Lisa and I were on hand to staff the ride last Saturday (RS6 Sunol, roving SAG and last shift at finish line + day after cleanup), on a freakishly hot Spring day that brought on a widespred sufferfest out there. One week earlier, we completed the staff ride in completely different ugly weather conditions. This was our third DMD completion in as many years. Alumni of numerous staff rides in recent years are beginning to wonder if the staff ride will be cursed by shitty weather forevermore.
DEVIL MOUNTAIN DOUBLE SUMMARY
Start/Finish: San Ramon, CA -- Marriott Hotel
Mount Diablo ⇒ Morgan Territory ⇒ Altamont Pass ⇒ Patterson Pass ⇒ Mines Road ⇒ Mount Hamilton ⇒ Sierra Road ⇒ Calaveras Road ⇒ Palomares Road ⇒ Crow/Norris Canyon
FAST FORWARD: SUPPORTING THE DEVIL MOUNTAIN DOUBLE
Lisa and I seem to be settling into a routine of staffing the Sunol rest stop (mile 180) on this event and really enjoy the responsibility of getting folks back on the road at this point. It's a bonus to see that many, too, show appreciation for every bit of extra service and encouragement that they get here. We supported this station last year as well, after a day-long endeavor of moving 2 homes to one, and a garage sale in the morning to boot. But I realize now I never mentioned anything about the support role.
A sudden blast of heat from a passing warm front in the area had a lot of even the fastest DMD veterans melting on course. Unofficially, there were 120 finishers out of 176 starters: a record high DNF rate on the DMD. Mines Road was definitely the biggest trouble spot, where the highest number of people called it quits anywhere between Mines/Del Valle, and the Junction. This put enough extra strain on roving SAG resources that we had to delegate 2 extra SAG vehicles plus myself between mile 160 (Sierra Road) and mile 190 (Crow Canyon) to fill the void in the early evening hours.
Our duties began at around 3:30 PM with supply delivery and station setup. I kept a 6-hour music playlist jamming over small studio speakers hooked up to a portable power pack. With a workstand and full toolbox on hand, I also wrenched 3 bikes at the rest stop between my roving SAG runs and routine rest stop operations. Mechanical issues included a bent front derailleur, a badly cut rear tire, a loose wheel hub, and a stuck shifter and snagged cable.
During my course patrol runs, I discovered what a problem Castro Valley Blvd was after the Palomares descent. Days before the ride, they apparently tore up the road for repaving, so there was a 3-inch drop on one side, lunar surface in the middle, then another 3 inch lip to get back on in order to ride on the shoulder. This was not the case on the staff ride, and I think negotiating that junk in the rain would have been a nasty affair. I assisted 3 riders who crashed here on separate occasions, and communicated back to RS6 so that we briefed nearly every rider about that spot prior to their departure. Despite this, still others (including the very last rider on course) hit the deck there too, but managed to brush off their scrapes and finish the ride.
I hear that Alto, the famed goat at the Sierra Rd rest stop, stuck it out until the very last rider was through this year. And he's always a hit with the riders, except maybe for the handful of guys who are too damn absorbed in trying to be the first to the finish.
The final rider arrived back at the San Ramon Marriott at around 3:20AM, not far behind another group of 5 riders that included a tandem. And ride headquaters were finally shut down a little before 4AM. Lisa and I got some 4 hours of sleep, then worked a solid 7 hours the next day sorting, packing up and hauling the ride supplies for transport back to storage. I think I was as exhausted after support duty as I was after the staff ride. I can't even imagine how Jesse Smith and Scott Halversen were feeling, whose term of duty was easily 20 hours on top of ours, plus the planning beforehand. They deserve all the praise they can get for pulling this event off the way they do again and again.
THE STAFF RIDE: A TALE OF TWO SEASONS IN ONE DAY
One week before the official DMD event, Lisa and I were among 6 finishers (out of 10 starters) of the staff ride. Other finishers on the staff ride this year included Scott Halversen, Tim Houck, Joe Zimmerman and Dave Clemes. John A. Long completed the 200K course that used to be Taste of the Devil route. Basically, our finishing group was identical to last year's, plus two. And what a remarkably fun group it was with whom to share the day's trials.
