&J’s, more assorted fruit and the (essential) cookies!
Middletown High School, Checkpoint #4, Mile 95.4
By the time I left this checkpoint, I was beginning to really feel the heat. It was probably in the low to mid 90’s by now, but with lots of shade from the trees along the road, and as long as I was moving along fairly quickly, it really wasn’t too bad. The riders were more spread out by now, but still, on a ride this big there were usually a few in view both ahead and behind. Plus, in the natural order of riders on double centuries, the faster riders were generally ahead by now, as the slower riders fell further off the back, such that those of us in this area were traveling at pretty similar speeds. There was no one to talk with through here, but I found a huge crowd at the next Checkpoint, at the Middletown School, long about mile 83. The staff at this checkpoint was enthusiastic to the point of being boisterous, which at this point was a really good thing! One fine gentleman was making Mocha Frappacinos with his ice and blender moving through multiple Mochas while I was there. I found myself craving salt, so in addition to a couple of E-Caps (Hammer’s electrolyte capsules) I filled up on pretzels and heavily salted baby potatoes. I packed my Camelback and bottles with ice at this checkpoint, before filling in the bits between the ice cubes with even more Gatorade.
Cobb Mountain Challenge
The next challenge on the chart was the (Greatly Feared) Cobb Mountain, as prev. noted, a recent addition to the Davis Double Route. As if that weren’t enough, the temperatures had continued to climb, with 102 deg.F. indicated on one rider’s bike computer (mine is not so equipped). Nor was there any lead-in, with the road tipping upward and the Cobb climb beginning right out of the gate from the Middletown checkpoint. I started out riding with a Cobb Veteran, taking mental notes, and overall deciding that it really wasn’t going to be as bad as Jackie had suggested. Eventually said Veteran climbed away from me as I stuck to what I considered to be a Very Conservative Pace up Cobb. I actually spoke with several different riders as I made my way up the mountain, until I was eventually passed by the Very Famous Curtis (cccorlew from bikeforums.net), whom I recognized by his “Poseur” jersey. We had a fine conversation on numerous subjects, none of which I can remember now! Eventually I rode up the mountain ahead of Curtis, eventually arriving at Checkpoint the Davis Club had thoughtfully positioned about three-quarters of the way up Cobb Mountain.
Mostly Up the Mountain, Checkpoint #5
It was here that I happened upon the Very Famous Gert, who, at 78 years is the oldest active doubles rider that I’m aware of. I know Clem Bartoli is 73, but Gert even has a few years on Clem! Of course by this time my Camelback Ice/Gatorade required a refill, but it was a relatively quick stop (sure, a few Oreos and Fig Newtons, why not?) before resuming the climb with another (just shy of 70 years!) rider who was on his Cervelo TT bike because his Merlin road bike had a cracked frame. He was not pleased because he’d just learned that Merlin no longer honored their “Lifetime” warranty on frames. You hear all kinds of stories as you climb up the mountain roads . . . Once over the summit of Cobb it was a wonderful, fast and glorious descent, in and out of sunlit and shady areas but over a very good surface, so no real worries, no need for brakes, with just the occasional short ascent to break the boredom (yeah, right!) of the quite long descent.
The Lunch Stop, Lower Lake High School at Mile 117.2
Once slowed down and back in the direct sunlight, the heat was once again rather oppressive, yet here it was, barely noon! At this point, I knew it would get worse and hey, it was bad enough already! A few miles thereafter I rolled into the Lunch Stop, thankfully in the same place I’d left it three years ago, and thankfully stocked with lots of Different Real Food, or at least, different from what I’d eaten at the prev. noted Checkpoints. After I parked my bike I noticed an elderly woman (yeah, probably about my age) standing behind a ubiquitous gray-plastic garbage can filled with what looked like long white tube socks. Suddenly, in a moment of Brilliant Revelation (or something close) I realized that what I was looking at was a fine collection of the Storied Ice Socks! Yes friends, several years ago (six?) Chuck Bramwell, the Very Famous CA Triple Crown Guy, had told us stories of crossing the U.S. with PAC Tours (ref: Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo-Haldeman) and using Ice Socks as they crossed the desert on several 100+ degree-days. So what is an Ice Sock? Imagine a long white cotton sock (Tube Sock?) filled with ice cubes, then tied at the open (ankle) end so the cubes can’t escape. Drape said Ice Sock over shoulders (around the back of your neck), and it equals Instant Relief from Oppressive Heat!
