UNSUPPORTED CENTURY - 103 MILES
The Route: Up North Gate Road, down to Blackhawk, southeast to Livermore via Highland Road and Manning, then on to Collier Canyon Road, backtracking to Blackhawk, Danville, Alamo, Walnut Creek, and Lafayette to Happy Valley Road, Bear Creek Road (The Bears), Alhambra Valley Road (Pig Farm Hill), back to the south side of Walnut Creek, and back on Rudgear and the Iron Horse Trail. This is the old route from Tour Diablo Valley which used to be organized by the Diablo Cyclists but hasn’t been held for about six years. I had intended to ride “Foxy’s Fall Century” this weekend but they stopped taking applications after they reached their maximum 1,200 rider limit so I decided to organize my own century. JB called it “Scotty’s Fall Century”.
The Five Riders: Sarkis, June, Rick, JB, and me. Sarkis and June are both Diablo Cyclists and classic climber types, Sarkis has done quite a few double centuries, has earned the California Triple Crown, and he rode the Marin century with June in August. Rick has done at least a dozen organized centuries with me, and JB is a regular riding buddy but hasn’t ridden a century in about four years. It was moderately cool but the weather report said it would get in the 80’s by early afternoon so I had on my regular century outfit with no arm or leg warmers. Others had various levels of cold weather gear including jackets and earmuffs, and our pockets were stuffed with riding stuff including bars, gels, and powders. Sarkis took some photos on his digital camera.
We all met at Countrywood Shopping Center and we started off at 7:15. After a nice warm up ride to the Gate we started our first climb, the ultra-familiar North Gate Road to the Junction. My plan was to do about a 45-minute ride and conserve as much energy as possible for the difficult climbs later in the course. We all stayed together until the bump when things started to split up. I maintained my own pace even though it meant dropping off the back. I was also hoping that this wasn’t a sign that the whole 100 miles would be at a speed that was just a little too fast for me, but I had the experience of three other centuries this year to assure me I knew how to go the distance. I checked our time differentials and noted that I was only 60 to 90 seconds behind the others as we got close to the top and I finished in 44 minutes and change. Rick and JB said they thought I must have flatted because every time they looked back for me I was out of sight… I must have just been behind some bushes at those times though since I never really lost sight of them. There were quite a few more riders on the mountain at this early hour than I would have expected. Sarkis took some more photos on his digicam.
Wildlife Encounter: Nothing out of the ordinary but a large buck deer a ways off the road, a large dead frog, a small snake, and a tarantula, all on the way to the Junction.
After a short rest at the Junction we started down South Gate Road and we re-grouped at the bottom before heading off to Blackhawk. Rick’s rear tire went soft a few miles later so we had another little rest (allowing Sarkis to take some more photos and me to put my pain patch on my neck) before we finished the ride to Blackhawk where we arrived about 15 minutes later. Up until now these were roads we’ve all ridden quite a few times, but this time we turned the other way on Camino Tassajara toward Livermore. Some of the road here is a bit dodgy with little shoulder space and fast traffic but then you turn on to Highland Road and you’re out in farmland again. Nicole met us at the intersection of Highland and Collier Canyon – she couldn’t do the whole ride but rode from her home in Dublin to this point to ride the 25-mile Livermore loop with us. There’s a little climb just after this intersection but mostly it’s flat for the next 15 miles and Nicole had no trouble keeping up so we had six riders for this part of our century.
We stopped at a gas station in Livermore just past the freeway overpass where June bought a big bottle of water and offered it to everyone to refill bike bottles. A few folks bought a little snack too, and I popped a couple more E-caps but we didn’t hang around too long. We had to go through town on a few city streets toward the airport where we crossed the freeway again but my map had the name of one street mislabeled so we took our only short detour when we missed the turn – good thing Rick was familiar enough with Livermore’s streets to notice the error quickly. In short time we were back in the boonies with ranches and farmland on Collier Canyon Road. A few miles into this part of the route we came across some of the Valley Spokesmen women's racing team including my neighbor and Diablo Cyclist Amy Abele doing a training ride.
Wildlife Encounter: Two BUFFALOES! Emus, llamas, and pygmy goats – all at different ranches but it was interesting to see such unusual animals in such ordinary territory.
