I had not done a single double century the entire 2002 until now, focusing more on shorter, more intense rides like the Markleeville Death Ride and the World’s Toughest Century instead. In fact, the last time I rode a double was almost exactly one year ago, in the 2001 Knoxville Double, on my Reynolds Wishbone recumbent.
This time around, though, I entered the event with seriously more training. Furthermore, I was going to ride my Cannondale, which (I believe) wanted to redeem herself after getting beat by the recumbent in the Solvang Double by over 2 hours. This course is fairly climbing intensive, so I suspected that riding my regular bike would result in a better time, but by how much?
I had originally planned on starting the ride at about 4:30 a.m., but just one problem though: I slept through my 2:45 a.m. alarm! (instead of driving up the night before, I had decided to sleep in my own comfy bed at home and drive up the morning of.) My alarm actually did go off, and I did hear it (in fact, I woke up and walked over to it, all the way over in my guestroom), but as I was still tired I then lay on the bed in the guestroom thinking “I’ll just sleep for 5 more minutes”. Well those 5 minutes turned into over an hour and I was still in Fremont at 4:20 a.m.!
Fortunately it only took a little more than an hour to drive over to Vacaville from Fremont, so I was on my bike by 6:00 a.m. Already, most cyclists had already left, and it was late enough that I’d only have to use my front light for 15 minutes or so. My late start also compelled me to ride with the following in the following manner: ride fast, and don’t stop too much.
I only saw one other cyclist (who might not have even been with the ride, since he turned off on some road that wasn’t part of the course) until the first rest stop at Mile 35, where I saw my friends Steve and Russ from the Tri-City Tri Club. It was good to see them; I had imagined they were long down the road already. We talked for a little bit but shortly thereafter I was on the road, alone again.
During this time, I enjoyed the sight of balloons rising over Napa Valley and all the wineries. One day, I hope to return more as a tourist instead of an ultramarathon cyclist.
But back to the ride. The very first cyclists who would pass me up (and only cyclists until Mile 100) was a paceline of 6-7 riders at Mile 50. They were going at a good clip but as I dislike riding in pacelines and wanting to be alone, I did not bother to join. This was probably a good decision: after the ride I’d learn that this group included Daryn Dodge, who is always one of the top 3 of the California Triple Crown Stage Race–company too fast for me!
There was a fair amount of climbing between Miles 40-70, but nothing was too steep and I was climbing very well. By 10:30 a.m. I had arrived at the second rest stop, about 15 minutes before last year, even though I started 50 minutes later this year!
The next 30 miles, I was well aware of, was to be much hillier. Still, I was climbing very well, though I was surprised by the steepness of a few of the (short) climbs. The water stop at Mile 94 was very welcome; with the heat of the day, I was drinking a lot more than usual (in addition to the two water bottles I’d drink on the bike, at each rest stop, I was drinking a full water bottle’s worth of water), and had run out a mile before the water stop.
At the water stop I saw my friend Adam; this was to be his third and last double for the year, and he seemed to be in good spirits. Again I didn’t stick around for too long though, eager to get to lunch, and then get over with the last of the climbing in the leg after that.
A few miles before lunch were some very welcomed downhills. They were great smooth roads with gentle sweeping curves. At lunch I downed a very tasty tuna sandwich, a Mountain Dew and some fig bars, and then saw Adam again just as I was taking off… or intended to take off.
Miles 105-145: Disaster Strikes!
It was just a few minutes after lunch that my fortunes for the day went into a downward spiral. Physically, I was still feeling very good, but losing momentum fast…
The first bit of misfortunate occurred just yards from the lunch stop. I hopped on my bike, and DRAT! The rear tire was totally flat! I must have rolled over something sharp at the lunch stop. By this time, it was getting very very hot during the day (like over 90 degrees), and even though I hadn’t pedaled even for 30 seconds after lunch, I was already starting to sweat.
I changed the tube and tried to use the floor pump that was available at lunch. However, due to having deep-dish rims (which I am really starting to dislike… heavy, require extra-long spoke nipples, and valve extenders for non-ultralight tubes [which cannot be bought with extra-long valve stems]), I could not get the pump’s valve chuck on. I used a valve extender I had, but the valve chuck could not grip the valve extender well enough. After 5 minutes of frustration and profusely sweating (from pumping the air pump), I gave up on the pump and used one of my 4 CO2 cartridges instead.
Having gotten 2 flats already last week (slow leaks on the front tire), getting another one today was frustrating. And perhaps due to rushing or frustration, I had problems getting my rear wheel back on my bike, and in the process, accidentally broke off the speed sensor for my cyclometer. This resulted in my cyclometer not registering any more miles for the 2nd half of the ride.
