Devil Mountain Double Century Felix Wong

The Devil Mountain Double, with about 18,000 feet of climbing, has the most net elevation gain of any double century in California. Conveniently, the start of the ride was just 20 or so miles from my home in Fremont. Who would have guessed the hilliest double was almost right where I lived?

The Ride

Miles 0-20

I arrived at the Marriot Hotel in San Ramon and unloaded Canny from the Porsche just after 4:00a. Registration was inside the hotel, where George Pinney, the organizer of the ride, informed me of two things: 1) Regardless whenever we start, the gates at Mount Diablo State Park (Mile 10) would not open until 5:30a, and 2) to qualify for a course record, one could not start early and must start at 6:00a. Regarding the latter, I merely laughed and said, “Well that won’t be a problem for me” and decided that I’ll just start at 4:30a—even if that meant getting to the gate at Mile 10 early.

Leaving with another rider, I managed to stick with that plan, and we rode at such a leisurely pace that the ride could have effectively been 196 miles instead of 206. Yet, I still arrived at the opening gate 10 minutes early, long enough for me to find a bush and make my obligatory fluid contribution to the landscape—and also long enough to cool down completely, as if I never warmed up in the first place.

Finally, a ranger in a Chevy truck pulled up, opened the gate, informed us that “it’s 3300 feet to the top over 11 miles”, and wished us, “Good luck on your race.” And so we’re off. I was the 6th person to start up the hill, although several people would pass me on the way to the top. Slow and steady, I thought… must conserve energy.

Half an hour later, the sun broke through the horizon and I was one-third up the hill. I was still pacing myself uncharacteristically well, and hence was not even close to spent at this point. I set the buzzer on my Polar heart rate monitor to audibly warn me whenever my heart rate exceeded 165 bpm. Up the entire hill, it beeped only once or twice, underscoring what a moderate pace I was going.

And finally… a sign declaring “Summit-3900 ft” was just ahead. What a gratifying sight. It took 1.5 hours, and it was now 7:00a, but the longest climb of the ride was now over with, and just 186 miles to go. “I can do this,” I thought over and over to myself.

Miles 21-77

The reward for the long uphill, of course, was a awesome downhill. There were hairpin turns everywhere, but the road for the most part was remarkably smooth, wide, and free of cars. Perfect for practicing downhill handling skills. This freefall would last for 40 or so minutes.

Finally, however, it tapered off into San Ramon, and we were back in rolling country. Soon we were in Morgan Territory, where there was yet another rest stop. I stopped only briefly as I was still feeling good at this point. I rode for another hour before the characteristic windmills east of Dublin was in plain view. “To the Altamont,” was my rallying cry.

Ah, yes, the Altamont Pass… was it not over 3000 feet in altitude? At least when Goldie, my ’69 MGB was only running on 3 cylinders, she would have some problems maintaining speed up it. The Hekaton Century of 1996 included this pass, too, and it didn’t seem insignificant. But today, after riding up Mt. Diablo, it hardly seemed like much of a climb. In fact, in virtually no time, we reached the subsequent climb—Patterson Pass. This was steeper but still not too difficult or long.

“I can do this,” I once again thought to myself. 50 miles had passed, including the tallest climb and two passes I was once apprehensive about, and I was *still* feeling very fresh. The scenery was nice, as the hillsides of the Altamont and Patterson Pass were still green, the weather just about perfect. My spirits were very high. Great day, great ride…

Miles 78-116

We rode south towards San Jose. Mt. Hamilton, perhaps the climb I feared most on this ride, was still 70 miles away so I decided I must conserve energy at least until then.

Some of the terrain from Miles 78-116 looked incredibly steep, but I was using the granny chainring for most of it. On some seemingly gradual portions, I was going only 6 miles an hour. I couldn’t help but think that I was going way too slow, but the other riders I can see are riding at aboout the same pace. Slow and steady, slow and steady…

Hours passed at this snail’s pace, but patience came in handy. And finally, the lunchstop was just ahead. At last, a place with real food. And belying the slow pace I was going and the 10 hours or so on the bike at this point was a feeling of relative freshness, one that was ready for the challenges ahead.

