Quackcyclist’s Devil Mountain Double Century,
April 26, 2014
If you’ve been cycling for several years, there are probably famous local organized rides that you’ve heard of but haven’t entered because you thought the requirements were too far above your abilities on a bike. That’s exactly how Devil Mountain was for me. Not that it’s a double-century. I’ve ridden lots of doubles so I felt good about 200 miles in a day. The amount of climbing was the scary part. Not climbing as a cycling activity; I’ve done lots of that too. I’d never done 20,000 feet of climbing in one day!
As if that weren’t enough scariness, three of the climbs were so famous that they were what the pros climbed in previous editions of the Tour of California. You may have heard of them; Mount Diablo (Devil Mountain), Mount Hamilton and Sierra road, in particular. It’s probably not terribly difficult to ride one of these in a day, or even two. But this course had all three plus: Morgan Territory, Patterson Pass, Mines Road, Palomares and Norris Canyon climbs. All of those, plus many other minor bumps in the roads added up to 20,000 feet of climbing in 206 miles. So yes, I was seriously intimidated. Plus, I’m 64 this year and not getting any younger, so that was working against me too. I’m for sure no Spring Chicken!
Looking on the bright side, however, this ride is one of two double centuries presented each year by the Quack Cyclists. Loyal readers will remember that I’ve ridden their other double, the Knoxville Fall Classic, ten times and enjoyed it immensely; all credit to the Quack Cyclists and their excellent volunteers. I proudly wear my Quack socks and Knoxville jersey on local rides too. I seriously trust the Quack’s ability to present and support a double. My confidence in Quack-ability was a huge incentive when sending in my entry for Devil Mountain.
Good Climbing, Bad Back
Also, over on the plus side of the ledger, I had gotten a lot of climbing in since we’ve had such a mild winter here (Southern California) and I felt my strength and form overall was fairly good. Back on the minus side, I’ve had a lot of back pain throughout the first part of the year and finished the first double of 2014 in February (Camino Real) with severe back pain. After that experience I went to a Physical Therapist who is also bike fitter and while he didn’t change my bike fit much, he did give me lots of excellent exercises to do to help my back. I skipped the Joshua Tree and Solvang doubles while I worked on my back, then rode the Hemet Double two weeks prior to Devil Mountain just to make sure my back was behaving; which thankfully, it was. Yet, Hemet had only 6,000 feet of climbing. How would my back handle 14,000 additional vertical feet?
Dinner pre-Ride.jpgDinner, left to right: Rick, John Clare, Victor Cooper, Curtis, Tricia, and Bill Becker.
Coaching by Victor
I car-pooled up to the start up in San Ramon, CA with Victor Cooper (Biker394 on bikeforums.net) who would be working the ride, about a seven hour drive. Since Victor has ridden Devin Mountain Double several times, he was able to detail the challenges of the various climbs, punctuated by amusing stories of his adventures on each. Which, again, was kind of scary, though of course Vic meant them to be entertaining and informative. Which they were, but scary too. At ride check-in they had a huge poster showing the elevation profile of the ride and I remember staring at it, seriously wondering just how far over my head (and beyond my abilities) I was going to be on this ride! After a fine dinner at a local Italian restaurant (with Curtis and his wife, Victor and a few other doubles riders) I went back to my room, showered, and tried to sleep.
Rick and Ron pre-Start Devinl Mountain.jpg Rick, Ron Ng and Curtis pre-start DMD 2014
No Sleep for me!
But it was useless. I was too wound up, too worried, too many thoughts running through my head. “Oh, this is great,” I thought. “Heading out to this huge challenge with no sleep. I’m doomed!” A photo taken at the start shows a very “serious looking” me. My wife was worried when she saw it on facebook later that morning. “You’re usually so happy before a double, but you looked terrible!” Fortunately I didn’t hear her comment until the morning after the ride. I’m sure it was true though. I felt terrible and no doubt looked it. What’s worse, it was really cold at the start. I thought I had dressed adequately, without over-dressing and I knew I’d warm up once we got going, so no worries. Okay, not true, lots of worries. But I’d paid my money; I’d driven all the way up to NorCal for this ride. I couldn’t not start. No matter how bad I felt, that was not an option. After a short ride intro from Scott Halverson (the head Quack for this ride) and spot-on 5:00AM we were off. My goal was to ride with Curtis and Ron but by a mile into the ride Ron had taken off at what I thought was a too fast pace, so I stuck with Curtis who was riding what I considered to be a prudent speed for this early in the ride.
