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Ride Re-Report w/pics from June - Tour de Frog (CA)

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Ride Re-Report w/pics from June - Tour de Frog (CA)

Old 08-26-08, 05:07 PM
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Ride Re-Report w/pics from June - Tour de Frog (CA)

I originally posted this in the Long Distance forum. There was a request to post it here, too.

------



"You're from Los Angeles? And you're from Monterey? Thanks for coming!"

That was the response we received every time a volunteer from the Sacramento (CA) Wheelmen asked my friend Silas and I where we were from. Because there were so many volunteers and because they were so friendly, we were asked those questions several times during the course of the annual Sierra Century, also known as the Tour de Frog (for a reason elucidated below), held each year along the back roads of Calaveras County.

The ride began and ended in Murphys, a little California community tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and that's a long way from Los Angeles and Monterey. The town began life during the Gold Rush, 160 years ago; $20 million in gold was reputedly plucked from streams and from the earth. The two brothers, John and Daniel, who started "Murphy's Camp," made $2 million, earning far more money as merchants than they ever could have taken out of the ground in gold as miners. The landmark Murphys Hotel put up such U.S. luminaries as Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain, and the lovely First Congregational Church dates to 1897.



My trip began with a drive from Los Angeles the previous day to the town of Monterey, on the California coast, where I met Silas, my long-time friend and riding partner. Had we known what the price of gasoline was going to reach before we signed up for the Sierra Century, we might have stayed closer to our respective homes for the weekend, and avoided getting caught in the world-wide Oil Rush of 2008. At least, with me making the trek to Monterey to pick up Silas, we were carpooling.

We spent the night in the Gold Rush town of Angeles Camp, a few miles from Murphys. Having paid an amount for gasoline close in value to what the Murphy brothers made during the Gold Rush, we opted to spend the night on the ground, at the reasonably priced RV park, rather then in a comfortable motel bed. (We noticed several other vehicles had bikes on their roofs, so we weren't the only ones who were camping.)

We threw our sleeping bags down on a tarp, which is the way I like to camp. It makes it easy to look up and enjoy the night sky, to wonder about the meaning of life, about who we are and what motivates us, to contemplate the finite and the infinite, and to wonder if I remembered to pack my bike shoes.

The night was mild. I unzipped my sleeping bag and pulled it over me like a big quilt. Just then, a family pulled in to the campsite next to ours. They were kind enough to make us privy to their forty-five minute melodrama, in which they loudly attempted to erect their new tent. The dad, almost as mature as his oldest child, who was about 12, kept pleading for someone, anyone, to find the instructions. Exasperated with the lack of compliance by his brood, he finally threatened, "Do you three want to sleep out in the open tonight?"

"Yeah, let's sleep out, that would be fun!" one of the kids replied. "Yeah!" the other two urchins chimed in.

"Look, I mean it, someone better find those instructions," the dad countered. His kids clearly had his number. He had another recurrent plea. "Someone figure out which are the long poles and which are the short ones, and where we need to put them." I could have told him where to put at least one of those poles. However, his kids were present, and thus I refrained from making a perhaps indelicate suggestion. Peace and quiet was at last restored. With barely a glance upward, and the heavens shining brightly above me in the country-dark sky, I quickly fell asleep.


- The historic Murphys Hotel and the beautiful drive along Six Mile Road to the start of the ride

Reasonably rested, we rose before dawn, and drove up Highway 4 toward the start of the ride, at the Ironstone Winery in Murphys. Not having bothered to read the directions carefully, we followed a couple of cars with bikes on their roofs. Unfortunately, none of the occupants in the other cars had bothered to read the directions either, and we soon found ourselves in part of a small swarm of vehicles, with officers of the Highway Patrol and a volunteer from the Sacramento Wheelmen trying to direct us toward the auto entrance to the winery. It turned out the winery could only be reached by car via a road half the distance back to Angels Camp. Unfortunately, we didn't realize we could have parked in Murphys and biked five minutes to the start of the ride.

Once on the correct road, we drank in the scenery, which was illuminated by the rising sun. Oaks, pines, green grasses of summer turning gold, flat-bottomed pastures and meadows below the rolling hills that were laced here and there with vineyards. Finally - finally! - we were unloading our bikes, registering for the ride, grabbing some food and drink, and pushing off for the 50 mile option of the Sierra Century. (Perhaps we would have tried for the 100 mile ride, but the time spent following the other lost vehicles - which raised the local price of gas by four cents that day - put the longer distance, in our minds, out of reach. Or maybe the truth is that we hadn't trained to complete the 100 mile option.)






