Yesterday I cycled 207 miles, starting at 5am and ending at 11:30pm, climbing 20,656 vertical feet, over six substantial mountains and passes. This is my story.
The Months Leading to the Ride
In late January, Vitaly emailed the Mission Cycling list about a ride called the Devil Mountain Double (or DMD for short), a ride with over 200 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing. My original reply to the email was literally, “F that.” Not even an hour later my good friend and coworker, Jay, pulled my leg and got me to commit to the ride. Another friend, Keith, joined us, making for four riders in total representing Mission Cycling.
I more or less gave up my social life to train for this ride, trying to ride over 100 miles every Saturday leading up, with Sunday recovery rides and at least two days of riding during the week. I also totally flaked on my good friend, Eric, and a community he’s built around his website, OneUpMe.
Yesterday started with a 4am wakeup and a 5am departure from the San Ramon Marriott. A little over 200 people did the ride, most leaving at 5am, and some leaving at 6am. We rode in the dark for 10 miles, bringing us to the base of Mt. Diablo. From there we climbed 11.2 miles for a total of 3,283 vertical feet to summit Diablo in the nearly freezing temperatures and brutal wind. Jay and I descended quickly without regrouping with Vitaly and Keith at the summit rest stop, to avoid the brutal temperatures at the top. I didn’t even bother noticing the amazing view of San Francisco. As we were descending my hands and legs became completely numb. I was shivering uncontrollably. And I was worried I’d crash given my hands weren’t working well, I was shivering violently, and I was descending a technical, steep grade. The thought crossed my mind to throw in the towel and go home. However, eventually we made our way into the sun, warmed up, and kept going.
Jay and Vitaly are much stronger climbers than me, so on the Morgan Territory climb we separated and regrouped at the next rest stop. And Keith was somewhere behind us. I took off my bike lights and put them in a bag that the ride volunteers would take to a rest stop towards the end of the ride, when I’d need them in the dark of the evening. By that time Jay had already had a flat tire and realized he needed a new tire. Fortunately the rest stop had a new tire, so after a few minutes of changing we were off again heading east. We saw Keith as we were leaving. On our descent from Morgan Territory into the Central Valley, we saw fire trucks and ambulances tending to a fellow rider who had gone down because of a strong cross wind. He seemed OK, but seeing him amidst the flashing lights was humbling and kept me cautious on the descent.
The Central Valley, along highway 580, was windy and occasionally miserable. Sometimes we had tail winds, sometimes cross winds, and sometimes head winds. I stayed with Vitaly and Jay and struggled to keep up. I was worried I was putting too much effort in to stay with them, but I kept with it until Patterson Pass. Most people on the ride were worried that Patterson Pass–surrounded by wind turbines–would be awfully windy, but fortunately it wasn’t.
Jay and Vitaly were waiting for me at the next rest stop, so I ate quickly and we kept going. We started ascending Mines Road at mile 90ish, and this was the last time I would see Jay and Vitaly. For the next 30 or so miles I rode by myself, eventually getting to lunch, where I ate quickly and reapplied chamois cream. And at about this time my right knee started bothering me, I expect because I wasn’t wearing leg warmers and my knees were cold. After lunch I got back on the horse with two guys I met along the way, Jules and Doug. My front tire flatted shortly after lunch, but after a quick tube change I was off and back on the bike.
After some up and down Doug had ridden ahead and Jules and I started climbing Mt. Hamilton, a bear of a climb, with a gain of 1900 vertical feet over 4.4 miles. The climb was beautiful but also challenging. We started the climb at mile 130ish, and by this time I was tired, but I was also fired up. I knew that after we finished Hamilton all we’d need to do is ride north and we’d be home free. Physically I was pretty battered, but mentally I was fired up. With only a few more minutes in the climb my front tire flatted again. I discovered that I had missed a small splinter when I changed the tire after lunch. So after removing the splinter, borrowing a tube and pump from Jules, and changing the tube, I was off again.
As we started the descent my rear tire blew out–or, flatted very abruptly–after I rode over a big bump in the road. The tire had a small hole in the sidewall, which worried me but didn’t stop me. I forget exactly why, but I ended up needing to wait for the sag wagon–one of the vehicles driving around helping cyclists in need. I’m not sure if I needed a new tube or what, but after some waiting, a dollar bill in the hole, a new tube, and some air in the tube, I was back on the bike, descending Hamilton, overlooking the entire South Bay. The view was gorgeous. As I was descending I felt a small bump in my rear tire, which I was worried was due to the hole in the sidewall.
Eventually Jules and I made it to the rest stop at the bottom of Hamilton. After a quick stop I looked at my rear tire and noticed that the dollar bill wasn’t doing its job, and I’d need a new rear tire. Fortunately the rest stop had a spare tire, and the insanely helpful volunteers changed my rear tire for me. The first tube they used popped when they put the tire on, so they had to take the tire off completely, change the tube, and refill the tire. So what started as a quick stop become a long stop, with two tube changes and one tire change. Just as I was ready to depart by myself I saw Keith rolling into the stop. I waited a few minutes for Keith to rest and eat, and the two of us left together and would eventually finish together.