The Climb up Diablo
All too soon, we were through the outskirts of San Ramon and right onto the Mount Diablo climb, the “Devil Mountain” from which this event derives its name. Okay, technically we were 8.7 miles into it when we started up Diablo, but overall, that was fine. I was warmed up by that time, it was beginning to look like daylight, and the pitch of the climb was very reasonable; probably 5 and 6%, which I’m pretty used to. My legs felt very good, not stressed at all, and I had put the lack of sleep out of my mind because really, there was nothing I could do about that at this point. Curtis and I were climbing at the same speed so that was easy and comfortable. Eventually we caught and passed Ron, and in my mind the world was good. Lovely scenery from the mountain road, by now warmed up enough to un-zip my jacket a bit and starting to feel a bit more confident overall.
Rick, Ped and Some Guy Climbing the Wall.jpg Rick (left), Peg (center) and Some Guy (right) Climbing The Wall at Diablo.
The Diablo Wall
Until we got to “The Wall,” that is. This is a narrow road just before the summit (one way) that’s very steep, I’m guessing 17-18% but maybe more. I shifted into my 34 x 32, stood up and slogged my way to the summit. On the way, I found myself riding behind a woman with bright red shoe covers. More about her later, but I was envious since I had left my shoe covers at home (stupid). Fortunately Vic loaned me some toe covers, so all was not lost. Victor was also working this checkpoint so he got some good photos of us climbing this really steep bit, as well as a shot of Curtis and myself at the Diablo Summit before heading down the other side.
Curtis and Rick getting ready to descent Mt. Diablo.jpgCurtis (left) and Rick getting ready to face the cold descent of Diablo.
The Frozen Descent
One thing to keep in mind on a ride with 20,000 feet of climbing: there will be 20,000 feet of descending too! At this early morning hour, with the temperature at the summit hovering around freezing, the descent was very cold indeed. Pretty views, yes, but a very cold descent. In fact I was shivering part of the way down the mountain. I was following Curtis since I didn’t know the road, following along hoping the little patches of sunlight would magically become larger . . . and warmer. Which didn’t happen, but somehow we survived. I’m sure Curtis was at least as frozen as I was! Fortunately this frigid descent was followed by some pretty mellow riding through local neighborhoods (no idea what town, Livermore maybe?) before beginning the next challenge, i.e. Morgan Territory Road at mile 42. Ron and I stopped to remove our jackets along here as the temperatures were becoming downright livable with lots of bright-warm sunshine.
Morgan Territiry Climb.jpg Morgan Territory Climb
Climb #2 – Morgan Territory
And, while I thought those developments were all rather wonderful, the climb up Morgan Territory Road was pretty wonderful in itself. Morgan Territory is a narrow road with (fortunately) almost no cars and lined with lovely trees which create a beautiful canopy of bright green leaves. Yes, it was a climb, and the 5-6% (mostly) bits were accented with occasional jumps up into the 9-10% range but not for long, so easily ride-able though in my lowest gears, for sure. I got a little bit ahead of Ron and Curtis through here, riding with a gentleman named Anson (everyone had their name on their number) who rode a classic steel bike but I don’t remember the make. Regardless and about ten miles after the start of this climb we arrived at Checkpoint #2 , mile 51.8, so we were about a quarter of the way through the ride (miles wise, anyway) already! This checkpoint was in some kind family’s front yard and featured all the usual checkpoint food, pills, powders and potions, fresh fruit, Oreos and Fig Newtons, peanut butter and jelly bagels, etc. All quite good and served by very friendly Quack volunteers, some of whom I recognized from previous Knoxville doubles. We were warned that a chilly descent followed, so on went the jacket, yet overall the curvy drop was not nearly the frozen suffer-fest we’d experienced earlier on the Diablo descent.