- The First Congregational Church in Murphys

But this was no ordinary 50 mile ride, because it involved an extraordinary amount of climbing some extremely steep hills. Over the course of the ride, we gained and lost about 5,400 feet of altitude, which would be a good amount of gain on a typical 100 mile ride. Several grades tilted above 15%. (The 100 mile ride included 12,000 feet of gain.) We were lulled into complacency by the first few miles, which took us through Murphys before we were hit with a stunningly long and steep climb that had me in my lowest gears. Suddenly, and with great clarity, I understood why my bike featured a triple chain set.

If the night before I had wondered about my place in the universe, now, on this first hill, I marveled about what I was made of - sinews and muscles and bone and desire - as I pushed myself and my bike toward a distant and unseen summit.


- There were several 15% grades

The amount of food was extraordinary, too. There was a Continental breakfast at the start of the ride, with good coffee, bagels and fruit; the strawberries were awesome. After the first 10 miles there was a rest stop with fruit and muffins and nuts and cookies and energy drinks. There was a full-on lunch stop ten miles farther. Then another snack break at about 35 miles, and at the end of the ride, which came early in the afternoon for Silas and me, there was a dinner. It seemed like a lot of food, but 50 miles burned up not a few calories.

Along the route, we pedaled past more vineyards - the promise of a bountiful harvest season made visible in the newly spouted greenery stretched across the trellises - we rode past farms and ranches and beneath tall pines and gnarled oaks, and we traversed some of the most remote back roads I've encountered, on bike or by car. With only about 1,500 riders allowed on the course, we often found ourselves alone, but we also made some new friends. We passed a few riders, and several passed us. On the climbs, we spun our pedals, engaging in a good-natured tussle with gravity.


- Gliding over miles of empty biways

We reveled in the joy that comes from gliding down long, long stretches of blacktop, a joy slightly tempered with the realization that we would soon have another summit to surmount. Of course, we enjoyed the climbing because it meant we were alive.

The roads were rough in some stretches. To me, the sometimes challenging condition of the roads made the day that much more enjoyable. And who among us could not find pleasure riding past places sporting names like French Gulch, Calvaveritas (Little Skulls) Road, Dogtown Road and Whiskey Slide Road? There was even, at the conclusion of a steep grade, an Armstrong Avenue, in the little community of Sheep Ranch.

The Sierra Century itself has a clever moniker emblazoned on its ride jersey: the "Tour de Frog." The name humorously honors both the concept of a grand bike ride and the traditional location of the tour, a location made famous by the Mark Twain story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." (The story can be read here: http://etext.virginia.edu/railton/pr...price/frog.htm)



Most of the last miles from the third rest stop to the finish took us up the long but gentle Murphys Grade, and then we were back in Murphys. Unlike the morning, the winery this time was easy to find. Even if we had "only" ridden 50 miles, Silas and I knew we had earned our finishers' pins and our dinners, which included a chicken pasta dish, salad, fruit, some enormous cookies and brownies, bottled water and a variety of soft drinks.

We spent a little while getting to know some of the other riders who sat around us at the dinner (even if it was only a little after 1 p.m.). We understood, if not the secrets of the universe, what we were made of. And then it was time to say goodbye to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and drop down to the flatlands. We returned to gas prices that were not nearly high enough to make us regret having joined the celebrated "Tour de Frog" of Calaveras County.


- Frog illustration (as well as the one of the frog at the top of the page) that accompanied the 19th century magazine version of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," by Mark Twain

The Route: Began with a ride through Muphys, and quickly reached the first major - and long - climb, added a few more steep ascents, and brought us to at a rest stop in the tiny community of Sheep Ranch. A steep descent with sharp turns and uneven pavement led to the community of Mountain Ranch and lunch. Rolling hills and more steep ascents and descents took us into Angels Camp for our final rest stop. The long, but not seriously steep Murphys Grade, returned us to the town of Murphys and the Ironstone Vineyards.

Link: http://www.sacwheelmen.org/

More Bike Reports with Photos:

To the Hollywood Sign! - http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...94#post6984994

Burlingame Criterium - http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...39#post6970739http://www.sacwheelmen.org/
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Old 08-26-08, 05:34 PM
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Nice report, thanks for posting it here too!
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Old 08-26-08, 05:36 PM
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Every time I see your name next to the words 'Ride Report' I get butterflies in my stomach. Great post, keep 'em coming.
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