Devil Mountain Double
15 April 2000
San Ramon, CA
Daniel Connelly
Violet Crown Sports Association, Austin TX
djconnel@flash.net

205 miles. 20 thousand vertical feet. Never before have I climbed so much in one day. And since moving from Palo Alto to Austin Texas, I rarely had the chance to climb anything over 500 vertical feet in one shot. The Devil Mountain Double would be a new experience. But I knew most of the climbs, and I'd been training well. So I felt ready. Well, relatively ready, anyway....

5:45am, Saturday morning. The 6am crowd gathered in the meeting room of the San Ramon Marriott on Saturday morning. Despite not getting to bed until after 9pm PDT, my body was still programmed in central time, and I'd awakened naturally 15 minutes before my 4am wakeup call. A much larger group had departed at 5am. However, with sunrise not until 6:32am, I chose to take the later start time. This allowed me to send my lights ahead to the Crothers rest stop at mile 150. I hoped to not need them. A 14 hour finish wasn't out of reach, I felt, and that would get me home before the end of "civil twilight" at 8:11 pm.

Tracy Colwell, on Patterson Pass
Tracy Colwell was there. He set the record in the Terrible Two, then went on to finish second in Furnace Creek 508 in his first attempt. He's also cat 2 on the road. Out of my league. I'd been the first to finish at the Heartbreak Double last September. But a glance around the room at those present, not just Tracy, made it clear I was in this one for personal goals.

With attendance having been taken, at 6am we were told to start. Riders clip-clopped quickly out of the room, out the door, and up the stairs to the parking lot and their bikes. LeMans. I looked to where I had left my bike, only to realize I had later moved it inside just before the start of the meeting. I ran back in, grabbed the bike, and ran back out and up the stairs. They were gone.

"Which way?" I shouted to someone standing nearby. She was the only one around.

She pointed, and without even looking I set off. The taillights of the pack flickerered in the distance. So much for a relaxed start...

Several "neglected" red lights later, I overtook the pack. They were trailed by a single sag car. The pace was actually relatively subdued, as we made our way through the still-dark streets of San Ramon. The pavement was smooth, the bike lanes wide, and there was negligable traffic, so the street lights were enough to see by until the sun was able to overcome the cloud-covered skies.

As we reached the outskirts of town, we reached some small hills. There was some activity at the front, with riders getting out of the saddle to keep the pace. Bad idea. Lactic acid wasn't my friend this early in the ride. I let them go.

I was soon joined by two other stragglers and we navigated the maze of road to the base of Mount Diablo together. As soon as the climbing began, I shifted into my 39/27 for a relaxed 3200 foot vertical climb to the summit. By this point, the skies were brightening nicely, but still were deeply overcast. No matter, I pedaled on.

After several miles, the hillside disappeared into the cloud layer. So much for the panoramic view at the summit... and it would be a cold descent. I had on 2 jerseys plus an undershirt, with arm and leg warmers. I'd taken off my long-fingered gloves and yellow rain jacket. I avoided wearing the jacket during the climb, to avoid saturating my clothes with sweat.

I plunged into the mist. The dampness made my clothes wet, anyway. The mist was condensing into a very light rain. It felt okay. I wasn't cold.

South Gate Road climbs approximately half the distance to the summit, when it becomes North Gate Road and descends into Walnut Creek. We didn't follow it, instead turning onto Summit Road for the rest of the climb to the top. As I climbed, I started to see 5am'ers descending. Some seemed to have no problems, but others were clearly suffering, despite being well dressed.

Diablo has a reputation for having a super-steep final effort to the summit. However, I've never found it to be much of a problem. It really isn't that steep, and it's short. This time was no different. I didn't even have the expected problem of having my wheels slip on the damp surface -- no problems.

From Diablo Summit, the day before
As I reached the parking lot at the summit, I shouted my number out to the offiicials manning the rest stop. Several folks were standing around, eating and talking. I wanted to spend as little time here as possible. I rode to the far side of the lot & put on my jacket, fumbling clumsily with the zipper. Eventually I got it and my long-fingered gloves on; I was ready to go, and rolled onto the short, steep section near the top. I took it very slowly, until I reached the main road with its more conventional grades.

Descending was tough. The faster I went, the colder I got, so I was very generous with the brakes. This was bad, as conservative descending costs a lot of time, but it was just too wet, too cold, to grim. I knew if I could make it to North Gate Road, the mist would clear, which would make things warmer.

Several riders passed me as I dropped through the mist. I've never handled the cold well, and today was no different. I was able to suppress shivering, but barely.