The Suffer-Fest on Patterson Pass
Several fairly easy roads and multiple turns followed, eventually leading up to the Altamont Pass Road, a climb past the infamous Altamont Speedway, then a short flat bit before heading up into what was, for me, the toughest climb of the first 100 miles. I should also point out that the wind had picked up quite a lot by this time, even giving us a nice tail-wind at one point. By the time we’d reached the base of Patterson Pass however, the wind was howling right into our collective face. From the base we could see that the wind-turbines at the summit were twirling at a good speed, i.e. very much not good for us. As if the wind weren’t enough, the road continued to get ever steeper, such that I was back into my lowest gear (36 x 32 remember) and barely, it seemed, crawling up the road. Ron was stopped at the bottom and when I asked if he was okay, “Yes, just resting” was his answer. Not a good sign, thought I . . .
Taking in the Views on DMD.jpgTaking in the scenery on the climbs and descents.
I kept at it, yet twice (at least) I was hit so hard by a gust that I was actually stopped dead, doing an unsteady track-stand, trying to keep the bike from toppling over! On one occasion, as I wagged the front wheel back and forth to stay up, the wind caught the wheel, turned me around and headed me back down the slope! That is absolutely the first and only time I’ve had that happen. Very unsettling, yes. Yet there was no choice other than to keep at it. The term “Grim Determination” seems appropriate here. The wind was brutal, the grade was unyielding, the summit was still way up there somewhere . . . quite discouraging, to be honest. At mile 79, probably 2/3rds of the way through this (almost) infinite purgatory, I came to mini-checkpoint (#2 .5?) and while it was a mini-checkpoint to be sure, nonetheless more than welcome!
Under the Turbine Fans
I gobbled down a few bites of food here, filled up both bottles, killed a can of no name soda (not much flavor either) and then, before I had time to think too much, right back at it (@ 3.5 mph!). I saw Curtis coming up the climb toward the checkpoint as I pulled out. No point in waiting, I remember thinking, no way could we have any useful draft in these conditions. Eventually the wind turbines became larger, the ones with bad bearings squeakier, the relentless turbine shadows a bit more foreboding. And then yes, there was a summit. The descent was into the wind, of course, but still very welcome and some degree of fun. There was an actual bike race going on in this area at the same time and while the racers rode past me like I was (pretty much) standing still, I was shocked (in a good way) that many of them called out “On your left!” before flashing past. I really didn’t expect that courtesy from racers!
What is a Flat Road?
The next miles greeted us with something heretofore unseen, i.e. flat roads! After going either severely up or dramatically down all morning, a flat road was an amazing wonder to behold, let alone ride upon. Big picture though, it was a good place to rest while still riding along. The racers parted company along here as well, turning right as we continued straight, then a 90 degree left for us and a tail-windy jaunt down to Checkpoint #3 , the beginning of Mines Road, at mile 90.9. I took the jacket off again since it was warming up (mid 50’s probably), used the porta potty, applied Bengay to my back, ate some real food while refilling my bottles with Café-Latte Perpetuem (Polar Bottle) and plain water (Camelback bottle). Café-Latte really is my favorite Perpetuem flavor, and while some rides don’t always have it, I could count on the Quacks to come through again. This was also a “Cut-Off” checkpoint, meaning riders had to be through here by 1:30PM or be turned back, i.e. DNF’d and sent on a shorter route back to the start. I noted that I had a good hour-plus cushion on the cut, so overall, big picture and trying to inject some confident well-being into my overall attitude . . . I was doing alright and hey, “no worries,” right?
