Originally I had not planned on doing this ride. Instead, I was both mentally and physically preparing for a mountaineering trip up Mt. Shasta this weekend, an attempt to redeem myself for a failed summit attempt 4 years ago on the very same mountain. Mother Nature and her late-season storms would forbid such an attempt, and a change of plans were in order quicker than you can say “avalanche…”
So three days before the now-free weekend I was looking for some sort of cycling event to do. The Davis Double looked enticing, but not its $120 late registration fee. But lo and behold–the Lodi Sunrise Century was a ride I have never done, and it would cover many of the same roads I’d ridden over a decade ago, having grown up in this fertile, agricultural region. In addition, if I were to do the ride on the recumbent, it could be something of a “makeup ride” for the 2005 Delta Century, which I had to abort just 20 miles into it due to a broken steering pivot. Redemption would be the order of the weekend after all. Perfect.
I gave my folks in Stockton a call saying that I’d be visiting them yet again. A couple of days after, I drove the Alfa down into the San Joaquin Valley with the bright red Reynolds Wishbone recumbent perched on the rear, awaiting this second chance to pedal through a land I had once called “home”.
A Note About Lodi
Lodi is a sleepy little town which at one time could have been described as “in the middle of nowhere” or (worse) “a suburb of Stockton”. In 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival sang a hit song about it:
I set out on the road
Seekin´ my fame and fortune
Lookin´ for a pot of gold
Thing got bad things got worse
I guess you will know the tune
Oh ! Lord Stuck in Lodi again
Rode in on the Greyhound
I´ll be walkin´ out if I go
I was just passin´ through
Must be seven seven months or more
Ran out of time and money
Looks like they took my friends
Oh ! Lord I´m stuck in Lodi again
Yet, Lodi is not without its charm. A fog enshrouds the town in the winter, only to give way to cloudless skies pierced by a toasty sun that makes spring days comfortably warm and arid. Around its perimeter are repetitious rows of vines that give credibility to Lodi’s self-proclaimed title of “Zinfandel Capital of the World”. Lodi wines are also no longer the complete laughing stocks of the world; a few years ago, Robert Mondavi even purchased the local Woodbridge winery. Of course, one can decide for himself at the now-plentiful wine-tasting tours or during the excellent Grape Festival, an annual Lodi tradition.
Lodi’s biggest claim to fame lies not in its wine but its root beer. In June of 1919, Roy Allen opened up his first root beer stand here in Lodi, and a few years later, joined forces with Frank Wright to create the A&W Root Beer franchise. (More trivia: around this time, he also opened up what is thought to be America’s first drive-in just up the road in Sacramento.) Today, over 8 decades later, A&W is the world’s #1 selling root beer and is still made fresh at several hundreds of A&W “All-American Food” Restaurants around the world.
Despite all the years growing up in this region, I had not once dined at (or even entered) an A&W Restaurant here or anywhere else in the world! So in honor of A&W, its Lodi’s roots and their contributions to American culture, the night before the Sunrise Century I cast away my usual healthy eating habits and had a root beer float. Mmmm… may ice cream and root beer live long and well along with A&W of Lodi.
At the Start
I slept for 5 or so hours at my parents’ home the night before the ride, and by 6:20am was inside the Lodi High School gymnasium doing day-of registration with $40 in my hand. (The Lodi Sunrise Century is a fundraiser for and organized by the Lodi Sunrise Rotary Club, which incidentally has been celebrating its 100th year this year.) “So this is the high school half of my friends at Lodi Senior Elementary School went to,” I thought to myself.
At the registration table, it turned out there was only one more ride finisher’s patch available. (Never mind that these patches were being given out before anyone had even started the ride!) “You are going to have to ro-sham-bo for it,” suggested the cheerful gal taking care of my forms, alluding to the other cyclist registering next to me simultaneously. So there we were facing each other, making rock-paper-scissors motions with our fists. Best 2 out of 3–the patch becomes mine!
Back in the parking lot, I time how long it takes to take the recumbent off of the car and put it back together: about 20 minutes. In the interim, a Stocktonian named Matt whom I had exchanged email with the prior days came by and introduced himself. He had gone to Tokay High School (Lodi High’s crosstown rival) with another Felix Wong who was years my senior. The funny thing was that I actually knew this Felix Wong since he was the TA (teacher’s assistant) of the Algebra 2 class I’d have to walk a mile to at Tokay High every day while in 8th grade at Lodi Senior Elementary School. Ah, those were some happy days. Anyhow, imagine what confusion it caused to have two Felix Wongs in the same math class. Small world.
