Friday, September 24, 2010
The inspiration for my Sierra Bicycle Tour was two-fold. First, lacking any significant vacation this summer from working too much, I wanted to fit in a bike tour. Second, it would be good preparation for the Everest Challenge Bike race, a favorite of mine. My friend Bill Dunn was NOT putting on his September Supper tour so it seemed up to me to have a go. I invited friends, but was willing to go at it alone with no support if necessary. In the end, my teammates Conrad and Andy joined me. Both Cat 2 racers and 20 years my junior, they'd certainly present any needed challenges! Also along were Janet, Sarah, and Bill. Their function was to drive the van and find good riding along the way. We were essentially unsupported along the way, just meeting them at the end of the day. I'll keep the day descriptions reasonably short, but you can also visit the Flickr Photo Set, in which all photos are captioned.
The Tour Route is as follows:
Day 1: Sattley to Foresthill via Downieville, Colfax, Iowa Hill. 124 miles, 11,200'
Day 2: Foresthill to Kyburz via Mosquito Ridge, Ralston Ridge, Ice House. 92 miles, 12,000'
Day 3: Kyburz to Murphys via Silver Fork, North South, Sheep Ranch. 108 miles 12,000'
Day 4: Murphys to Walker via Columbia, Big Hill, Sonora Pass. 110 miles, 11,800'
Day 5: Walker to Truckee via Monitor Pass, Luther Pass, West Shore. 110 miles, 8700'
It's a bit too long to ride from Truckee, so LT shuttled us out to Sattley, making the ride 'just' 124 miles instead of about 165 miles! It was a cool, beautiful morning as we departed. We made quick work of Yuba Pass, and the climb was a good warm up. We rode at sub tempo and made the 7 mile 1700' climb in around 40 minutes. Then it was a long downhill to Bassetts and Downieville, taking in views of the Sierra Buttes along the way. We arrived in Downieville at mile 32 in just an hour and a half. Ahead of schedule, Conrad suggested a coffee stop.
Continuing on the North San Juan we rode along the Yuba River with beautiful views in the morning light. Then we left the river and made a couple of good climbs arriving in North San Juan, mile 61, in under 3 hours. I knew the pace would slow later once we hit the severe climbs after Colfax.
We made our way through Nevada City and Grass Valley on a route I had scouted earlier, then took Lower Colfax Rd. and Hwy 174 to Colfax, where we stopped for food and drink.
Leaving Colfax it was on to a fast descent to down to the North Fork of the American River before making the severe climb up to Iowa Hill. The pace took it's toll and Conrad and Andy dropped me here. On to Foresthill we enjoyed the last 8 miles of slight downhill at 30 mph. We arrived in Foresthill with plenty of time to shower and head to the Wortin's Market Deli for burger and burritos, while enjoying the outdoor views of the terrain we'd attack on Day 2.
Day two, Foresthill to Kyburz, is certainly the most remote route of the trip. There are no services along the route except for Uncle Tom's Cabin, a small bar .3 mile off the route on a dirt road.
We mounted up around 8;30 AM and headed into Foresthill to hit the coffee shop and check email.
A bit of a slow start but then we descended Mosquito Ridge Rd. to the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River. Then we climbed the famed Corkscrew Grade, caught Janet on her ride, and fought with the knats on the climb. Always tough to ride a 15%+ grade seated while swatting knats with one hand!
Once we gained the top we rolled along Ralston Ridge to Ramsey's Crossing where we got water from the creek and sterilized with Conrad's SteriPen. Then we rode Eleven Pines road all the way to Uncle Toms Cabin at around mile 52, and we already had over 6,000' of climbing by this point. We stopped at the bar and Conrad tagged the ceiling with a dollar bill and our team name.
When we left, I noticed a bump in my rear tire. Not wanting to look at it and realize the bad news I continued to climb, when POW!, the tire exploded like a gunshot. We booted the tire and continued to roll. With 40 miles to go and the condition of the blistered tire, I knew my chances of making it were slim. But I nursed that thing all the way to Kyburz by leaning forward and standing most of the way. On the descent to Kyburz, I used only the front brake, stopping frequently to cool the rim. I had sent Andy and Conrad on a little detour to Wright's Lake so they'd be behind me and not have to suffer with my slow pace. Somehow, I made it all the way to Kyburz, though the 6 mile descent on Hwy 50 was stressful with the bad tire!
The van and crew showed up later and we showered, jumped in the van and headed down Hwy 50 about 7 miles to Dante's Italian restaurant for a nice dinner.
We rolled out of the Sierra Inn Motel at around 8:30 and were a bit surprised by the beginning of Silver Fork Rd., as it hit us hard from the gun with a very steep extended climb.
By now the legs were complaining about the hard days. We'd climb 3300' in the first 16 miles to Mormon Emmigrant Rd, where we enjoyed another 16 miles, this time flat or downhill. The first 16 miles took an hour and a half, the second 16 miles took a half hour!
We then navigated the remote North South Road with many ups and downs, but all manageable. We stopped for water at a camp ground but it was closed for the season. Out came the SteriPen again.