Okay, not exactly, but looking back I had an easy time climbing Mt. Diablo and Morgan Territory, I had suffered my way up Patterson Pass and I was still going, ready to attack Mines Road. Which, at first, I didn’t have to do since we had a wonderful tail-wind on the first miles of Mines. On one hand, I was still feeling strong, actually passing other riders, no issues with my back (yet) and “no worries.” On the other hand, I was very conscious of what I call “resource management” otherwise known as not burning all my “matches” too soon. So I backed off a bit, reminding myself that I would need these resources on the brutal climbs yet to come. It was along here than I came upon the yet unknown (to me) woman with the bright red shoe covers again. Still quite ignorant of the important part she would later come to play in my life, I simply complimented her on her beautiful bright red shoe covers, to which she responded with an enthusiastic “Thank you!” before I simply passed her and rode on. Eventually I caught Jack, the Quack in charge of all the food purchasing that goes on before a Quack double. I’d worked for him gathering food for the Knoxville Double the three years previous, so we had some fine conversations on a variety of subjects as we rode along.
Find the cyclist in this photo.jpgCan you find the cyclist in this photo?
Meeting Peg Miller
Very positive (attitude wise), was I, riding up Mines road (which Victor had warned me about, “Seems to go on forever.”) but with the mostly tail-windy road along here I wasn’t minding it a bit. While still on the cool side (low 60’s), it was actually feeling like a nice day with the morning freeze forgotten and the evening freeze yet to come. Several miles on we came to the Lunch Stop, otherwise known as Checkpoint #4 , at mile 115. After checking in (we checked in at every checkpoint except the mini ones) I settled into a wonderful lunch with a barbeque chicken sandwich and some sweet potato fries. Very tasty and a very excellent lunch in my opinion! I also spoke to the woman in the Red Shoe Covers here, learned her name was Peg Miller, and had some conversation over lunch, though I have no memory of what about! Victor was here too, taking more photos, plus I met Steven Burns who saw me plug in my Garmin recharger and tried to warn me about using too many “data bits.” But I didn’t “get it” at the time. It “died” at mile 142, not from lack of battery power but because of it used up all the data bits that could be allocated to a single ride. Ah well, live and learn!
Riding with Peg Miller
I am a slow eater, so Peg was out of the Lunch Stop several minutes before me, and since I’d enjoyed her company for that short time I made a real effort to catch her up, noting, “Not easy to catch Peg on the descents but closing up nicely on the climbs!” When I did catch up it was immediately back to full-on non-stop conversation mode, which, after 120 miles or so was extremely welcome. We were on the prelude to the next climb by this time, ramping up for another “Big Name” climb, this one Mount Hamilton. It was middle to late afternoon along here, with the Hamilton climb rather easy near the base but becoming progressively steeper, hence more difficult, as we gained altitude. Peg had done this climb often (she used to live in San Ramon) so she was happy to give me a preview of what to expect. In this case, watch out for the final five miles! These last five before the summit were all marked with huge (5’ tall) numbers across the road so even I couldn’t miss them. In this very steep (9-10 %?) section, the temperatures were beginning to drop, both because we were gaining altitude and because it was later in the day. Still, I left the jacket off until I reached the Summit. I pulled over to wait for Peg, put on my jacket, glove liners and wool cap while I munched a Power Bar I’d picked up at some previous checkpoint.
Descending with Peg Miller
Contemplating my situation here, I ticked off another mental box with the Hamilton Climb behind me while at the same time seriously dreading the Sierra Road climb to come. I followed Peg on the descent since: A. She is a brilliant descender and B. she knew the road like the proverbial back of her hand. Overall it was a lovely descent, beautiful trees alongside a practically perfectly paved road as the sun began to set, and a really pretty setting too, viewed at speed of course. I stayed about ten feet behind Peg, i.e. far enough back not to be drafting but close enough to note how she threw her bike (a lovely Cinelli, by the way) into each of the many corners as I concentrated, following her every move, progressing down the mountain at a high rate of speed, passing a couple of other riders, in fact! From the end of Mines Road to the Hamilton Summit was 18 miles and from there another 17 miles to the next Checkpoint on Crothers Road.
