Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rez Dogs Roam West

by Dirk H.
Friday, September 30, 2011
Sanjay picks me up school at 3:15 and we head to the sun, the west, and ultimately, California for the 30th annual Save Mt. Diablo Challenge bicycle hill climb.  Sanjay just picked up a new Honda Fit sport that fits two road bikes inside nicely--he actually checked that before he purchased the new car--so all gear and bikes were loaded the night before.  Nothing to do but drive--all 500 miles to Bartstow, where we stayed the night.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011
We awoke in Barstow and kept west, arriving in San Bruno that early afternoon to stay with some friends of Sanjay’s.  That night we gorged at a Brazilian steakhouse (actual quote from our table:  “I am so full….but is that more filet mignon?  Yes please!”), and slept.

Sunday, October 2, 2011
Mount Diablo is one of two conspicuous mountains (the other is Mt. Tamalpais)  seen from the Bay area, depending on the fog.  Rising from essentially sea level to over 3400 feet, it is a natural testing ground for all cyclists.  And true to form, cyclists have been officially racing up it for the last 30 years as part of the Mt. Diablo Challenge.  Just over 11 and a ¼ miles, this climb gains over 3000 feet with an average of a 6% grade.  The worst insult?  The last 200 yards features a demonic kicker of 17% that takes you right to the finish and gasping for air.  In past years, the field was limited to 1000 cyclists.  On this day, just over 600 lined for the challenge in seven different waves depending on projected finishing times.  Since this is California, parking is sparse and cars were directed to park two miles from the start of the climb at a high school where cyclists were busy pedaling nowhere on various trainers when we arrived.  Sanjay had arranged to meet an old classmate named Jim.  Now Jim, like Sanjay, is a Mt. Diablo veteran having ridden this race in under an hour last year aboard his homemade handmade bicycle.  As I found later on in the day during a visit to his house, this bike is one of four that Jim has made including a tandem and cyclocross bike all in a space smaller than the USS Enterprise, otherwise known as the Van Drunen pickup truck, but just larger than a certain flea market camelback.  Impressive, to say the least.  Given that Jim had broken the hour mark, he registered in the first wave and had I, so we resolved to ride together.

Now, a few words about the Bay area cycling scene.  Given that there were over 600 folks there, there was a good deal of variety in the choice of steeds for this event.  Everything was there, from the $10,000 super bikes to handmade steel bikes like Jim’s ride, and even a Bakfiets box bike with the obligatory child inside! But there were a lot of nice race bikes present with people who took this very seriously--including a few incredibly thoughtful guys who decided to use their trainers at the starting line to mark their spot (Sanjay:  “aka stereotypical roadies”).  So, nice bikes, great enthusiasm, good gear, but could they ride?

The first wave was called to the line, the Star Bangled Banner sung, and last minute instructions declared.  The first mile of the course went through the private road of an exclusive neighborhood, but with incredibly poor road construction--the potholes there made the McGaffey highway look freshly paved.  I remember thinking as we rode, that the entire HDT Screamer was not as rough at any point as this stretch of private road.  It turns out the multi-millionaire residents don’t want to pay for a resurfacing.  It is good to know that Gallup is not alone with some of its issues.  Gallup, NM, sister city to Walnut Creek, CA?  

So, despite the road quality, the first mile is a windy, up and down stretch that reaches the Mt. Diablo park border (and smooth pavement) quite quickly.  From here, the road pitches up  for  two and half miles weaving through switchbacks flattening out for ¼ mile and pitching up again for the remainder of the ride.  Right from the start, groups formed depending on speed.  I had made a deliberate effort to gauge my ride throughout hoping to hit the 55 minute mark but knew that an early surge could be problematic.  As a result, I sat on and pulled only when bridging to another group of which there was always another until the last miles in which I climbed alone or at the head of my group.  What I noticed about California riders, is that they struggle to maintain climbing speed and effort.  In fact, at points several miles from the finish, cyclists were standing and sprinting up small rises and then inevitably succumbing to the lactic acid with a groan and a curse.  Also, various gearing was evident throughout the race.  Everything from a conventional 11/23 to compact chainrings to massive 28+ gears on the back.  As for me, my 11/26 cassette was very comfortable and allowed me the speed and flexibility to motor throughout the climb with no issues.  Also, our biggest advantage (besides being Rez Dogs) was coming from elevation.  No doubt about it.  Both Sanjay and I commented that we could simply breathe better throughout the race and were continually surprised at the level of heart rates we could sustain.  Huge efforts only created minimal lactic acid.  Perhaps the restaurant had served Spanish and not Brazilian beef the night before?   

The most sought after landmark on Mt. Diablo is the copper roofed observatory at the summit that is blessedly seen from a distance.  On race day, Mt. Diablo was enshrouded in fog and clouds which we passed through until the eight mile mark when a beautiful New Mexico day of blue sky and sun awaited us.  So with a few miles to go, and blue sky around after fog and mist, there it was, the green roofed beacon from the summit.  By this time, I bridged to another group including a grumpy roadie who was haranguing some volunteer about something as he rode by him at a switchback.  As I passed Grumpy, I asked when the kicker started.  He told me that he would let me know as he sat on my wheel.  When the kicker did start, he did “tell” me by jumping, but the 200 yards were about 150 too many for him.  I crossed the line under my goal.  A beautiful race on a beautiful day.

Sanjay's experience was more involved.  A few weeks ago, he ordered a new set of tires that he was assured by the manufacturer would fit his frame.      They fit, but the gap between tire and frame was so tight, it was negligible.  That said, he rode the CARE 66 ride without issue as well as all training for     the last moth and the tires performed flawlessly.  All good things must come to an end.  The aforementioned moon craters of the first mile took their    toll on the rear wheel alignment and Sanjay heard the telltale signs of tire rub.  He stopped not once, but twice to readjust and still finished with    haunting squeals.  That said, his time was where he hoped it would be considering the challenges of gradient and increased resistance.  A successful Mt.         Diablo Challenge for all!

        It is too early for the 2012 registration for the next Mt. Diablo Challenge, but never too early to begin thinking and talking about the next Rez Dog    migration to California.

No comments:

Post a Comment