Ice Sock Salvation
Of course, with my luck, prev. noted Elderly Woman told me I couldn’t have an Ice Sock until I’d gotten my lunch. She probably didn’t want me dripping on all the food, and who could blame her? Please note, however, that once I did have my sandwich assembled, my pasta salad heaped upon my plate and a few cookies (chocolate chip this time) added for good measure . . . I received a fresh cold Ice Sock draped around my hot, crusty neck. Wow! That felt SO GOOD! As I sat on the grass, in the shade, eating my lunch, I remember thinking, “This Ice Sock saved my life!” Looking back, that may have been a bit overstated. Still, the effect was enormous. After lunch I phoned Jackie, “I’m at lunch and still alive!” then restuffed my Camelback with ice and Gatorade, ditto my bottles (one with water and ice only), and departed lunch for the 2nd Great Effort of the Day, i.e. the climb known to Davis riders by the single name: Resurrection. After departing Lunch, there is a seven-mile stretch of Highway shoulder to negotiate before arriving at the base of the climb I call Pre-Resurrection, which is about half a mile long and only 5 - 6%, before entering into a very long (2.5 mile) descent. In addition to the afore-noted heat, I was consumed with the thought that I was descending into a very deep hole out of which I would then have to climb.
Severe Heat on Resurrection
I had climbed Resurrection before, so (unlike Cobb) I pretty much knew what was coming. At the start of this climb, the incline is really pretty gentle. Still, I was out in the absolute open without a spot of shade in sight, a warm headwind blowing in my face, and only a rapidly melting Ice Sock as defense against the brutal elements. As the grade increased my gearing dropped ever lower, and even though the grade would not have (under normal circumstances) have justified it, I found myself reduced to pedaling in a very slow cadence in my 30t x 27t Granny Gear. At times like this, I’m reduced to simply suffering my way through. Several riders passed me, I passed no one. My thoughts were running to: “I’m this tired, this hot, this lifeless, and there’s still 70 miles to go?” The Camelback was sucked dry; one bottle held a few sips of luke-warm Gatorade, the other half a bottle of luke-warm water. Then, much to my surprise, I saw a SAG Truck parked up ahead. When I got there, the friendly Davis Bike Club volunteer filled my bottles with Really Cold water, sprayed my helmet, face and legs with Really Cold Water, and advised me that I had “Only two miles!” until the Resurrection Checkpoint. And then I felt better! A mile on someone had chalked a Biblical quote, referencing The (other) Resurrection, on the shoulder for all cyclists to contemplate, but regrettably I don’t recall it now. I was rather cooked by this time! Much later, I was told it was 107 deg. F on the Resurrection Climb, a the time I went up.
Resurrection Checkpoint #6, at Mile 139.8
One mile further on, I arrived at the (much-anticipated) Resurrection Checkpoint, though I’m more inclined to call it the Resurrection Party! In addition to the couple dozen or so cyclists milling about, the Davis volunteers were doing a bang-up job of cooling off the riders. Lots of kids working this Checkpoint, happily spraying cold water on the riders (who quite happily received same), handing out cold Cokes and Mountain Dews, filling Camelbacks and bottles with ice and generally celebrating each rider’s arrival a the Summit (well, almost) of the Resurrection Climb. I traded in my dry Ice Sock for a brand new frozen one, thanking the Ice Sock volunteer profusely. Background music seemed to be mostly Eagles and John Mellencamp, but I was still in a bit of a mental blur, so there could have been others that failed to register. I relaxed in a Very Comfortable cloth chair in the shade of one of the canopies and discussed the upcoming “Road Work Ahead” signs we’d been seeing with another rider, wondering just how bad it would be. When I finally got my act together (feeling much better now, thank you), on the bike but not yet shoved off, a young lady (maybe 12 years old) offered to dump cold ice water (from a garden sprinkling can) on my helmeted head. “Sure,” I said, “Go for it!” And friends, she did. Within seconds my brain felt like it was in a deep freeze . . . and loving it.
Leaving Resurrection, Hitting Construction
I was mostly soaked when I left the Resurrection Party, but so refreshed and with vastly improved spirits. Evaporation is a wonderful cooling agent, so between my wet socks and the top of my freshly frozen brain, I was feeling all right. The Party, plus a fresh Ice Sock had put me in a very positive frame of mind, which lasted (with only occasional regression) the rest of the day. From the Summit there is a very fast descent, fortunately on very good pavement, which leads to another climb (3/4 of a mile) before a much longer descent to a right turn. Unfortunately, most of the way down that descent a Flag Lady had her “STOP” sign pointed in our direction and traffic was down to a single lane. When I arrived there were maybe twenty riders already gathered, but they all seemed to be okay with it, having a friendly discussion with the Flag Lady (who held a sign, not a flag, but whatever) about a variety of cycling subjects, about which she likely cared very little. The rest of us talked among ourselves until the line of cars in the opposite direct abruptly stopped, the Lady turned her Sign from Stop to “Slow,” and we were allowed to proceed once again. Still over on the “unfortunate” side of the ledger, we were forced to proceed on a dirt and gravel path for about 200 yards before returning to the reassuring stability of fairly decent pavement.
And Now, for the Fun Part!
Once past the construction we were on a truly wonderful descent, the downhill payback for the tough climbs we’d been doing all afternoon. Plus, this whole section is visually entertaining with steep, rough hewn rock walls on one side, and a picturesque bubbling stream on the other. I was riding with a young girl through here (probably late teens or early 20’s), and we talked about the scenery, wondered if the stream would be deep enough to kayak (we decided probably not), but mostly glided silently down the mountainside. Every thousand feet another elevation sign would greet us, rather amazing how quickly we could lose elevation after the many hours spent gaining it! And, while there is the occasional small climb through here, just to make sure your legs don’t go to sleep, the overall impression is a delightfully easy glide through breathtaking scenery, and some “free” miles as we head into the next stop at the Guinda Fire Station, in the very small town of (you guessed it!) Guinda.