Matt and I wished each other well and he took off, looking forward to getting a jump on the wind and the heat that was anticipated later in the day. 15 minutes later, I too was on the road, with the prevailing wish that no mechanical maladies or other mishaps would occur on this fine Saturday.
The air was calm and the temperatures a pleasant 60 degrees as us cyclists made our way through the still-sleeping town. Within minutes the scenery changed from streets lined with 1970-era homes with with well-kept lawns and leafy trees, to a decidedly more rural landscape dominated by agriculture and, of course, vineyards.
Rounding Lodi Lake (Lodi’s crown jewel, not visible from the ride), past Woodbridge and into Acampo, the vineyard scenery was pretty homogenous but tranquil, aside from the somewhat disturbing sight of clapped out, torched and abandoned cars with no wheels. There were three of them within a couple of miles of each other on Acampo Rd. The sight of them begged the questions of how long they had been there, who had stolen them (gangs in Stockton?), and was anyone going to haul these eyesores away?
I took these opening miles pretty easy, with an average speed hovering above 16-17 mph, just taking in the scenery. More difficult riding was yet to come later in the day. As it was, the first 18 miles were entirely flat up to a mile from the first rest stop of the day, at Mile 19.3.
The rest stop in Clements, as would all the other food stops, was very well stocked, with bagels (and two different kinds of cream cheese), muffins, cookies, melon, oranges, strawberries, trail mix, granola bars, water and Gatorade. I’m not really sure what more one could ask for! As such, I lingered around for 10-15 minutes, munching and admiring many of the bikes, which included many carbon fiber beauties and several tri bikes.
Back on the road, there was still sparse traffic aside from the occasional farmer on a slow-moving tractor. Vineyards began to make way to fields with remnants of green due to some recent–and unusual–rains, a landscape dotted with oak trees, and golden hillsides.
Yes, hills. The climbing had begun! We were already in Lake Camanche territory. The vast majority of the 2000 feet of climbing in this ride would be featured in this one leg. There would be relatively few homes out here, but plenty of viewpoints overlooking the placid blue waters of the Camanche reservoir below.
Lake Camanche is one of the most popular lakes in the region, a recreational haven for camping, boating and fishing. (Just don’t go there for good hiking–several years ago I went there with a friend looking for some, and even the rangers could not really recommend anything.) It is most well-known for bass fishing, but the Department of Fish and Game also plants trout there in the fall and winter in addition to smaller stocks of catfish and salmon. Lake Camanche also makes for great scenery–this was certainly the most splendid part of the ride.
Perhaps inspired by the views below, I picked up the pace. During the first 20 or so miles of the ride, I was getting passed by many cyclists–especially those riding in pacelines–despite the terrain being flat and I was riding a recumbent which supposedly had an aerodynamic advantage. Now, in an ironic twist, here in the hills I was passing quite a few cyclists despite climbing being the bane of recumbents.
I was feeling good and by Mile 35 noted how I had not needed to shift into the granny gear despite there being some good-sized rollers. Indeed, the ‘bent was in the big ring almost the entire day. But any complacency about this would rapidly fade away as the journey continued along Buena Vista and Pardee Dam Roads.
Doh! The climbing was now steep enough that I really needed to shift into my granny, but I could not. The front derailleur had not been dialed in well, something I should have took care of after last year’s Hemet Double Century, but forgot about and failed to do.
But not wanting to stop and dismount (and subsequently having to restart uphill) and carried on in my 42X26 gear, which might have been okay if I was on my upright bike, but on the ‘bent was a world of hurt.
Fortunately the climb this occurred on was not horrendously long, perhaps 10 minutes. And on subsequent steep climbs (there were 2 or 3 more, but shorter), I learned to anticipate them and then shift directly from the big ring to the granny. For some reason this was possible whereas shifting from the middle to the granny was not.
A nice surprise was an unannounced water stop at an overlook just off of Pardee Dam Rd. at Mile 40. It was at the top of a steep-but-short hill, which (along with the fact that the lunch stop was just another 11 miles away) persuaded most cyclists to bypass it and continue along steep the descent of Pardee Dam Rd. instead. However, for the sake of my shot legs after the steep-with-no-granny climb, I was stopping.