Finally I reached the junction with North & South Gate Road. There's a small building there which, while locked, at least offered some shelter from what wind there was, or at least provided the illusion of shelter. I stopped for a few minutes with two other riders, only one of whom was on the ride. The other guy was just climbing on his own. It would warm soon enough, I told myself, and set off again.

Here we diverted from the route we took up the climb by descending North Gate Road instead of South Gate. I didn't recall having descended North Gate Road before, so this was new territory for me. Unfortunately, my hope of warmer air wasn't fulfilled. I was still cold. The stop had been a good mental break, but physically it probably made me colder. My teeth started to chatter. My front wheel was wobbling as I shivered.

But even if I wasn't warming, I was encouraged by the fact I was dropping below the cloud line. Bike traffic was heavy with recreational riders climbing towards me. This is an extremely popular area for cyclists.

Car traffic increased along with the number of intersections. Soon enough, I was in Walnut Creek. Navigation again became a bit tricky, but in the bright sunshine the course markings (large arrows with "DMD" letters painted on the road) were clear. I had little trouble, only checking my route sheet a few times, despite my paranoia for getting lost.

One down, three to go. There were three major obstacles in this ride. The first, Diablo, was now behind me. Next was Hamilton. Third was Sierra Grade. Hamilton was still 70 miles away, so I didn't need to worry yet.

I realized, while I'd been drinking the 50-50 dilute Gatorade I had started with (approx 100 ounces in two bottles and an Aerobak), I hadn't eaten yet, despite close to 40 miles covered. Usually I eat a minimum of one bar per 25 miles, sometimes as much as one per 15 miles. Yet I felt little desire to eat. It was probably because I hadn't ridden at all yesterday, and had eaten a lot (focused on low and moderate glycemic index carbohydrates) during the 24 hours before the ride. Bill Bushnell later suggested to me it may have been due to me taking a relatively late flight yesterday. In any case, it was clear not eating would cause problems. I ate a Clif bar, without enthusiasm.

Coming out of Walnut Creek, I entered Morgan Territory Road. This was another new one for me. The web site had promised it is an enjoyable road, and it certainly was. It stair-stepped its way up, following a creek through the trees. Even the mist near the 2000-foot summit, along with a very light rain with maybe a touch of hail, couldn't spoil it. With barely any car traffic to be seen, it was wonderful. 2000 feet of climbing disappeared behind my wheels without any noticable effort.

Over the top, I descended to the next challenge, Altamont Pass. The windmills which cover the hills here mark the area. Altamont Pass isn't much of a challenge, however, as it gains only a few hundred feet from the direction we approached it. With the strong tailwind I think I could have coasted up the hill had I tried.

Patterson Pass, however, was another story. Still amongst the windmills, the route had changed course, and the wind was no longer my friend. Patterson Pass is a lot like the hills between Vanderpool and Leakey in Texas, with an exposed road, no switchbacks, and strong winds. In the heat of the summer, it can be really tough. But while the effort of climbing was enough for me to again remove my jacket and long-fingered gloves, the temperature was still in the low 50F's, so exposure wasn't an issue. Finally, there was a short steep stretch to the top. Like the climbs in the Hill Country, you could see it coming, which made it worse than it would have been otherwise. But still, no big deal.

I was pleased to see Bill Bushnell as I climbed. He wrote a story on the Western Wheelers list back in 1994 in which he described a ride he did in which he rode up Hamilton and Diablo in one day. I thought at the time it was insane. Yet here I was, doing that and more. Bill was in a faired recumbent today, signed up for the 200km "Taste of the Devil" beginner ride. 125 miles, 10 kfeet of climbing. Beginner? I greeted him briefly as I passed him, which I did rather quickly.

I cross Patterson Pass
As I crested the summit, I was commanded to "smile!" The event photographer was at the side of the road, with a large clock which said "remember your time!" I tried to relax, but intentionally didn't look at him. I don't like posed photographs, the rider waving enthusiastically at the photographer. The camera should be an invisible observer. H bar equals zero.

Bill Bushnell is close behind
On the descent, Bill proved the aerodynamic superiority of faired recumbents by leaving me in the proverbial dust. I swear I saw a smile on his face as he did so, but maybe it was an artifact of the red shift...

This brought me to the outskirts of Livermore. Mines Road was next, which would take us to the next challenge. The rest stop at Mines Road marked the separation of the 200 mile and 200 km routes. After 85 miles, I needed water, so stopped to refill my supply. Bill was here, eating a sandwich, so we chatted a bit while I refilled and he refueled. I didn't dally, however, and was soon off.