The research I had done on this ride beforehand lead me to believe that the next climb that awaited us, Sierra Road, was going to be the hardest. The climb started at mile 155, elevating 1759 vertical feet over a short 3.5 miles. This climb was brutally steep, and it never ended. I could barely turn my pedals over, however I resisted from zig-zagging across the road. I think Sierra Road was the hardest climb of the day, but at least at the rest stop at the top Keith and I could overlook the sun setting on the South Bay. The sight was beautiful, and after our accomplishment Keith and I felt as if we were on the home stretch, with only 40 miles to go (ugh).
The rest stop at the top of Sierra Road is called Pet-a-goat, because there’s a goat at the top that you’re supposed to pet. I pet the goat, ate and drank, and put my lights back on. The sun had set, and it was getting dark and cold. Just as we were leaving a woman, presumably with her husband, rolled in and had a mental breakdown. She started hitting herself in the face, screaming and cursing about having so much left at a late, dark, and cold 8pm. She was not happy, and her reaction troubled me. It made me realize that Keith and I were physically and mentally exhausted, facing 40 miles to go, with two more climbs in the cold and dark. We started on our way, and Keith would eventually see the woman and her presumed husband at the finish at 12:30am.
The rest of the ride was a mental battle against myself. We were almost entirely on small, single-lane, backcountry roads, with no civilization in sight. All we could see were silhouetted mountains that I was worried we’d need to climb and the lit road in front of us. Keith and I hardly talked with one and other, but we road two abreast, our lights leading the way through the night. Between the pet-a-goat stop and the finish, we’d do two more climbs, ride a little over 40 miles, and stop once for hot chocolate and more food.
Sierra road was definitely the hardest climb in my book, but this last 40-mile stretch was overall the hardest. Physically I was toasted, but by this point I could continue to turn the pedals so long as I continued to eat and drink. What was hardest was the mental acceptance of what was to come. Every climb, every turn, I wished the hotel would be around the corner. I wished I would at least see a human or a house or a restaurant, to remind myself of the reality that this is just a bike ride. I wanted a shower, a warm meal, a break. The last 10 miles were especially awful, because we weren’t sure exactly when we’d see the hotel, so every corner we’d turn we’d get our hopes up only to see another hill, or another corner. A few times Keith or I would spout a curse in frustration, but we kept each other going and sane.
By the time we knew we were within a mile of the hotel, we were doing well over 20mph, giving the last stretch everything we had left, which wasn’t much. My Garmin bike computer and headlight were almost out of batteries. I screamed in joy when we saw the hotel, relishing my accomplishment. I did it. I completed California’s hardest double century, one of the hardest organized rides in all of California, exactly 12 months after doing my first century (100-mile ride). I was physically and mentally toast, ready for a shower, ready for bed, ready to be off my bike. I had started at 5am in the dark and finished at 11:30pm in the dark. But I was ecstatic. I had prepared for this ride for months, and I had finished it. YES!
Eating and Drinking
For amusement’s sake, I thought I’d list an estimation of what I ate all of Saturday:
- 2 salt tablets
Rest stops in total
- ~5 salted and herbed potatoes
- ~6 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- ~6 bananas
- Some trail mix
- Some potato chips
- ~14 salt tablets
- ~10 ibuprofen
- Chicken teriyaki sandwich
- 6 Clif bars
- ~12 gels
- ~3 scoops of Accelerade
- 1 granola bar
- ~10 bottles of water (24oz each)
- 1 root beer
The Devil Mountain Double was my hardest day on the bike by far. I’m glad I did it, and I’m super proud of my accomplishment. But as I’m writing this I’m in pain, sore, and mentally and physically exhausted. And I don’t think I’ll ever do something like this again. Yesterday I was awake for 23 hours, physically sitting on the bike for 15 hours, and resting/changing tires/eating for 3.5 hours during the ride. Right now the accomplishment doesn’t justify the mental and physical torment I put up with for 18.5 hours. But then again, we’ll see how my attitude changes as I recover, and with better luck and fewer than four flat tires I could probably finish in much better time. For now, I’m super stoked, super proud to have ridden with Jay, Vitaly, and Keith, and super ready to sleep and eat more.
All of my friends and family have been insanely supportive throughout. You’ve been understanding when I didn’t stay out late or when I flaked on a commitment. You’ve been there to talk me through my worries and fears. And you’ve been so congratulatory. I thought of you endlessly on the ride, trying to find encouragement to turn the pedals. Thank you so much for everything. I couldn’t have done this ride without you.
The volunteers and organizers of the Devil Mountain Double did a fantastic job. I’ve never been a part of such a well organized, well supported ride. I can’t thank the volunteers enough for their kindness and willingness to help, no matter what. So to the DMD volunteers and organizers, thank you. You guys made the day as good as it could be. Seriously, volunteers would fill my bottles for me, change my tires, take my bike to the bike rack. You guys are so awesome.
Jay and Vitaly were waiting for me and Keith at the hotel, probably bored out of their minds being in the little conference room for several hours waiting. You guys are awesome for waiting for me, even though you totally didn’t need to. It was great riding with you both, even though it didn’t last very long. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to catch you guys :). But for now, thanks, and see you out there Tuesday, assuming I can sit on my bike by then.
Keith was my sanity for the last 40 miles. I think without Keith I would have struggled to keep going, to stay sane in the wilderness, with no signs of civilization around me. I know you didn’t need to say or do anything to keep me going, but your presence, relaxed manner, and company were stabilizing. I’m glad we found each other at that rest stop. Good luck with the rest of the California Triple Crown!
Update: read Vitaly’s report here.