This is one I've actually sworn off a long time ago. I don't know what possessed me when I suggested to Lisa that we do it again. I do remember it was a spontaneous decision, and apparently one that ignored the thorough displeasure I've had of riding through the Capay valley on the second half of this course.
It's a bit of a conundrum. Superbly supported event, close to home, high nostalgia value (Lisa and I met on this ride in 2003). But riding in that high-traffic, casino visitor populated stretch of Hwy 16 late in the day is a big time bummer and almost a death wish every single time.
I NEED NEW SUPERLATIVES AND EXPLETIVES FOR "HOT"
Lisa and I did finish the ride, and in doing so, earned our California Triple Crown status for this year (my sixth consecutive year, Lisa's fifth consecutive year). Talk about earning it the hard way: the ride was one through the furnace. A goddamn sauna. Easily the hottest in Davis DC history. Heat is my biggest nemesis on bike rides, no less, so I admit choosing to persist with this one really was an workout in rider toughness and smarts. We finished a good 3.5 hours later than our usual time on this course. And I calculated a consumption of 18 liters of water and energy drink throughout the day, which was still not enough for the conditions.
"Hot" doesn't even begin to describe the day. Bike computers were showing 118°F on the exposed parts of climb up Cobb Mountain (Hwy 175, Lake County), as well as on Resurrection (Hwy 20, Lake/Colusa Counties). Hours later, a household thermometer was showing 106°F in the shade at Guinda, which would NOT have been the hottest point on course. Eight o'clock struck as we were rolling the final miles on course, and it was still just under 100°F. Good fuckity fuck.
The difficulty of climbing Cobb Mountain was so amplified by the heat, I felt the need (and so did countless other riders we saw there, and more we spoke with afterwards) to stop a couple of times mid-climb. It's not something I like to do as it's usually tantamount to giving up and then dealing with a steeper uphill battle in the head for the rest of the day. In this case, however, it just seemed like the smart thing to do. To duck under some shade for a few minutes. To catch a breath again and let the weary leg muscles recover a bit for the rest of the slog. To take a dunking under a hose graciously offered by a local resident.
Any extended, windless exposure to the sun was mercilessly oppressive. The mid-afternoon stretch from Lower Lake, through Colusa County, were particularly crazy, when I felt waves of intense heat on my back and my ass like my skin was in the broiler. Yum, crispy pork butt.
WAIT, WAIT... WE PAID TO RIDE IN HELL?
Increasingly, with greater appreciation for and experience with the randonneur ethic, Lisa and I have become pretty good at self-sufficiency on our rides, so much so that we usually use very little of what's supplied in cycling events. In a sense, we pay the entry fees mostly as if they were insurance premiums that guarantee us a pick-up shuttle if we really get into trouble. But -- this time -- money really did pay our way for survival out there. There's just absolutely no way I think I would have been able to endure this ride, in these conditions, without the support that Davis Bike Club provided for us.
DBC did a spectacular job in improvising and supplementing existing support resources to accommodate heat related misery. Ice and liquids were available in abundance (perhaps with one exception: at Middletown, where they did run out of ice, to the riders' chagrin) in rest stops as well as improvised locations between rest stops. Volunteers made extra efforts to keep heat-worn riders comfortable with devices like a mister at the summit of Cobb Mountain, an inflatable kiddie pool with ice water at the lunch stop (great for dunking the feet), watering cans and faucets for taking numerous cooling baths, and stuffed socks drenched in ice water for draping around the neck. All highly effective and appreciated.
Roving SAG was visibly spread very thin. We rarely saw ride vehicles out there, and sensed (confirmed later by conversations with radio operators) that they were so busy picking people up off the course during the midday hours. Unfortunately for some exhausted riders, it meant having to wait several hours at rest stops before for a shuttle to the finish returned from its last round.
THERE WERE OTHER FOOLS
The attrition rate was really high this year. I suspect the number of people who didn't even start this year because of the forecasted heatwave was disproportionately high in itself. But the DNF rate on the ride was also high, with scores of riders calling it quits before even reaching the lunch stop shortly after the century mark. This was plainly visible at the lunch stop, where there were only a handful of riders splayed out on the lawn, whereas the usual assembly here makes it difficult to find any patch of grass to sit on, let alone find a spot to park your bike. You could almost hear crickets at that Lower Lake location this year.