On doubles, I don't like taking chances with the food supply. I brought enough Clif and Verve bars with me to get me through the distance, based on prior experience. Liquid is tougher, however. Some riders bring powder. Others have private sags which provide them with whatever they want. I, however, have to live with what the organizers provide. In this case, it was Gatorade poweder or Revenge Powder, to be mixed with bottled water. My experience with drink powders has generally been poor, and Cytomax, for example, has caused me to cramp. I thus am reluctant to try new powders, especially on events. So I stuck with the Gatorade Powder, even though I dislike the strong lemon-lime taste. So I mixed it relatively weak.

Still, I was behind on calories. I hadn't eaten my second bar until more than 70 miles. I felt okay, though. I'd try to get back to a 1/25 mile schedule.

Mines Road marked the start of the assault on Hamilton. Mines turns to San Antonio Valley Road, which goes to the summit where it becomes Mt Hamilton Road. This was emphasized by the roadsign encountered soom after the rest stop at the beginning of Mines Road -- Mt Hamilton, 44 miles.

Mines climbs gently for 2000 feet over close to 15 miles with a very nonuniform grade. It's a very nice road, with little car traffic, and no commerce.

No commerce, that is, except for the Junction Cafe. This was our lunch stop, at 116 miles. There were sandwiches and massage for the riders. I took neither, but just checked in, topped off my bottles, and continued on.

8 rolling miles later, I arrived at the climb of Hamilton. The grade increased. I overtook two riders, one seemingly middle aged and the other a bit older, wearing a Lightning Velo jersey. I recognized him from the Heartbreak Double last September. I waved as I passed, which I did rather conclusively. A few seconds later, I was greeted cheerfully by one of the two. It was the Lightning Velo rider. He seemed awfully talkative, holding my pace trivially. Finally, he excused himself and dropped back again. "I have to go ride with my son," he said.

But as the hill wore on, I was shocked by its steepness. I didn't recall it as being this severe. True, I had never before climbed this side, only descended it. But if it was as steep as it felt, I would have known it, even descending. "Roads to Ride South" by Peterson & Kluge lists it as averaging approximately 8.6% over the steep portion. It felt worse. Much worse. I was in trouble.

I stopped three times during the climb. The first was to urinate, but also, to be honest, to rest. The second stop was to rest and eat a bar. The third was to relube my chain, which was making some noise after the dampness of the morning riding.

I reached the summit, then stopped to put on my jacket and long-fingered gloves. I quickly became cold. The west side of Hamilton was a descent descent -- the turns weren't that bad, and the grades were shallow, reducing the amount of energy wasted in braking. But I couldn't take advantage of it. My head pounded. I stopped again.

At this point I knew I was in trouble. I ate another bar, with some effort. I drank. I rested some more. Riders passed, offering me help. It was 19 miles of mostly descent, close to 4200 feet, to the Crothers rest stop at mile 151. I could make it there. Then I was probably done.

One of the riders I had passed earlier caught up to me. One of many. But he slowed to give me encouragement. I thanked him, and told him to go on ahead. I could make it to the rest stop.

As I pulled into the house on Crothers Road, a residential street off Mt Hamilton, I was greeted by a family cheerfully offering a wide range of foods and drinks to tired cyclists. Soups, premixed Revenge, baked potatoes, pretzels, peanuts, peanut butter & jelly, bread, Power Bars, and Clif Bars were just a few of the options. Their garage was open, allowing access to a toilet in a room between it and the main house. It was incredible.

After picking up my lights and mounting them on my bike, I asked for soup, and the mother of the clan ran off to heat some. While she was gone, I tried some of the pre-mixed Revenge. It was good! I drank some more, then filled my bottles with it, full strength. As I was doing so, I was handed a steaming cup of instant noodle soup. I really didn't feel like eating it, but forced it down. I lingered further, eating some pretzels with dry roasted peanuts. The dad was starting to eye me suspiciously. When was I going to get going?

I couldn't drop out now. It would be an insult to their hospitality. I thought back to 1999. I had bonked badly 80 miles into the 300km brevet, 80 miles of mostly headwind. I stopped at the side of the road, ate my supply of bars and gels, drank what I could, and took a shortcut back home. By the end of the 144 miles, I realized I could have finished, had I stuck it out.

I thought back to 1995. At the Death Ride, I was cooked. With the altitude, I wasn't drinking or eating properly. At the lunch stop, I barely wanted to move. "Get back on the bike," John Emmel had said. "If you get back on the bike, you will finish." I did, and did.