Miles 117-167

I spent half-an-hour at lunch, including waiting 15 minutes for the restroom and chowing down a decent chicken sandwich. I took a little while stretching my legs and shooting a couple of photos before hitting the road again. The much-anticipated Mt. Hamilton was nearby.

The first ten miles were relatively flat with a few rollers. Thank goodness we’d climb only the backside of Hamiilton, which was shorter than from the frontside and started at 2000 feet in altitude, but is quite steep. When does the climb begin, I kept thinking. I’d cross a “cattle guard” and then hit a small uphill, only to be descending shortly again. Come on now, let’s just get Hamilton over with!

And finally… there it was. I can see a couple of cyclists above me in the distance, out of the saddle, going at very slow speeds. My speed was now reduced to 4-6 mph. I pulled out the map. “Five miles of this,” I think, “just five miles…”

I was actually catching up with a couple of cyclists, although there was one who would pass me—multiple times. I’d be pedaling steadily and he’d ride by pretty easily, but then I’d see him again on the side of the road, just resting. Then when he’d see me, he’d get back on, and pass me up again. Hmmmm, that’s one way to do it, I think. I’ll stick with the slow and steady method though, thank you.

This routine would continue for the first 3 miles. Then, after seeing the same cyclist on the side of the road again but actually lying down, I finally shouted, “Hang in there… there’s still two miles to go.” The cyclist looked at me and, in an irate tone, exclaimed “NO! There’s less than that… WAY less than that!” I shrugged and replied, “Less than that? Okay, cool!” and took off.

But then the cyclist got back on his bike again until a sag vehicle came by. He inquired, loudly, “HOW FAR?” From the vehicle’s external speaker is the clear proclamation of “ABOUT TWO”. At that point I chuckled and mumbled under my breath, “Told you so…” But I could only imagine his frustration. I never saw him again…

I figured at that point I’d reach the top in about 25 minutes, but with a mile to go the road leveled out considerably. Woohoo! I had just conquered the climb that had been entrenched in my mind for weeks. And now it’s just going downhill for the next hour or so.

The descent down Mt. Hamilton and up the Monster

“The descent is long and most welcome, but most riders look entirely wasted by this point,” I recall reading in a ride report from a previous year. Alas, while I was descending, I saw very few cyclists to be able to verify if that was true this year, until a number of cyclists passed me

Usually, I pull all of the stops on the downhills, seemingly able to get in a more aerodynamic tuck that the others, but as with previous descents on this ride, the Mt. Hamilton was laced with hairpin turns galore. As there were many blind corners, I was extremely careful. To my amazement, other riders were frequently drifting into the other lane and cutting corners to save time.

But the most gutsy move had to be when seven other cars and I were stuck behind a very slow descending pickup truck towing a horse trailer. A couple of riders, being extremely impatient, pulled into the other lane, and blazed right past all of these other cars—a very dangerous maneuver, considering that one could hardly see what was in front of this truck with all of the hairpin turns. I followed their lead, however… and now we were jamming.

Jamming enough that we missed a rest stop and didn’t realize it until overshooting it by 2 miles. I needed water pretty badly, but I was NOT turning back.

And now… the famed Sierra Rd. was just ahead. I descended this road one day with my friend Dave in pouring rain, and on that day no one could have paid me to go back up that thing. I called it The Monster—it was so amazingly steep. Alas, I only realized that this was that same road, and would now have to climb it.

Slow and steady, I again though. Soon I was grinding away in my lowest gear (a 32X21) and was spinning at only 35 rpm—good for not much more than 3.5 mph. The guy behind me on a new aluminum Specialized Allez gave up after weaving a bit and started walking. He was almost keeping up.