I was back on the road again, finally. The 700 feet of climbing during this leg that just about killed me last year did not seem too tough this year, despite the tremendous heat. However, the roads were absolutely awful, with numerous potholes everywhere. To make matters worse, the trees and shrubbery by the road were casting confusing shadows everywhere. It was very difficult to differentiate between shadows and potholes while going at any decent rate of speed. Next thing I know… I hit a pothole, and BOOM!… my front tire explodes. I felt my leg get wet in the explosion. Now really disappointed that I got a second flat in just 10 miles, I changed the tube (consuming my last spare tube), and was riding again after 10 minutes or so.
But during all that time I was thinking, “What if I get another flat? I have no more spare tubes left, and no patch kit. I would have to depend on a SAG vehicle coming by, which could be who-knows-when.”
Cursing both my luck and myself for not bringing a patch kit along, a few miles later I reached back to take a slug of water from one of my bottles, and… feel nothing in the bottle holders behind my seat. Where’s my 2nd water bottle? It was only then that it occurred to me that when I hit that pothole, my water bottle came loose, and hit the ground… that’s why my leg felt wet when the tire exploded! Not wanting to backtrack 3 miles to look for the lost water bottle, though, I continued on, with NO water remaining. I was very thirsty too.
“Great, I had been diligently drinking all day, even downing a full water bottle at each rest stop, and I’m going to be in trouble with dehydration,” I thought to myself.
And in the meantime, I still had to navigate through the awful pothole-strewn roads, being really careful to avoid potholes (which wasn’t always possible), since I had no more spare tubes!
Sometime during the next 10 miles, I managed to flag down a SAG vehicle (the “Bike Van”) to get some more water. The friendly guy in it even gave me a free water bottle he had. Great, water problem solved.
3 miles after was Rest Stop #4. Here I asked one of the support guys whether I could buy a spare tube since I had consumed them all. “No, but I’ll give you one,” was the reply. This was really great service!!!
Turned out to be a great thing I got that spare tube because, maybe just 5 miles later… ANOTHER flat! This time, the front tire again, perhaps a puncture. I would never know; I couldn’t find an offending object in the front tire.
So I had no more spare tubes once again.
Now being really paranoid, having had 3 flats in just 30 miles with still over 60 miles to go, I started scrubbing my front tire with my (glove-protected) hand, and noticed that something didn’t feel right with the tire. I dismounted the bike to further inspect it, and noticed there was positively a lump (like a bubble) in the tire. Why was this, I wondered. Perhaps the tire casing had gotten damaged when I hit that pothole? In any case, I was positive that I would be getting another flat tire before the day was over!
At Mile 155 was another water stop. I requested another spare tube, which allayed my concerns about “what if I get a 4th flat” a little bit. I crossed my fingers.
Some familiar sites: Hubcap Heaven, Cardiac Hill. I picked up my lights at Rest Stop #5 with still about an hour of daylight remaining, a far cry from last year, in which a support volunteer had to fetch my lights from that Rest Stop while I was still not there well after dusk had set in.
But all of this did not matter to me very much at that point. I just wanted to get back to the finish without any more problems. And that’s how the rest of the ride went: riding strongly, but riding in fear. It was not an enjoyable feeling to have at all. One cannot live freely if he lives in fear.
But at 8:12 p.m. I made it back to the finish without any more problems. Big relief.
I helped myself to a tasty dinner (pasta, chicken breasts, salad and bread) and sat myself down by a young couple, Chris and Robin from San Rafael. Chris swore he had met me before. It would not be until I was driving home later that night that it occurred to me that, yes, we had ridden together for the last 15 miles in the epic 1999 Terrible Two, in which we were the very last riders on the course!
We had a nice conversation for about 20 minutes. Robin was a volunteer for the ride; Chris had rode it. He made good time: he started out with the 6:30 a.m. Daryn Dodge group, and yet had finished before I did. He then told me he was doing the Furnace Creek 508 next month, with Robin supporting. Wow!
It was nice to end off this ride on a good note, then. It was a scenic Napa Valley course marred by bad roads, blistering heat and numerous mechanical problems. Yet, it was one with friendly faces abound. The latter is how I would like to remember the ride.
- 195 mi
- 6:00 a.m. start, 8:12 p.m. finish—14.2 hours
- Average Speed: ~15 mph moving, 13.7 mph overall
- Max Speed: >40 mph
- Total Climbing: >12,000 feet
- Scenery: 4. I gave it a 5 last year; maybe it was too familiar this time.
- Support/Organization: 5. As usual, the Quackcyclists provided the best support there is to offer!
- Food: 4. Dinner and lunch was nice.
- Weather: 2. Very, very warm.
- Relative Difficulty: 3. Seemed quite a bit easier with my regular bike than on the recumbent.
- Overall Rating: 3. This year’s ride was marred by oppressive heat and mechanical problems.
Route Sheet (PDF)