Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century (Staff Ride)
As a perk for volunteering on the Quackcyclists' Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century last September 17, Lisa and I were entitled to riding the same ride two weeks later, fully supported, free of registration charge. There were about 30 other event volunteers who were eligible to participate in this, but only nine showed up the first morning of October to do the staff ride. Officially, eight riders started. And eight finished. One rider wisely decided to can it early, not taking any chances with a mechanical issue he was having with his seatpost. Lisa and I were among the finishers, and thus completed our seventh double century for 2005. Mark Deger, Doug Goodwin, Barb Hailey, Tim Houk, Ish Makk and John Zarrella comprised the rest of the gang.

For most of the day, Jesse Smith of the Quackcyclists provided SAG support single-handedly -- from the start up to RS4 in Detert Reservoir outside Guenoc Winery. This is an enormous and exhausting undertaking, especially since riders were spread apart by nearly 3 hours on course by lunchtime. We salute Jesse for the spirited and dedicated support he gave us.

John Carr of the Diablo cyclists came to assist by late afternoon. Then Scott Halversen, relieved from other commitments, took the baton from Jesse and supported the final group from Lake Hennessey to the finish. We did not have the customary hotdogs and soup at Lake Hennessey, nor did we have the customary chili at the Pardhesa store, but we couldn't ask for more than we got.

The ride begins and ends in Peña Adobe Park in Vacaville, travels to Napa Valley via Mt. George, then back East via Howell Mountain and Pope Canyon to Lake Berryessa. Then, a long haul on the Knoxville-Berryessa road (the namesake of the ride) is the first true test of fitness and wit as this 25 mile stretch features some challenging climbs in very very remote (and often HOT) areas. The course then enters Lake County, in Lower Lake (the lunch spot), then heads back South through Middletown and Pope Valley via Big Canyon and Butts Canyon in the reverse direction of the Davis Double Century. A short loop on Lower Chiles Valley Rd to Lake Hennessey eventually plops you onto Hwy 128 back to Cardiac Hill (again, reverse direction of Davis Double) and Monticello Dam, until you reach Lake Solano. From here on, it's a 12-mile ride on Pleasants Valley Rd back to the finish in Vacaville.

It is a beautiful course on some very remote roads that are a treat to have so close to home. Too bad Knoxville Rd usually isn't rideable during the winter months due to many sections that get submerged by river crossings.

On staff ride day, strong gusty winds prevailed from start to finish. 75% of the time, they were in-yo-face headwinds -- including on Knoxville Berryessa Rd itself. Highly unusual, I'm told, for the area. The fact that leaves and branches were flying all about from wind gusts at 4:30 AM was pretty telling -- it would be a tough day.

Despite the inconvenient winds, the weather was superb for a day of riding in the area. While staffing the ride 2 weekends ago, I didn't imagine the weather could ever be better for this double century. During the staff ride, it was. Temps never once rose above 80F. And while rain clouds loomed overhead as we travelled through Big Canyon and Middletown (unforecasted), the rain never materialized.

Lisa, Tim Houck and I rode Audax-style nearly all the way from Mt. George to the finish (a fitting trio as Lisa and I shared duties with Tim at RS4 during the event after finishing up with RS2). Being able to ride this much with Tim was not just a blessing, but a wonderful way to spend the day. Tim's a veritable gentleman, who despite amazing experience and strength as a distance rider, insisted on riding with us for mutual company. We were very thankful for this.

We were treated to magnificent views all day, as well as a richly varied wildlife sightings. While descending from Howell Mountain, I nearly ran into a mean, mean dog attacking the cars travelling in BOTH directions of the roadway. Jesse Smith reported that the same dog had actually tried to attack the tires on his truck as he drove by earlier.

Other notable wildlife encounters were tarantulae (on Knoxville), young deer, great blue heron, hunting red tail hawk, and lots of turkey vultures (it's high migration period for them in this area). For scenery candy, my favorite had to be the most spectacular sunset sky we witnessed while climbing Hwy 128, with shades of every color of the rainbow present in layers of clouds and light against the silhouette of the hills. A rare and magical moment that lasted maybe all of 3 minutes.

It's amazing to see that surface conditions on and off the course changed dramatically in a mere 2 weeks. A recent brush fire claimed a large part of the dry hillsides along the northern shore of Lake Berryessa. It appeared to be very recently controlled as I noticed a few areas still smoldering. In the other side of the county, chip sealing had begun on Butts Canyon Rd, so there was loose gravel all over for nearly 5 miles from Middletown to Pope Valley. Pleasants Valley Rd from Winters to Vacaville, on the other hand, got a fresh rubdown of silky smooth asphalt -- a great treat for the finishing miles.

For bizarre value, the most memorable moment of the day happened on Knoxville Rd, about 1 mile past the location of the water mini rest stop. A large yellow Ford pickup truck travelling in the opposite direction, clearly speeding, overcooked a left-hand bend on the road. Even as he rode over the yellow center line and half of our lane as we crossed paths, the sound of his engine suggested the driver did not let off the throttle at all. The truck's large offroad tires began to screech, at which point I imagine the driver also panicked and slammed the brakes (bad). Loud skidding ensued, and as I glanced backwards a split second later, I saw plumes of white smoke and the truck travelling sideways (very bad). Lisa and Tim, 200 meters up the road at that point, heard me yell WHOA!!! and turned around as I did.

Luckily the truck ended up on a left-side embankment and upright, and not off the edge of the road into the valley on the right. The truck was hopelessly stuck in a ditch, rear tire rolled off the rim, stuff from the cargo bed all over the place -- including a 250cc motocross dirt bike that flew off and 25 feet away in the same ditch. The driver, a young big guy of about 280 lbs, was out of the truck (which judging by model year I doubt even had shoulder safety belts). I called out to check if he was OK and he was pacing back and forth with a cell phone at this point, almost refusing to acknowledge my presence (for sheer embarrassment or perhaps even anti-cyclist principle). "That was fuckin' stupid," he muttered, without once making eye contact with me. I asked if he had hit his head or body against anything in the crash -- he refused to answer.

"Bro, you GOTTA slow down around here," I implored "and yeah I know that's a really obvious thing to say at this point. But please." Since he appeared to be fine, bodily speaking, we took off and told him we'd alert someone for him when we got to Lower Lake, which was still about an hour away for us. He gave in and expressed some gratitude. His cell phone was no use where he was, and so was his motorcycle (presumably), which he otherwise would have been able to ride back down to town himself.

As we departed that scene, the three of us speculated that had we been behind our location by about 15 seconds, it's likely we would have been in the truck's skidding path. That would have meant the truck wiping all three of us out, head-on, with no effective path of escape. For that reason alone, we're extremely fortunate to have gotten back to Peña Adobe safely and able to recall another fantastic day on the bike.

Again, many MANY thanks to the Quackcyclists. Bravo!

Distance: 200 miles | Elevation gain: 11,280' | Ride time: 14h45m
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