But I continued on, and after 15 minutes or so, he was out of sight. A support vehicle came by, which was extremely fortunate for me because I had absolutely no water. After a quick fillup, it’s back to grinding. Fortunately, Sierra Rd. got less steep at the top. And finally…

I made it! The last significant beast of the day. Only 3.5 miles, and it took an hour. What a climb.

Miles 167-181

Now it’s all descending until we got to Calaveras Rd. This is where I’ve done most of my climbing workouts on the East Bay. It starts out with a very steep, but very short climb (“The Wall”) in which I was only maintaining 4-6 mph. I usually can burst up it at 10+ mph, but not with 160 miles in my legs. But very soon it leveled out and it was just a splendid tour by the Calaveras Reservoir with sweeping turns. See my review of the Primavera Century for more details and photos on this area.

Darkness was quickly approaching, and my front Vistalight headlamp was being quite ineffective. I was riding very slowly now, not being able to see to well. The guy on Specialized bike who was walking had even caught up to me at this point, which was good because he actually had some decent lights.

We got to the rest stop at Mile 182. There’s no stopping us now!

Miles 182-206

Just 24 miles to go. I couldn’t help but feel the ride was anticlimatic at this point, having conquered Mt. Hamilton, Sierra, and Calaveras Road. Palomares Rd. was just ahead. I rode with two guys of 45 and 55 years of age.

We got to Palomares very quickly, but it’s totally dark over there. Fortunately, the other two riders had good lights, and I changed the batteries in my Vistalight at the rest stop. The other riders were in shape despite their age, and I could hardly keep up. I felt the irony of the situation.

“At my age,” one of them lamented to the other in a very casual, conversational tone, “I no longer worry about my times; I just worry if I can finish.” The other one chuckled and concurred, “Me too.” I, on the other hand, was very quiet, barely keeping up and desperately not wanting to lose these guys who were lighting my way. I hope I will be as in good of shape as they were at their age.

Palomares, which started as a gradual uphil for the first five miles, was now downhill for the next five. We got some lighting help by a Dodge Caravan support vehicle’s high beams all the way to Castro Valley. Just 10 miles to go. Alas, the climbing seemed to pick up a little.

But the excitement of being so close to the finish lead us to mock these small climbs. Heck, we’ve done so many signifiicant climbs for the day, many of which took 1+ hours to climb, and everything after seemed so much easier now. But yet, I was almost astonished to see the Marriott Hotel at which I started 18.5 hours earlier. For months I wasn’t sure how I would fare on this extremely difficult double century—the hilliest of them all in California in terms of total vertical gain—and here I was, feeling relatively strong, proud, and happy. I did it!

Ride Data

  • 206 mi.
  • 4:29a start, 11:01p finish –> 18:32 hours
  • Average Speed: 11.9 mph moving, 11.1 mph overall
  • Max Speed: 45 mph
  • Total Climbing: 18,000 ft

Rating

(1=ho hum; 5=best)

  • Scenery: 4
  • Support/Organization: 5
  • Food: 4 Well stocked.
  • Weather: 4 Actually, I would have given it a 5, but the others were complaining of the heat, especially on Mt. Hamilton.
  • Relative Difficulty: 5
  • Overall Rating: 4. A super-challenging, well-supported, and gorgeous ride.

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Mt. Diablo speed limit radar signbuilding at top of Mt. DiabloThe view from the top of Mt. Diablo.Windmils and green hillsides on Altamont Pass.Felix Wong, Stanford cycling jersey, lunch stop, 1999 Devil Mountain Double Century.red Cannondale 3.0, rest stop, 1999 Devil Mountain Double Centuryclassic cars, back side of Mt. Hamilton, 1999 Devil Mountain Double CenturySGoing up the switchbacks on the back side of Mt. Hamilton during the 1999 Devil Mountain Double Century.view from top of Mt. HamiltonThe view from Sierra Rd. during the 1999 Devil Mountain Double Century.

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