Oh brother. Here we go again. The Quackcyclist staff ride curse is in full effect again, maybe?
Lisa and I were geared up to ride the customary staff ride of the Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century (her sixth, my fifth) held one week before the event itself. The weather on course in Yolo, Napa and Lake Counties for weeks before the our ride date were classic inland California summer. Dry. Hot. I don't think the area saw a single drop of rain since April and, yet, when we awoke at the ungodly hour of 2AM to get ready and head to the ride start in Vacaville, our senses weren't fooling us.
Fucking thunder, lightning and rain.
Upon arriving at Peña Adobe park to see 23 other fellow riders gearing up at the start. The rain lightened to intermittent showers, but the wind picked up a bit, and the lightning show intensified. Worse, the flashes were no longer the kind that lit up the sky above the clouds. They were now these distinguishable bolts that were closing circuit on the ground somewhere ... in precisely the location that we were headed in the first 40 miles of the route.
METEOROLOGICAL DISCO LIGHTS AND SENSELESS JABBER
Lisa and I pedaled the early miles with a handful of familiar faces, recurring characters in the cast of Quackcyclist staff events. Doug G., Dan H., Dave C., John Z. sparked up a lively discussion about the possibilities or level of risk we faced of being struck by lightning in these conditions. Some dismissed the chances, said we weren't the tallest things present. That was all good and fine, until we actually entered the valley area in Napa where we very well stuck out in open meadow-like settings. And some of us were on steel bikes, I might add.
Somebody else dwelled on the thought that the rubber on our bike tires would save us due to their non-conducting properties. Umm ... how exactly? Dave then chimed in and told a story about a fella he knew who was doing work on a missle silo ladder during a lightning storm (bright bulb, that fella) and was indirectly struck by a lightning bolt. He concluded the story with something about the guy possibly having cardiac arrest while he was on the ladder, but, as a result of the electrocution, might have actually been saved by the shock. Of course the poor sucker was flicked off the ladder and made impact with the hard ground several stories below, but what does that matter, right? He probably knocked himself out again; broke some bones. I dunnno, maybe his neck, his back, a toe ... Silly details considering his ticker was at least wound and tickin' again.
On that bewildering note, I think we quit talking about the lightning. But I carried on with the obsession silently by stopping to confess my fright on Twitter while I was waiting for Lisa and some others in the group upon reaching the valley floor.
THE FALL AND RISE OF THE STORYTELLING GENTLEMAN
Across the valley twice through Yountville, then back on Silverado Trail on to Howell Mountain Road, we were joined by Tim H., one of our favorite ride companions - somebody who's ushered us with good cheer for a whole day at our pace (when his could clearly be hours faster). What a blessing. Tim tells a lot of amusing stories when we're on the road, and is always generous with compliments. That does great wonders to keep your spirits high (or at least above ground) when you're suffering.
As we approached the summit of Howell Mountain, I reminded Tim and Lisa that if the road on the twisty descent to Pope Valley was wet, three extra dashes of caution and really conservative riding would be called for. I've known several riders who have gone down on this particularly technical descent. I had a mental flashback of how I nearly binned it myself here during this ride in 2007 when the road happened to be a wet skate pad, and as we approached the first of several very tight, plunging switchbacks, I called back to Tim: "Eeeeaaaasssssy!"
Then ... SLAM .. scrrrraape. Man down. Tim.
He picked himself up quickly, looked a bit shaken up that he seemed rather awkward while looking over his bike. Typical, isn't it? Checking on the bike before one's self? I volunteered to give the bike a thorough systems check and asked him to make sure he was OK, to survey any pain he was experiencing. Lisa had arrived at this point and was helpful in this department. The bike looked fine, with nothing bent or misaligned. Tim reported he was generally fine as well, but he hardly really checked himself. The truth came out later that he preferred not to look underneath his shorts to see if there was any bruising, rash or bleeding (and if that were profuse enough, he probably would have known soon enough).
So, on we went, after I casually doled out a piece of tough love advice: that if he wanted to keep going, then it probably would be best to saddle up sooner and keep moving instead of allowing the banged up parts to start aching more. Quickly, he resumed his jovial storytelling.
The rain had ceased by the time we reached Pope Valley. The canyon road to Lake Berryessa was bone dry. After a leisurely break set up at the customary location for Rest Stop 2, we headed north on Berryssa-Knoxville road to Lower Lake. Here's where the mercury steadily began to rise with now abundant sunshine. When we reached the perimeter of the old McLaughlin Mining company property, the blast furnace was ignited.
This was bad news. Although we had the comfort of a Foster's Freeze restaurant to duck into for lunch in an hour's time, immediately thereafter, we'd have to climb what most regard as the toughest challenge of the day: Siegler Canyon and Loch Lomond. Sure enough, when we hit those puppies, recorded temps were reaching 107°F and I was barely managing to will off a few episodes of hamstring cramps in both legs in the steepest sections of the road.
The turn off to Siegler Canyon and the bottom of the climb in Lower Lake to the junction of Hwy 175 in Loch Lomond is a mere 8 miles. I had chugged down lots and lots of liquids before setting off from lunch, and had two bottles full of cold liquid on board. By the time we were three-quarters through this stretch, I had already exhausted my supply of liquids.
By now, Lisa was suffering to no end, having started the ride with stomach cramping and gastro trouble that never ceased, and worsened considerably, thanks to the added pain inflicted by the steep grades of Loch Lomond Road. Tim, Lisa and I took an unscheduled break at the town junction mainly so we could restock the fluids; although Tim looked like he had hardly even took a sip from either of his bottles since lunch. How the hell... ?