Peg had been craving a milk shake and noted there was a Jack N the Box very near the course! That sounded good to me, though I would have gone for a cup of coffee myself. Peg wanted to skip the Crothers checkpoint since we had to climb about 500 feet off Mt. Hamilton road to get to the Checkpoint. I couldn’t do that, though, since I’d had my “good” NiteRider lights (7 hour run time on low) sent to the Crothers Checkpoint. So . . . the milkshake and coffee plan bit the metaphorical dust and we proceed up the three step-climbs to the Crothers Checkpoint (near dusk by this time) at mile 150.9. Again, some wonderful family had opened up their home to the Quacks for a deluxe location (a heated garage!) with a real bathroom (no porta-potty this time!). Peg and I feasted on a couple of bowls each of some wonderful home-made chicken soup and it helped that it was quite warm! This was also the last time I saw Curtis, as I recall he complained about being cold. My fear was that it was going to get a whole lot colder but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it, I was already wearing all the warm clothes that I’d brought along.
All that done and the lights installed on my bike, Peg and I took off for the next Real Challenge; this one known simply as Sierra Road. It really was a short trip with a few jogs through the local neighborhoods (5 miles) to the base of Sierra, noted on the route sheet as “Mega-Steep!” And friends, let me tell you, it was indeed Mega-Steep. Fortunately I’d done a lot of training on the Mt. Baldy Ski-Lift climb (extended 12% with ramps up to 20%) but I’d never trained by doing that climb with 150 miles on my legs. So yes, it was steep, it was very steep, and it was brutal. Plus, it was mostly dark, becoming totally dark as we climbed. I rode all of Sierra road in my 34-32; it never flattened out enough to encourage an up-shift! About 1/3rd of the way up, the Filipino club, Adobe Velo, had an excited (and noisy!) cheering section, so that was fun (and mercifully distracting for a minute or two). Other than that, it was just a slow slog. Sometimes standing (on the super-steep bits), sometimes sitting, but always at no more than 3 or 4 mph. I later found out that this is where Ron Ng abandoned. I can certainly understand why!
Waiting for Peg Miller
At long last and after an apparently endless purgatory I did actually reach the summit. It was a 3.5 mile climb that seemed to last forever. Okay, I was tired. And it was getting late. Not to mention, it was getting colder. The wind is supposed to die down at sunset but this wind hadn’t gotten the memo. Thankfully it was a tail wind while climbing Sierra, not that I was really able to notice . . . until I stopped. Someone had parked a Ford pickup at the summit so I hunkered down behind it, out of the cold wind, while I waited for Peg to summit. I used this time (maybe ten minutes) to eat a bag of Trail Mix while admiring the view of the city (San Jose?) lights many miles below. I tried (unsuccessfully) not to think about the 46 miles still to ride . . . or how late it was. On the other hand, I had ticked off the “Sierra Road” box and was looking forward to the next Checkpoint, with the fanciful name “Pet the Goat.”
Pet the Goat
Fortunately it was only two miles, mostly downhill to the “Goat” plus, far more fortunately, Peg had the wisdom and foresight to send more warm clothes out to “Pet the Goat” at mile 161.2. After Peg was appropriately suited up (San Francisco Randoneers wool jersey!), she very kindly loaned me her extra jacket (Rapha, no less) and extra knee warmers, which I put on over my full length leg warmers. What a difference! I went from being mostly cold to downright comfortable. A cup of hot chocolate and a warm Cup O’Noodles Soup later we were ready to depart the Goat. Actually, back in the day, there was a real goat who lived here, and the riders really could pet the Goat. Unfortunately, said Goat (Aldo?) has since passed away and been replaced by a stuffed Goat toy. Not the same, really, but I did find myself petting the toy goat as some kind of symbolic gesture. Or maybe I was just tired and being goofy, I don’t know . . . Regardless, we hit the road once again, descending Sierra Road at a reasonable speed, otherwise known as fast-as-we-trusted-our-lights. Fast enough, though, and I followed Peg down since she had this descent memorized as perfectly as our two previous co-descents. Before the absolute base of Sierra, however, we made a quick right turn onto Calaveras Road (mile 165) for a rolling climb/descend connection to our next serious climb, Palomares Road.
The Final Checkpoint!
