Lisa and I were among nine riders who started the Quackcyclists' Devil Mountain Double staff ride, two weeks ahead of the official DMD event. Seven riders including ourselves completed the odyssey in a mix of weather conditions that made things pretty challenging, as if the course alone didn't present enough of a test. Two riders opted to ride back to the finish upon reaching the Mines Road rest stop location, essentially completing the retired 200K course that was once called the Taste of the Devil.
This was Lisa's and my second DMD completion, and our second time on a Quackcyclists staff ride.
DEVIL MOUNTAIN DOUBLE: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Mount Diablo ⇒ Morgan Territory ⇒ Altamont Pass ⇒ Patterson Pass ⇒ Mines Road ⇒ Mount Hamilton ⇒ Sierra Road ⇒ Calaveras Road ⇒ Palomares Road ⇒ Crow/Norris Canyon
206 miles / 19,000' of cumulative elevation gain
Parcourse sadistically conceived by George Pinney, and first imposed upon mortals with 40 more miles than the present day course in 1996 on a weekend in August. In other words, the ride today ain't that bad.
Jesse Smith and George Pinney of the Quacks selflessly worked their tails off to support us, each on their own, from start to finish. George with the faster A group; Jesse with the B group that Lisa and I were a part of, along with Tim Houck and Scott Halversen. I wish I could print the mental picture for everybody: the ever-present Jesse in his winter parka, tirelessly hustling to make sure we had everything we needed throughout the day. I cannot overemphasize: Jesse's and George's dedication to supporting a ride like this the way they did is a huge deal that we couldn't possibly thank them enough for. And, in two weeks, they get to do it all over again for the official DMD event. All for love, baby.
FICKLE AS THE WEATHER
Lisa and I had been battling colds and pneumonia for weeks since the Solvang Double Century in March. Nevermind days flat on your ass in bed, we were more pissed about this predicament putting an inconvenient damper on our hill climbing preparation. The rest we needed also meant we weren't getting the kind of miles and saddle time to make us feel confident we were ready for DMD. So we planned to ride 200K instead, recognizing that the shorter course was a significant challenge in itself (10,000+' of climb). The day before the ride, we finally fessed up to each other that we really wanted to do the whole ride, and that we'd decide on it when we got to Mines Road. Finish it together one way or the other: that was the game plan. But I swear, Lisa and I are our own worst instigators -- and when you're heavily medicated on endorphins, anything goes.
A sprinkle of rain showers commenced almost as precisely as we completed our first pedal stroke, leaving the San Ramon Marriott hotel at 5AM. Much to our relief, the showers dissipated before we got to the base of Mt. Diablo. Without special event permission to have vehicles on the state park road during the early morning hours, we hopped the South Gate, rode up and back down to the North side without roving SAG or a summit rest stop. Jesse instead set up our first rest stop at a church parking lot about a half-mile past the North Gate entrance to the park.
Sunrise on the mountain was predictably beautiful: no burst of color as we had last year, but heavy clouds all around created a dramatic sky punctuated by sun rays punching holes through the rainmakers. Tim and I were greeted by an owl in flight. The summit was cold. Reportedly 38 degrees, foggy and breezy. This made the descent like riding into an icebox, and my neglect to carry glove liners or long fingered gloves taught me a frosty lesson that had my digits numb for most of the way down.
Rain resumed when we were halfway up Morgan Territory. About 10 minutes before we crested the climb, we encountered Jesse driving back down to let us know that conditions at the usual rest stop location were so inclement that he decided he would set up a rest stop in the Livermore plains instead (May School Rd). It worked out nicely, as this allowed us to get to a warmer spot more quickly, despite the blowing rain we experienced while descending the Plunge.
BLOW ME, WHY DON'TCHA?
We inaugurated a slight modification to the DMD route through Livermore on the way to Altamont Pass which eliminates travel along Vasco Road, and instead takes riders through residential avenues striped with bike lanes. A notable improvement to this part of the ride, I thought.
Friendlier weather returned as we set off through Livermore, and an under-appreciated tailwind pushed us briskly over Altamont Pass. While it was easy to enjoy the ability of cruising on a 52x12 gear combination (going slightly uphill, no less) and pretend I was a bona fide rouleur, I was more occupied with dread for what might come next. What goes with this territory is a simple equation:
Blessing on Altamont = Curse on Patterson
(and vice versa, most of the time)
All the energy farm windmills spinning faster than I can ever recall already confirmed the winds were high and would be in our face on Patterson Pass. Collectively, they hummed like a spacey chorus loudly enough that they rendered the few cars we encountered on the road nearly inaudible as they approached from a distance. The winds were pretty fierce, but not as bad as I expected since they weren't really present the whole way on Patterson. The worst of it just happened to be at the final summit, Lisa could have felt the worst gusts when it reduced her climbing speed to a blistering 4.6 mph.
The weather was at its best all day on Mines Road. Except for a rare headwind in several sections, we enjoyed mild temperatures and even periods of sunshine. Abundant rainfall this winter probably had a dampening (ha ha) effect on wildflower blooms throughout Mines Road and San Antonio Valley. Even so, there were many to adorn the landscape, and I think the whole area might be exploding in color by the time the official DMD event is held.
THE AMBASSADORS OF QUACK
I spent many miles on Mines Road riding alongside one of the O.G. Quacks, Scott Halversen. Because of his company and our tête-à-tête about his family, DMD history and the relative insanity of the rides we choose to do, I felt so lucky to enjoy this stretch of the ride so much by contrast to my period of solitary misery last year. What stuck with me for a while -- and will continue to -- is a revelation Scott shared with me that, in part, fuels his commitment to supporting rides like DMD. People demonstrate awesome athletic ability on the ride, but just as many who don't necessarily burn rubber on course, who need as much as 20 hours or more to finish constantly turn up. What other activities -- any -- are there that people want to do continuously for up to 20+ hours? Driving? Most would probably top it at 12 hours on any given day. Even a couch potato would get bored in less than half that time staring into the telly.