THE RETURN OF SEÑOR CANNONBALL
A few pesky rolling hills remained after turning left on Hwy 175 towards Cobb Mountain, but upon reaching the little town of Whispering Pines, it was a guaranteed blast of a descent all the way to Middletown. Tim opened up the way so I could take the lead on the descent, once again admitting to the bit of joy he gets from watching me pick up speed. This was the reward earned for the agony endured on the last climb. I took maximum pleasure from it, especially since traffic was light on the road, tucked myself as aero as a fatso can get and really let 'er rip.
For part of the descent, a Yamaha R6 sportbike kept me company and I found it odd that the rider wouldn't come around despite my efforts to give him room to pass safely. He finally did, at one of the steepest and straightest sections of the slope, but chose to hang by my side and match my speed. Weird, I thought. And just as I started to get unnerved by riding side by side with him, the rider lifted his helmet visor and chin section (gotta love modular helmets) and let out a huge "WOOO HOOOOOOOO!!" (not what I was expecting at all), followed by a report on the speed of travel:
"58.". Miles per hour, I concluded. Holy shit.
The road evened out a bit and so my speed dropped automatically. I smiled and gave an approving thumbs-up to my moto cheerleader, then eased up and easy-pedaled to Middletown so that I could regroup with Lisa and Tim. And then Scott H. appeared and the magical foursome I have so enjoyed on many Quack staff rides was together again.
FAB FOUR FOR THE FINISH
This was the make-up of our riding group for the rest of the ride, except for when Tim forged ahead when we took an unscheduled break on the last significant hill of the day (Cardiac) - me for a nature break, Scott to install some lights that SAG chief Jesse S. had shuttled over on the way to the finish.
After yet another leisurely break at the Detert Reservoir, where Jesse held fort and rest stop for hours in sweltering heat, we set off towards Lake Hennessey, a part that should come as a relief and is perhaps the easiest stretch of the whole course on paper. Several episodes of leg cramping returned and plagued me throughout this run, however, so I cursed every little rolling hill ascent, and relished every bit of downhill pavement.
Tim kept me amused by recalling how he was able to put away three hotdogs at the Lake Hennessey rest stop.
"Maybe I should go for four this year," he joked. I busted out laughing, never thinking that he might actually consider it a real challenge. Yet, while we took yet another dawdling break at Lake Hennessey, mostly because we all thoroughly enjoyed the company of our rest stop custodian, Eric S., sure enough - Tim delivered. Four hotdogs. Let me tell you fine people, Tim is probably half the man in girth that I am, and I was more than satisfied (indulgent, even) after two plain tube steaks in a bun. Tim sure showed us who was Nathan's king that day. Eric publicly testifies.
When we eventually left Lake Hennessey, the four of us were in a pretty jolly mood, knowing that (well, as far as Scott, Lisa and I are concerend, anyway) we were actually on track for a decent finishing time relative to our past records on this event. Scott was convinced it had been his best Knoxville ever, which was a delightful contrast to hear from the worry he expressed days before the ride that he was in the lousiest shape he remembered.
I had to agree. Too often, I myself have really suffered in the closing miles of the ride, and despite the repeated recurrence of leg cramps earlier in the day, the funkiest weather, the horrible climbing shape I exhibited on Cobb Mountain, the three lousy hours of sleep Lisa and I got the night before the ride - I was actually feeling pretty good. Even Lisa, though still plagued with stomach cramps, seemed to have some kind of spark in her stroke, a little bit of back-to-the-barn pep.
Everybody's chipper mood took an intermission for about ten minutes while we road in a warm canyon sheltered from the breeze. All of a sudden, we were swarmed from all directions by mosquitos. As I started to tell Tim about the nasty swarm of flies we experienced during the climb on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road during the Central Coast Double, saying that was worse, I quickly retracted that claim. These mosquitos were beyond pesky. They were downright aggro, villainous and impossibly un-shoo-able.
Finally, some relief came with the return of a breeze as we neared the Monticello Dam. And upon entering Yolo county for the final 15 miles of the ride, the breeze turned into some fairly gusty winds that we battled with till the finish. No more bugs, but another dose of climactic drama. Mother Nature delivered trifecta this day.
Congratulations to Tim H. and to John Z. who both maintain their perfect record on the Knoxville Double since its inception: 10 for 10. Many, many thanks to the staff ride support team for the care you delivered: Jesse Smith, John A. Long, Eric Senter, George Pinney.
SENSATIONAL SUPPORT TEAM ON THE EVENT
A week later, Lisa and I put in our customary 36 hours of work to stage the actual ride event. The location duties we adopted were the same as in years past, at RS2 (Lake Berryessa) and RS4 (Detert Reservoir). Without a doubt, this year we saw a record number of highly energized and the most sensationally helpful crew of volunteers at both these stations. Extra special thanks to all who lent us a hand: Joan Grant, Mike Deitchman, Marco Palmeri, Ruth Pisingan-Palmeri, Jason McPhate, Tim Houck, Ken Emerson, Ellen Emerson, Susan Rosenblatt, Sean Smith, Rico Mundy, and Garth Powell.
Thanks to all the other hard-working and good natured volunteers who comprised the rest of the eighty-two member volunteer crew. In my five year history with this event, I personally believe that this, the 10th anniversary of the Knoxville Double was the finest yet and most highly praised, and it's easy to see why.