Checkpoint #7 Guinda Fire Station, Mile 162.8
By the time we hit the Fire Station, the air temperature had begun to back down a bit (low 90’s by this time) and with the most difficult mileage behind us, the mood was relaxed and positive here. They still had the water misters going, plenty of ice for Camelbacks and water bottles, lots of Cokes and Mountain Dews to drink, but at least one step down from the intense heat earlier in the afternoon. This was the light-drop, so I found the bag with my name on it, and proceeded to mount my Princeton-Tech headlight and battery, all the while hoping I wouldn’t actually have to use them. Still, you never know what types of challenges may be waiting, so it’s good to be safe rather than sorry. I ate more real food here, with forty miles still to go it wouldn’t do to be undernourished. More of the same, but by this time I wasn’t hungry for variety, just more fuel for my body! It was here that I met Tom, the man from Sella An-Atomica, and had an interesting discussion about his saddles (I’d recently fitted one to my fixed gear bike), and his four years of intense study regarding how to make a better saddle. He was riding one of Craig Calfee’s bamboo frame bikes, but I didn’t think to ask him about that!
Checkpoint # 7, Back to Farnham Ranch at mile 181.1
I took off from Guinda alone, and rode the next miles with maybe one or two other riders in sight, past the Casino, up and down a few minor climbs and descents. At one point traffic was stopped by an Emergency Vehicle (looked like an ambulance), and I caught up to Tom’s group, as we rode the far right shoulder passing dozens of stopped cars and trucks. A right turn a few miles later put us on the road to Farnham Ranch, which attentive readers will note was also our first checkpoint this morning. Was that really this morning? Time plays tricks on me sometimes, as if so much seems to have happened; it just doesn’t seem possible that the first Farnham Checkpoint was earlier today. There was lots of energy apparent in the Checkpoint workers at Farnham, noticeably less in the riders! Over in the food section, they did have some very tasty new potatoes, which seemed to go well with lots of salt (to take the place of all the salt my body had deposited on my cycling shorts and jersey throughout the day) and yet another cold Mountain Dew.
Checkpoint #8 Plainfield Fire Station, Mile 196
By this time, I was ready for it to be over. Sure, it had been fun, but what (?) just 19 miles to the finish. What’s nineteen miles; nothing really? Still, I was tired, and it was still pretty hot, so maybe these miles wouldn’t be so easy. The scenery was the same as when we were on these roads this morning, i.e. nothing to entertain the eyes, just miles to cover, mostly straight roads with perpendicular intersections. Running on the caffeine from the Mountain Dew and the carbohydrates from the potatoes now, or at least that's the way it seemed. Just keeping the pedals spinning, yet I was kind of surprised how easy it still was, how 18 – 20 mph was still possible over these mostly flat miles. Eventually, and long past where I thought it should be, I rolled into the Plainfield Fire Station Checkpoint. I have been known to pass this stop by, but Jackie wanted me to phone her when I got here, so no worries. Plus, they have home-made grilled cheese sandwiches, which are really excellent, and home-made chili which I didn’t try even though I’d been told that it was excellent too. That done, I phoned Jackie, and got back on the bike for the last few miles into Davis. I caught up with a young woman, Joan (from Canada), and had a fine time talking with her as we rode the last section through the countryside, and finally into the town of Davis, CA, which we’d left so early this morning.
Jackie was waiting for me at the finish, and after introducing her to Joan, and Joan to Jackie, I went inside to let the Davis Club Volunteers know that I’d finished. The last bit of daylight hung in the sky, so I had made the finish without having to use my lights. At the finish sign-in location, the nice woman at the desk asked if she could have her sock back. “What?” I had no idea what she was talking about. Okay, my brain was really cooked, but still, I had no clue. Then Jackie said, “Around your neck.” And then the light came on. I still had the last Ice Sock I’d picked up (where was that?) caked and dried around my neck. I peeled it off and handed it to the nice lady, noting how wonderful the Ice Socks had been, and asking her to thank all the folks involved in making the Ice Socks available throughout the ride. She gave my an embroidered patch, “Davis Double Century. 2009” to add to my collection of embroidered ride patches that I have no idea what to do with . . . Still, I think someday in the distant future I may look at that patch and remember the day I cooked on the Davis Double. I might even smile before placing it back in the box with the other embroidered patches. So I guess they are good for something! I enjoyed the after-ride meal of veggie lasagna, salad and roll, then Jackie drove me back to the Motel for a very deep night’s sleep. Must not have been enough, though, since I slept most of the way back, making the passenger’s seat of Jackie’s Subaru a quite acceptable makeshift bed! So overall it was a fun yet challenging double and a wonderful introduction to the life-saving capabilities of the Ice Sock!
Rick / OCRR