The stop was worth it. In addition to being able to rest my legs for a few moments and grab a granola bar, the overlook provided a calming view of the Pardee Reservoir (upstream of Lake Camanche and similarly blue) below, with the foothills of the Sierras standing idly in the distance. The only other people up here were two friendly volunteers softly chatting in their camp-style chairs, and I did not mind at all the solitude afforded by the lack of crowds.
Back on the bike, I descended down to the Pardee Dam over which was a one-lane bridge with traffic signals on each end of it. A sign noted that the bridge “manages vehicular traffic only; pedestrians and cyclists proceed with caution”, so heeding the latter warning, I went across even though the traffic light was red. This span was about 3/4 of a mile long and straddled by 3-foot-high cement walls, walls too high for me to look over while on the recumbent, but perhaps short enough for a person on an upright bike to gaze over.
As I cruised over some of the smoothest roads in the whole state of California, the scenery returned to the golden-hillsides-with-oak similar to that at Mile 20, past Campo Seco (elevation 540, population 55) and down to Wallace (elevation 219, population 287). Wallace would play host to the lunch stop.
Miles 51: The Lunch Stop
The lunch stop provided the same plethora of food as the earlier rest stop, with the addition of bread for making turkey, cheese, ham, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I munched on a couple of the latter while again checking out some pretty carbon fiber bicycles, and was about to leave after 15 minutes when an amiable fellow named Pierre came on over to chat.
“How long did it take you to get your Reynolds dialed in?” he asked.
Surprised that he had so readily identified my custom bent as a Reynolds despite the lack of identifying decals, I paused, then explained, “Well, I haven’t exactly have it dialed in quite yet, as I couldn’t shift into the granny when I really needed to on some of those hills back there. However, I did build it up in 2000…”
“You must live in Fremont, then,” replied Pierre. “I saw your bike on George Reynolds’ web site.”
It turned out Pierre also owned a Reynolds (a T-Bone) and lived in Fremont no more than 3 miles away. Small world indeed. Pierre was an interesting guy, with no less than 10 bicycles including the T-Bone, a Lightning P-38, a Gold Rush, and the Rans F-5 with fairing that he was riding today. All of these are recumbents. He also owns some upright bikes, including a Specialized Roubaix and a Rivendell. “Perhaps too many bicycles,” Pierre said, “but I do ride them all, mostly commuting to and from work in Hayward.” Amazing!
He was waiting for his friend Nonda who was also riding a Rans F-5. In the meantime, we talked about everything from recumbents, to local rides, to commuting, and bike accidents. The week before my friend Tom had crashed on Niles Canyon Rd. resulting in a broken collar bone, and just a couple of days after Pierre had an accident with a truck, resulting in more injuries to the driver than to Pierre especially after Pierre accidentally slugged him in the face in the midst of the collision! We agreed that cycling is indeed a risky endeavor, but as Pierre stated, “it’s my Prozac…”
Finally, after talking for a whole hour, I decided that it was time to hit the road again. It was now just after 12:00pm, meaning that I had spent about 1 hour and 20 minutes at this stop. This was certainly a new record for me–during double centuries, I normally don’t stop for more than 40 minutes at all checkpoints combined, and usually less than 5 minutes at each one. But that is the great thing about centuries–the shorter distances allow for longer periods of lingering, eating, taking in the scenery, or having great conversations with fellow cyclists.
With the hills behind along with a favorable tailwind, this turned out to be the easiest leg of the ride. Most riders were now well ahead, so here I was mostly cruising along leisurely and alone, just following the orange arrows on the roads, which were so well marked that the route sheet was essentially unnecessary. This was pleasant change from the longer Southern California rides I have done, where self-reliance and greater orienteering skills are stressed.
Past Wallace and back to Clements were the now-familiar farmlands and guys on tractors. Due to the tailwind heading south towards Linden, these miles went by rather quickly. At Mile 73, we were treated to another visual delight second, perhaps, only to the view of Lake Camanche. This was Walnut Dr., aptly named as the road here was virtually enveloped by groves of reverent Walnut trees, fully mature and evenly spaced with a full head of green leaves, providing cover on a day where the mercury had done nothing but rise.
It was also around here that Pierre, on his F5 with a tiger-print fairing, had caught up and passed me. He was going fast on (or shall I say, “in”) that thing!