Putting it in perspective, this ride felt far tougher than either Mt. Tam double century we've done (a ride that has almost double the amount of vertical gain), hotter than any of the times I've ridden in Death Valley (that includes 2 double centuries there... on a fixed gear bike). I feel a great sense of vindication in having pulled this one off, knowing that I am able to overcome extreme heat like I never have in the past. But I hardly want to ever do a furnace ride this long again.
Lisa and I were incredibly lucky to have Tim Houck for company nearly all day once again. He's been our eternally optimistic and cheerful companion on several rides in the past including editions of the Devil Mountain Double and the Knoxville Fall Classic Double, and his company really does sustain us like regular shots of Hammergel for the soul. This guy can clearly outride us -- a veteran of three 1200k randonees, three years in a row -- but somehow he chooses to hang out with us from time to time. For that, we're flattered, elated and just plain lucky.
We had also been seeing our fellow Oaktowner, LisaMc, again and again in the rest stops throughout the second half of the course. I understand her to be the sort of rider who usually enjoys the solitary riding experience, but this was a particularly rough day for her second solo bike double century attempt. So, at the second to the last rest stop some 20+ miles from the finish, I asked her if she wanted our company. Her answer: a smile and an emphatic "yes". And so it was: she, Tim, Lisa and I cruised the final miles together.
The "back to the barn" feeling was palpable with me this time. Mostly because I was feeling FAR more fresh at the finish this time than I ever have in the past on this ride. Maybe it was just the fact that the air temperature had finally sunk below 100°. But maybe I just plain rode smarter this year. I was feeling pretty darn good and didn't suffer from any soreness the days after. Cool... but quite strange.
TOOLS AND TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Knowing that the high heat on this ride was a forecasted certainty, both Lisa and I gave no second thoughts to using hydration packs. I rarely use them on long road rides, and would prefer not to, but there was simply no question about it: they were essential to survival that day, plain and simple. The added benefit I discovered from the Camelbak was the fact that liquids stayed cooler for a much longer time in the reservoir than the liquids in my bike-mounted water bottles did.
Tim was one of three riders who was sporting a long-sleeve jersey all day. Insanity, I thought, until it dawned on me they were all wearing that special Boure jersey with SPF-35 properties -- and they all looked mighty comfortable in them, even when the oven was turned to high. I'm intrigued enough to try it for myself.
By some form of miracle, I never had issues with muscle cramping all day. Not that it's an issue I battle frequently, but I thought the heat would surely have me suffer from them here and there. Apart from disciplined, frequent intake of water and Cytomax, I think higher-than-usual potassium intake was the key to my "comfort". I read up on potassium rich foods the day before, and discovered that figs and apricots kick banana butt in potassium content, so I brought some dried apricots along and did eat a scandalous amount of Fig Newtons during the ride. After some mild tummy ache in the morning I attributed to a banana, I didn't have any monkey food the rest of the day. So there... proof that you don't really need 'em when you don't want 'em.
Sodium? Naturally. I'm not a V-8 consuming kind of guy, and this occasion was no different, but I found plenty of other options to satisfy a high sodium intake. Plain salt on red potatoes, wheat thin crackers (ask Lisa how much I love this stuff on a long bike ride), pretzels.
Frequent dunks and splashes of water were definitely a key part in staying cool all day. Once or twice at every rest stop during the hot periods of the day, and frequently with one dedicated water bottle. The catch: it took no time flat for the water in said bottle to be as hot as a proper cup of tea, so splashing one's self with it seemed to be almost counterproductive... Unless... you strategically waited until such times as you were about to descend a hill, no matter how short or long. Then the wind (hot as it might have been) would actually complete the desired cooling effect. A ha!
Gosh I'm so stupid smart. (It was the heat, chump.)
BEFORE THE ROAST, IT ALL STARTED LIKE A DREAM
High heat really didn't factor into the ride, I'd say, until we reached the 70-mile point. Before that, we actually had a wonderfully pleasant morning, and the air temperature during climb up "Cardiac" on Hwy 128 was surprisingly mild. But the real treat we got was an absolutely massive swarm of butterflies in the air, along the south shore of Lake Berryessa. There were millions of them. Dozens landed on me at different times and took a brief, free ride during the climb. Descending through the swarm was spectacular -- almost like a snow storm. Quite special, as long as you kept your mouth shut and sunglasses on!