Jesse Smith marvelously (as usual) ran SAG duty from beginning to end for us, then joined by Mike Connolly starting at around Patterson Pass. BRAVO (times one-hundred) to both of them who pulled off the lonely task of keeping us tired soggy riders all well, nurtured, looked-after, protected, and well... loved. On a day when a double-feature at the local cinema would have been a much more appealing prospect for most, no less.
The weather highlight that day was cold, nasty RAIN (and some sleet), which arrived when we were halfway up the backside of Mt. Hamilton, and didn't relent until the finish. This meant a good 7 hours of soaking for us, with brakes working only 50% as well as they should (a not-so-nice thrill when you have to descend things like Mt. Hammy, for sure).
These conditions were solely to blame for 3 of those who decided to call it a day at different times before the finish... and, really, could their decisions have been all the wiser? I mean even guys like Tim Houck, usually unflappable (borrowing description from Jesse, and I know what he means), displayed moments of bother and misery. Lisa and I were fully resolved to keep at it. We were shivering uncontrollably, but dammit we believed we were having a blast.
In happier weather conditions earlier in the day, our course merged onto part of the Wente road race course. I so happened to be wearing my Health Net-Maxxis pro team jersey that day, so I got a lot of strange looks. Unaware that the race was scheduled that day, let alone the fact that Roman Kilun (a Health Net rider) won the Pro/1/2 race earlier that day, I felt a bit like an imposter. But then a six pack of guys (I'm guessing they were M35+ B-field) came along and gave me some check-this-out somethin' somethin', so I hit them back on the hill on Cross Rd. just for the hell of it. Like I had to represent or something. Heck, I was already warmed up with 8K feet of climb and 90 miles.
We finished the ride at around 2 AM, and took 1.5 times as long to ride the last 80 miles as it did to ride the first 120. The rain and cold, well, kind'a sucked. We even took refuge in a 7-Eleven store for almost 45 minutes at some point just to get warm again. Nevermind dry -- any effort to achieve that would have been completely pointless. I couldn't feel my fingers for hours. Hawaiian music in my head was the best measure of mind-over-matter power to keep me believing that I was still having a good time. But as the finish drew closer and closer, I really did get a full charge of cheer back on board.
SIERRA GETS NIXED
During our reprieve in the Milpitas 7-Eleven store, we had a mini-conference of riders deciding to carry on, riders deciding to call it quits, ride/SAG director Jesse, and -- for witnesses -- regular 7-Eleven employees and customers wondering just what the fuck we were doing out on that miserable night. The critical decision brought to the Slim Jim counter: skipping the Sierra Road climb due to worsening weather conditions outside.
I think several of us were actually looking forward to this beast of a climb as it guaranteed us some warmth in the rain. Lisa and I had just done a training ride on Sierra Road 2 weeks earlier with Mines Road and the back side of Mt. Hamilton on the same ride, so I knew we were ready for it. I think others related to the mild yet abnormal disappointment in leaving this climb out, but there was a gale blowing outside, for sure, and we had to trust Jesse's judgement. He was the one still thinking straight at that point, after all.
I learned (and appreciated) later that this call was made less out of concern about the ascent, than the inclement conditions we would face at the exposed summit and what would have been a precarious descent on Felter Road on the way to Calaveras. No votes were taken, but we all heeded Jesse's advice as we proceeded back over the ridge via Calaveras Rd instead, a climb no less -- but no Sierra Road. Surprisingly, though, all we 'lost' was 600 feet of climb and 4 miles total distance.
Upon reaching the re-joining part of the actual course, at the junction of Felter and Calaveras, we understood full well why Jesse's was a smart idea. Conditions were absolutely nasty, with strong wind gusts on top of cascading water on the steep counter-banked roadside.