After North South we emerged on Omo Ranch road briefly, then took Hwy 88 for a few miles to Shake Ridge road, where we enjoyed another speedy flat/down section, with Andy and Conrad drilling it at 38 mph, and me sitting on the back. We descended Rams Horn Grade, one of my favorite little descents to the town of Volcano where we enjoyed a nice stop before things got really difficult again.
We headed to Railroad Flat Rd., on the way crossing the Mokelumne River. After Railroad Flat, we got onto Sheep Ranch Rd. for some more epic steep climbing. Conrad and Andy had dropped me by this time so I struggled along alone. A couple of steep, bumpy descents reminded this rider that the body was beat!
I rolled into Murphys to find Conrad and Andy enjoying beer and a "snack" in the form of a Pizza. I joined for a beer and a slice before we headed over to our friend Barranca's place. She'd put us up for the night and make dinner for us. Awesome.
The dinner and outdoor dining at Barranca's was swell, couldn't have been a better end to the day.
We'd been watching the weather for days as there was a storm brewing, and this was our day to navigate Sonora Pass. A storm at nearly 10,000' would not have been a good thing. As we started our day, it wasn't clear weather we'd see rain or not as the storm was predicted to possibly just miss us to the north.
We headed toward Columbia and arrived quickly before tackling Big Hill Road, a small cutoff that took us toward Twain Harte, avoiding busy Hwy 108. We finally emerged on 108 and Andy set a pace that was too high for me. Conrad elected to sit back and tow me along. He'd have to back off on the steeper grades to keep me on. He said I'd drop off when he hit about 180-200 watts, demonstrating the tiredness I was feeling. I struggled to get my heart rate over about 130 bpm!
We stopped at Strawberry and found Andy there. We enjoyed a snack and then carried on toward Sonora Pass. Weather was holding and fingers were crossed. Sarah was in the van at Dardinelle, while Bill and Janet were riding Sonora Pass. I told her if the weather turns sour, please come pluck us off the mountain. So we did have a backup plan.
While Andy and Conrad rolled ahead, I chipped away at Sonora Pass taking a full hour and twenty minutes for the 9 miles at my snail pace. Even on the 26% grade section, my max HR was 143, so there really wasn't much power going down! Amazingly, I got over the pass in good weather, and didn't even feel the need to put on my rain jacket for the descent.
The East side of Sonora Pass was beautiful in the broken, storm edge light, and was a spectacular end to the day. Out on Hwy 395 we had a 14 mile stretch into Walker with a 1-2% downgrade. I soft pedaled the section, managing to average 28 mph into Walker with little effort. I was counting my lucky stars on this day. Ahead of me, Conrad and Andy hammered the section at full effort and managed to average 40 mph into Walker, with their 53 x 11 gears spun out!
Nice dinner and beer in Walker at a local restaurant. Surprisingly, they closed at 7 PM, so it's good we arrived when we did!
We had our usual breakfast in the hotel room, granola, fruit, yoghurt, etc., and made up some PBJ sandwiches with some slices of Janet's most excellent zucchini bread. This became our routine, decide who had the biggest room and that would be the breakfast room. Sarah rolled out early on solo adventure up Monitor Pass while Bill elected to rest, driving Janet over Monitor so she could do Ebbetts Pass. We referred to Bill, Janet, and Sarah as the "laughing group" as they elected to just do some fun riding each day vs. the big numbers that Andy, Conrad and I were doing.
It was a beautiful morning leaving Walker and the ride up 395 was smooth. We took a left on Monitor Pass and the three of us rode up the climb together at an easy pace, chatting the whole way. Andy and Conrad are both great conversationalists, and we covered many different topics in depth while riding. The roads we traveled lent themselves well to extended side by side riding with little traffic.
We passed Sarah near the top of Monitor Pass and continued toward Markleeville, after Conrad nailed maybe the fastest descent of the West side of Monitor I'd ever seen.
No supplies needed in Markleeville so we rolled through to Woodfords. At this point I think both Andy and Conrad could smell the barn and began to set a pace up the Canyon that I could not match. This would be the last I'd see of them. Conrad was taking a detour to Reno to pick up his car, while Andy headed toward Truckee. I enjoyed the ride past Emerald Bay and up the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.
As I rolled into Truckee, I was nearly run over by a very stupid or angry driver with a trailer who cut me off on the roundabout. I had to bunny hop the curb to avoid getting pinched off by the trailer he was towing.
After that I thought a cup of coffee might be nice before the final 1,000' climb up Northwoods to home. As I sat at Wild Cherries Coffee house, I got a text from Andy to the effect of, "I made it." I let him know I was close...
In the end, the tour was probably harder than even I expected. We averaged 110 miles and 11,000' per day with most days being similar in overall difficulty. It's a great tour but only for very fit cyclists who don't mind a little suffering. We'll see about next year. For now I'd like to do perhaps an easier version come next June when the passes open. Any interest?
P.S. Please check back for lots of comments and input from Conrad, Andy and the Laughing Group. Additional photos, maps, workout data, etc. will also be uploaded.