And what drives us to do shit like this? Lust and vanity? Or perhaps an eagerness to bear down on our own mortality and say, "I'm driving, mofo." Scott may not thought of it in such crude terms, but there he was holding sway on body and mind so well, even when family commitments have limited his ride preparation to indoor sessions on rollers, and never a road ride this year longer than 70 miles.
Nearly all day from the second rest stop in Livermore, our quartet remained together-ish, and we frequently rode in pairs, constantly shuffling positions. Not unlike a brevet team on a Fleche (which, coincidentally, was taking place on the same day, with various teams converging on Davis, CA). Tim Houck was our other day-long companion, with whom Lisa and I had the pleasure of riding nearly all of the Knoxville Double staff ride last October. He was a true gentleman then, and he was no less chivalrous on this occasion. Records show that he's consistently finished prior DMD staff rides -- on some occasions completely on his own -- much more quickly than Lisa and I did it last year. And, yet, he chose to slow down and keep us company. One might say it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. He enjoyed a more social DMD, and we were rewarded by his gentle, never-contrived moral support.
Tim was the de facto wildlife custodian of the day, too. Near the halfway point along Mines Road while riding with Lisa, he moved a large turtle crossing the road out of harm's way. And, later, while Lisa and I crawled up the backside of Mount Hamilton, he was off his bike on the roadside, keen to show us a red-bellied newt in his hand while we labored up the relentless mountainside at gosh-maybe 0.05 miles per hour. Perhaps he was relieved to know there was at least one survivor among innumerable unlucky ones we spotted along San Antonio Valley that were flattened to the pavement.
HAMILTON AND SIERRA: LEAVE YOUR EFFEN GOOD CHEER BEHIND
Jesse stood by about 1.5 miles from the summit of Mt. Hamilton and advised us to suit up in warmer clothes at that point. Cold, gusty drizzle and thick fog prevailed at the summit, and throughout the first, most technical section of the descent from the mountain. Surprisingly, the roads were fairly clear of slide debris, which made it all the better for Scott to maintain an urgent pace, manifesting an itch to get as far down the mountain as possible before nightfall. Keeping this objective in mind, we kept rolling, even when we saw Jesse stopped to check on us at Grant Park, and again at Crothers Road. Except for a brief regroup and snack at the Alum Rock junction, we basically skipped Rest Stop 5.
So we descended the last third of Mt. Hamilton in the dark. Can't say I've done that before. And inasmuch as I treasure every new experience on a bike, I was pretty demoralized by knowing I was well off my pace from last year, when I had already reached the Pet the Goat stop at the Sierra Road summit at the same hour. This, of course, was rather unnatural and harsh self-criticism as I completely forgot that I wasn't supposed to be doing the whole fucking ride today in the first place.
The climb up Sierra Road was a hateful ordeal. It was, too, last year, but at least I had 50 grams of wit left within, and hooting owls supplied a desperately needed mental diversion. This year: a calm breeze and a clear view of the glowing suburban vista -- but mute owls, lactic acid revenge, and a nearly empty tank. I was on the verge of a complete bonk and in a downright evil mood. Lisa had the misfortune but grace to put up with my crap when she suffered no less as the road went skyward. I'm not proud.
Recent storms took out a portion of Sierra Road, so that a 50-100 yard stretch was impassable to cars. Jesse then had to drive back down to Milpitas and swing around the other way up Calaveras Road, and we had to hop over two barricades (a most inconvenient extra series of movements when you're whole body's about to go into a crampshock). Rather than drive all the way back up Felter Road, Jesse believed it would be wiser to get to the top of the "Wall" on Calaveras and set up the stove and some food for us there instead. We had no Alto the Goat to pet, but we had hot soup by Coleman lantern in the cold night. And thank goodness for that.
It was the first reasonable dose of real food I had since my pack-lunch ham 'n cheese sandwich at the Junction Cafe. No wonder I felt like shit on Sierra. Even a half-boxful worth of Wheat Thins, a triple shot of Hammer Gel, an energy bar and my entire on-board supply of energy drink just didn't cut it for Hamilton and Sierra. I had fallen behind on my fueling schedule at the worst time of the ride, basically.
U CAN'T TOUCH THIS
The food and rest on Calaveras picked me up like a day off from work. I enjoyed the winding road along Calaveras Reservoir in the dark. I even hammered for a little while on the flats headed into Sunol. Psychologically, this is a great part of the ride, because you know the worst is well behind, nevermind the fact that the climbs up Palomares and Norris Canyon still lay in the way before the finish.
I had my fire and wits again, and for the first time since many hours ago, I was climbing with my 42t chainring again. The riverflow alongside Palomares was deafening and awesome in its invisible way. Norris Canyon, much to my surprise, had a modest rapid flowing along side it as well. Abundance of rushing water and numerous landslide sections on both these roads reminded us of the soggy winter that's soaked just about every long bike ride we've done this year to date. And with that, it started drizzling again when we crested Norris Canyon and graduated into rain when we finished up in San Ramon.
It was 3AM. We finished 2 hours later than last year, and spent more than twice the time off the bike, but couldn't deny this ride was far more enjoyable than our first DMD because of the staff ride ethic. Mostly, we were all happy to have finished the ride together. Safely. In our exhausted state, there were faint smiles, pats on the back, and humble expressions of gratitude to each other, but not a whole lot else before we each packed up, got the hell outta there and back home to pass out for real.