Earlier that year, I'd done Mr Bill's Nightmare. 16500 vertical feet in 200km. I skipped the lunch stop, and completely blew on Alba Road, one of the most challenging climbs in the San Francisco Bay area, with grades over 20%. But I stuck it out, caught up on my liquid and carbohydrates, and finished strongly.

So I knew the hardest part, the key part, was just getting going again. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I got back on my bike and pedalled off. Just ride. Don't worry about how far. Just go.

The route went back to Hamilton Road to complete the descent, then wound its way through the fringes of San Jose to the base of Sierra Road. This was it. The final of the three major challenges. Compared to Alba, no problem. But it was still tough, gaining 1800 feet in only 3 miles.

The road launches itself vertically from the start. Nothing as elegent as a switchback -- it's a residential street, much like Jester in Austin... except it's more than 3 times the climbing.

I completed the first steep section, stopped at the side of the road to deal with the result of my aggressive rehydration efforts, then continued onto the next steep section. Something didn't feel right. I looked back at my rear wheel. Puncture.

I cursed, stopped, dismounted, and dropped my bike on the side of the road. This wasn't how I wanted to spend my energy. However, within 30 seconds, a sag van came by. Amazing..... I asked for assistance, then let the volunteer do all the work. He was really nice, thanking me for the work I did in helping make the 1996 and 1997 Mr. Bill's Nightmares happen. The wheel change paid back my efforts then, with interest.

I decided I didn't want to stop any more, so overcame my personal reluctance to traverse, and began winding my way back and forth across the road. I tried to come up with analytic functions which would approximate my path (it wasn't quite sinusoid) to occupy my mind. It worked. The summit arrived much sooner than I had expected, or remembered from 1995 when I had finished second in a race up this hill.

The gradual, stair-step descent of the backside of Sierra, no longer residentially developed, was a relief. The miles passed quickly, taking me to Caliveras Road. Caliveras greets the rider with a short, steep climb that's a shock after the long descent. But it's over quickly, resulting in another rolling, mostly-descending road with very little car traffic. The nearby resevoir and the surrounding green make this one of the prettiest roads in the East Bay.

My goal was to make mile 170 before turning on my headlight, which would leave me 2 hours to cover the final 35 miles, comfortably within the capacity of my 10 watt NiCad Niterider. With the overcast sky, darkness was coming on strong, but I didn't turn on the light until mile 172, so I felt as though light wouldn't be a problem. Still, I found myself wishing for a bit more than the 10 watt headlight. A helmet mounted lamp would have been nice, for example, to allow me to track the beam around corners. Next time....

I was overtaken by two other riders on a descent. In the dark, I descend even more conservatively than during the light, which is still pretty conservatively. Nevetheless, their flashing taillights were an attractive target, and as the road levelled I was able to make up the gap they had achieved.

The three of us together made for much more comfortable riding, as our lights complemented each other. Still, I was looking forward to making the next and final rest stop, at mile 180.

There I got more Revenge (I was feeling really good, now) and joined up with another group, 5 riders, who were leaving. 3 good, 6 better. This went very well. Two were highly accomplished distance riders, one having ridden both Paris-Brest-Paris and Boston-Montreal-Boston the other having ridden the transcontinental Pac Tour. Soon we were on Palomares Road, which climbs close to 1000 feet. It was effortless... they weren't going at an uncomfortable pace, and in the darkness it was pointless to try and ride faster, as I would then lose the advantage of the group's lights.

In the dark, speeds always seem to be faster than they actually are, and therefore distances seem longer. The increasingly residential route to Norris Canyon Road seemed to go on well past its welcome. But Norris Canyon arrived -- the final hill. Again, I had no difficulty, and was able to easily bridge a gap which formed when two of the riders went off the front. When I caught them, I kept going, willing to be alone now that the finish was close.

Home, Sweet Home
I pulled into the Marriott lot, feeling rather good about things. True, I blew it. I bonked. No excuse. It shouldn't happen. But given that, I stuck it out, and finished. 205 miles. 20000 feet. Not too bad. But still, as I got my official time of 16:29, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed. I really had wanted 14 hours. But then, given the hill training I've been doing, what could I expect? The hardest climb I've done this year has been between Vanderpool and Leakey, and that's still less than Patterson Pass, one of the lesser climbs on this ride. So I'm not sure. It could have been better, but it could have been worse. In any case, in these rides, really everyone who finishes wins, which is part of what makes them so rewarding.

Dan Connelly
djconnel@flash.net