At the intersection with Camino Tassajara Nicole bid us good-bye and headed back on the 12-mile ride to her house. Sarkis took the opportunity here to take a few digital photos. By now everyone had taken off their jackets, tights, and other concessions to the morning's chill and the sun started to be a factor in the ride; we were at mile 51 and all was well. We retraced our route through the hairy no shoulder section of the road and toward Danville. As we maneuvered our way though town JB got ahead of us and caught a green light that the rest of us missed. We lost contact with him and didn’t know if he had stopped somewhere for a snack or if he had gone on ahead. We waited for a while at the side of the road but then decided to proceed to Alamo where we stopped at another gas station. This station had a bathroom, which was important at this point. Sarkis bought a gallon of water and everyone filled up their bike bottles. I was hoping for a banana or something but they didn't have any. I thought about getting a cold Starbuck's Frapuccino but instead only got a bottle of Coke. Everyone questioned Rick’s choice of snack: a microwave burrito – we all told stories of eating something we shouldn’t have during a hard ride, but Rick wasn’t worried. We stood watch for JB but he never showed and we figured he was up ahead somewhere so off we pedaled.
Turns out JB had ridden all the way to Rudgear by himself and I was the only one who knew the route through Tice Valley so I led the way toward Lafayette. We had to stop at another gas station where JB filled his bottles from the hose faucet. We were all together for the entire route from Walnut Creek to the west side of Lafayette but one of the hardest climbs of the day was just ahead and I dropped off the back again to prepare for the infamous Happy Valley Road climb. This thing is brutal and I was out of the saddle in my 27-tooth gear for close to a mile on the verge of cramps and muscle fatigue. The only good part about my climb through here was that it was a little cooler from all the shade, and I didn’t get passed by a single vehicle so I could weave all over the road in safety. I crested the top with nothing left, the hill really took a lot out of me and I started to worry a little bit about the rest of the climbing still to come. But there was a nice descent down to Bear Creek Road and then we all regrouped and Sarkis took some photos. We rode the next couple miles to Briones Park for another rest stop where water and out houses were available. We were at mile 75. Rick called the climb “a real tongue-dragger”, I swallowed two more Excedrins (I take them only for the neck pain), and Sarkis took some more photos.
The last leg of our ride would include two of the three Bears and Pig Farm Hill, then some more climbing on Reliez Valley Road before we could finally take it easy. I started off by slowing down to make sure I wouldn’t bonk. I was the last one to start the descent down toward Alhambra Valley but I felt pretty good and caught up with the others. As we approached Pig Farm I again eased up quite a bit to start the tough part as rested as possible and it’s a good thing. At the bottom Rick was about 50 meters ahead of me but he must have been really hurting from the pace or the burrito or something because I passed him about 2/3 or the way up and stayed ahead until the top, where Sarkis was taking photos of us making our best suffering faces.
We were at mile 82 now and I broke out the Clif Shot gel. Usually on centuries I eat a gel pack with 15 or 20 miles to go and it really gives me a boost to finish strong. JB and Sarkis had a close call going down the other side of Pig Farm - a car tried to pass a pick-up truck coming up the hill and when the driver saw the bikes coming down he accelerated rather than abandon the move and he almost forced JB and Sarkis into the ditch. It was a fast trip into Martinez from here, but then there was a surprisingly long climb up Reliez Valley Road before we got back to Olympic Blvd in Walnut Creek. When we got to Rudgear we were at mile 95 and street crews had torn up part of the road so we decided just to take the Iron Horse Trail all the way back to Countrywood.
I found out that June has only been riding seriously for about three months which explains her lack of confidence on the fast descents but she rides uphill like someone who has been doing this for a long time - good position, good technique, and excellent conditioning from being a runner.
With our trip distance an even 100 miles Rick packed up his Explorer and headed home, he had some other commitment and couldn’t join the rest of us for the après ride meal. Sarkis, June, and I all got burritos at Una Mas and sat at an outside table. JB said he couldn’t eat anything but picked up a six pack of Anchor Steam at the deli a few shops away; when we realized we needed a bottle opener I figured out how to use the hinge part of a Look pedal to do the job - worked so well I wonder if it wasn't included in the design requirements! JB had carried two sandwiches for the whole ride and didn't eat them. He eschews commercial cycling food and is convinced that the low glycemic/high protein and fat thing is the perfect diet. Still, I can't believe he wasn't hungry after THIS ride. We sat there and ate our burritos and drank our beer and discussed the ride for about a half hour and then we all rode home. It was a very good experience for my first unsupported century.
Ride distance: 100 miles
Elevation gain: 5,500 feet
Ride time: 6h 29m
Total time: 8h 15m
Average heart rate: 131 bpm (includes rest stops)
Consumption: Pre-ride oatmeal with brown sugar, two cups of coffee, two E-caps and a couple Excedrin Gel Caps. Two Clif Bars, one and a half PowerBars, three and a half servings of Hammergel, four bottles of Cytomax, three bottles of Accelerade, one bottle of Coke, two more E-caps, two more Excedrins, and one Clif Shot gel during the ride. Vegetarian Burrito, a Coke, and a beer for post ride meal, plus some left over lasagne when I got home.