KEEPING IT TOGETHER
I believe this group of staff riders has been one of the best matched in a few years, with the time/distance between front and rear of the pack never exceeding a half hour at any given point. I'm sure Jesse relished this. I think Peter Meyer was easily the strongest and leanest of the starting bunch, but his complete lack of body fat just didn't do him any favors in the cold rain. He called it a day on Mt. Hamilton, along with Colin Kelly, who was doing pretty damn well in spite of having just completed the uber-challenging Mulholland Double Century just one week earlier... loco. But he declared the cold, wet descent off Hamilton was probably the worst experience he'd ever had on a bike. No, I think he didn't use the word 'probably'. Yet, he remained in pretty good spirits as opted to call it a day when we got into Milpitas. Chapeau.
Another casualty of the cold weather was Doug Goodwin. The man lives in the Nevada desert, just outside Death Valley. Of course he's gonna curse the day. He finished his staff ride experience smugly displaying a smile, with two hands wrapped around a hot beverage. Attaboy.
Tim Houck, the ever so optimistic randonneur capable of every cycling exploit in the universe, I think, earned even more of my admiration for sticking this out despite two straight prior weekends of really grueling riding: a rain soaked 400K brevet two weeks before, then a 360K Fleche the weekend before. Add to that another soggy experience on the San Francisco 300K brevet in February, he's really proven himself to be quite the flahute.
I think Joe Z. took the survivor prize of the day. Many times, between Milpitas and even Castro Valley, he thought of quitting (nausea the main culprit). Imagine wanting to quit with just 8 miles and one piddly hill left to go after all we'd gone through?? All of us left on the ride were as honest and encouraging as we could be, recognizing it would be important to really let him bag it if he was really incapable of finishing safely. But it looked like he was fit to finish -- and that he did.
All in all, the day was a fine wildlife sighting excursion. Rabbits, hawks, vultures picking on really fresh meat (thankfully, not ours), peacocks, roadrunner (yes! on Mines Rd), boar, many deer (one lept off a berm to cross the road RIGHT in front of me as I was descending -- its hooves upon the asphalt sounded like a wooden clog), newts, lizards, quails, wild turkey, owls, and dozens of other birds and fowl I've never seen before. I mean: it was like your average Animal Planet expedition out there... helped me forget the madness I was partaking in anyway.
Then the rain came.
But NO flats on the course! Of course, for fear of jinxing ourselves, NOBODY said a word about this, even if every one of us observed it silently when we were still on course.
When we drove back to Oakland post-ride, rain was still coming down in buckets. I really don't know where Lisa and I found the energy, but we got sprung into a domestic routine when we got home. We dried off and cleaned the bikes (you wouldn't believe how much water came out of my frame's drain holes), cooked up some dinner and did a load of laundry since our riding gear was downright skank and gross. We hit the sack past 5AM... then our internal clocks and appetite were really abnormal for the next 3 days.
Despite the nasty hypothermic conditions in the last part of the ride (and mighty kudos to the folks who did the 600k brevet that same day), I have to say that this was my most enjoyable DMD. I seemed to have a lot in the tank to enjoy a few surges and sprints, late in the ride to boot, and even a full-on 5-mile chase to catch up to some guy I recently met riding through Livermore. To sum up my sentiments upon dismounting my bike at the finish of this ride for the past 3 years:
2005: [Silence. Hasty approach to lasagna casseroles.]
2006 (staff ride, rain): "I'm never gonna do this again."
2007 (staff ride, sheets of rain): "Yyeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!"
Hmmm, patterns of improvement. I owe a huge part of that upbeat finish to the the fantastic company we kept all day. And for that reason alone, I'm actually looking forward to this again (definitely a first)... if I don't actually talk Jesse to riding the ride next year (in which case I'll take his SAG seat in exchange).
Of course, one can never, never, never... NEVER assume all things will go well for you, even if you're in reasonable physical and mental shape to do these sorts of things. Bad days can always happen, and I've had my share of them, but I'll gladly take more of these.