I honestly don’t remember the descent off of Calaveras; my brain was getting a bit foggy by this time, but before long (I think . . . ) we rolled into the final Checkpoint, this one #6 at the Sunol Train Station and mile 181.2. Here we were greeted by Peg’s good friend and ultra-cycling mentor Kitty Goursolle, who is quite famous for being the first woman to compete in RAAM. And, while it was very good to see Kitty, I was equally impressed that the Quacks had provided hot Miso Soup for this final checkpoint! That really hit me as excellent idea and that Miso was perhaps the most sincerely enjoyed Miso of my life. I’m sure it warmed up my body a few degrees, at least for a couple of minutes. After a short porta-pot break we were back on the road. This bit, Niles Canyon Road, was advised (by Victor) as “very dangerous” due to lots of high speed traffic, not much shoulder, and a good bet that lots of these drivers were inebriated. Big picture, though, most of the drivers gave us plenty of extra room and we exited to the quiet of Palomares Road, beginning at Mile 185, without incident.
Riding While Conversing with Peg Miller
We were talking pretty much constantly through here though I honestly can’t remember what about. Not that it matters a lot since it was just so good, on a very basic level of retaining sanity (as well as sense of having fun out here!), to have someone to talk with who was both intelligent and possessing a wonderful sense of humor. I was very fortunate indeed to have Peg as a riding companion. Having said all that, and because I was climbing faster, I did leave her behind on the Palomares climb, only to wait for her at the top, which didn’t bother me a bit. I had tried to climb at her speed but that required more concentration than I could muster at this point. Hopefully she didn’t mind either. While I was waiting I looked at my watch: 1:30 AM. Yikes! Ah well . . . thankfully there were no time limits past lunch, so we had all night (pretty much) to get this thing done! Eventually Peg joined me where I was waiting at “the summit” only to inform me that, regrettably, this wasn’t really the summit after all. The real summit was another mile and half distant but at this point, it didn’t really matter. While on one hand, it was a real adventure to be out there in the absolute darkness on roads I’ve never seen, much less ridden, before . . . on the other hand, I was about ready, mentally at least, for this ride to be over.
Norris Canyon, the Last Climb!
But no; that wouldn’t be for quite a while yet. The descent off of Palomares ended at mile 195 where we made a few turns before starting what the route sheet promised was The Last Climb, i.e. Norris Canyon. Fortunately, Norris Canyon wasn’t steep. Unfortunately, it was rather long, or at least quite long enough for us at that point in the ride (really, only five miles). Also on the plus side, traffic was non-existent on Norris Canyon; at least there was none at 2:00 AM on what was now Sunday morning. Eventually, by and by and at long last, we rode over the freeway overpass and dropped down onto the road to the hotel, the very place this adventure had started so long ago. At least it seemed “long ago” to me at that point. At the hotel we got off our bikes and walked down the stairs to check-in (really, I kind of tripped/fell down the stairs, cursing SPD-SL cleats) to be greeted by a tireless Scott Halverson, the Quack in charge and a still cheery (somehow) Victor Cooper. So that was it; quite a relief to be finished. Victor took our photo. I bought a Devil Mountain jersey. I gave Peg back her clothes and a farewell hug, then, somehow, trudged up to my hotel room and a well-deserved hot shower. It didn’t take me long to get to sleep this time! Sunday I phoned my wife with the good news, then we drove home, with Vic doing most of the driving while I slept in the passenger seat.
Peg and Rick at the Finish.jpg Rick and Peg Miller at the Finish
I Couldn’t Have Done it Without YOU!
I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Victor, to the Quacks and especially to Peg Miller for making my finish of the Devil Mountain Double possible. For me, this was an example of going way beyond what I thought was possible, and making it happen regardless. It was kind of a confidence booster, but still . . . I don’t think I’ll ever want to do the Devil Mountain Double again. “One and Done” as they say . . . at least for now. This was Peg’s fourth Devil Mountain, so maybe some strange force will drive me back next year, but right now, I seriously doubt it!
Rick / OCRR
Photos by Victor Cooper - Biker395 (Click on photos to enlarge)
Added 5/15/2014: Results are published. My official time was 21:53, 124th Place out of 131 finishers, tied with Peg Miller.