I sped up to remain in his wake and followed him the next couple of miles into Linden. Traffic here was much more plentiful, but still, not super heavy. We pulled on into Linden High School, where we’d have a chance to eat–again.
“That leg went by really quickly,” I remarked. “It seemed like I was just talking with you at the lunch stop and here we are, 25 miles later, already.”
This time I wouldn’t stay too long, though. Just long enough to enjoy an oatmeal cookie.
Miles 75 to the End
A few blocks away was the Linden Cherry Festival, which had carnival rides and even a car show. I was very tempted to stop on by to take some photos of some of the (mostly American classic) cars there, but then saw that tickets were needed for entry. Probably not worth just stopping by for 10 minutes. Ah, well, I’ll have my fill of car shows in the upcoming weeks…
At hand was still the task of getting to the finish. While the previous leg was easy, us cyclists were now riding full force into a headwind whenever we were heading north or west. These turned out to be the directions we’d go about 95% of the rest of this leg.
The roads the journey continued on–Alpine, Harney, Locust, Orchard, etc.–were all roads I had trained on over a decade ago. Nolstalgic for sure. Yet it was humbling to look at the speeds I was going–up to Linden, my overall average speed was 16.0 mph, but afterwards it would steadily drop, only to stabilize at 15.6 mph. (In contrast, if memory serves me right, as a 19-year-old, the average speed of my training rides would almost always be between 17.0 and 18.5 mph, and this was on my less-aerodynamic Cannondale.)
I had to concede that I was at least a little tired. And so at Mile 90, where there was yet another surprise water stop, I stopped yet again. I had another cookie.
Out in these regions, among the scattered farms and pastures were large homes on vast acreage. Vineyards again came into view along with Mondavi’s Woodbridge Winery, incidentally the start of the Delta Century from just a few weeks ago. Back into Lodi, traffic again picked up, but nothing super heavy.
And finally–after a beautiful day of riding, eating, and socializing–the Lodi High School was back in sight. Just over 8.5 hours had passed since the journey had commenced for me in the morning. Time for more food!
I was all smiles as I rolled into the high school parking lot. The completion of a century–what as recently as 2 months ago I had considered routine–was now cause for celebration after the aborted attempt of the Delta Century 3 weeks ago. That the Lodi Sunrise Century had some hills also ultimately made its completion all the more satisfactory.
My jubilation would continue throughout the evening. After I disassembled and mounted the bike back on the Alfa, I noticed a piece of paper stuck under the car’s windshield wiper. “Hi Felix,” the note read, “didn’t know you were doing the ride today. I did the 60 mile route. Allen E.” It was from Sharon’s brother-in-law from Tracy! That was the third “small world” encounter of the day.
From there I went inside the gym for the post-ride meal. The tables had an abundance of fresh salad, rolls and soft drinks, while in the kitchen, more cheery volunteers were serving up large portions of spaghetti. It was great. Despite all the calories burned, I probably had a surplus of calories ingested today.
Then I sat down across the table from a fit, older woman. She, Nancy Lund, had come from Benicia to do this ride, and also had a wonderful time. We talked for a little bit and then she asked me what my name was. “Felix,” I replied. “I thought so!” was her response. “I have been reading your ride reports ever since I started bicycling again a few years ago.” Very cool to know that I am not just writing these things for myself!
Moments later, then came Nonda, Pierre’s friend on the Rans recumbent who had just graduated the day before from San Jose State (what a way to celebrate). Then there was Pierre. And then Nancy’s friend Barbara, also from Benicia. Suddenly, we had become one big group of happy century finishers. Actually, I don’t think I met a single unhappy cyclist on this day. Everyone was seemingly unanimous in praise for this century, from the weather, course, and organization.
Indeed, there were many reasons to do this ride. I had started it with the ideas of redemption, nostalgia, fitness and fun in mind. But after the ride, it would be all the wonderful people I met that would remain in my mind. Friendly folks and cycling make a good mix.
- 102 miles
- 7:05 start, 15:37 finish -> 8.5 hours
- Average speed: 15.6 mph rolling, 12.0 mph overall
- Maximum speed: 40.6 mph
- Climbing: 2000 ft.
- Scenery: 4
- Support/Organization: 5
- Food: 4
- Weather: 3
- Relative Difficulty: 3
- Overall Rating: 4
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