Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ride Around the San Francisco Bay Double Century

Vajda churns a massive gear on the little single speed Cannondale Hooligan

Although I've hatched many a plan for extreme adventure rides, this one wasn't my idea. It was the brain child of my new friend, Vajda. I met Vajda at Peets Coffee shop on my morning ride, and quickly discovered we had something in common beyond just being cyclists... Adventure riding. Vajda told me he'd ridden by bicycle around the entire San Francisco Bay before, and was planning another attempt. I was immediately intrigued. He planned a July 4th event which I couldn't make, and this one took the "flat route", staying in towns and avoiding climbs where possible. Then, he decided to plan the "Vista Route," which travels some of the Bay's wonderful side roads, but adds a ton of climbing. The route is about 200 miles with 12,000' of climbing. The date is set for July 28th, 2012, and I check my calendar — I'm "all in."

...I wake up at 3:30 A.M. on the 28th of July, to prepare for the ride. After coffee and breakfast, I "kit up," grab my supplies and ride across town to Oakland to meet the ambitious group. Along on the ride are Vajda, Omar, who works at Volagi Bicycles, Adam, part owner of  The Spoke in Oakland, and Katherine, a speedy little climber from Oakland who probably could be National Champion in age group Master's Racing if she had any interest.

The day starts off with a small glitch. Adam stayed over at Vajda's to make the early start more manageable, but forgot his bike shorts, so we alter the route slightly so we can drop by Adam's home to get him kitted up correctly. We roll from Oakland at 5 AM, and by the time we are ready to head for the hills with Adam ready to roll, we've lost a few ticks and it's 5:30.

 The group heads for the Oakland hills in the pre-dawn

Vajda is riding a small wheeled single speed bike with a 70 inch gear, or equivalent to something like a 53 x 20 gear on a 700c bike. If there is any doubt about Vajda's prowess on that little bike, it quickly disappears as he drops the group on the first steep climb we call Butters. I was astounded.

The group makes quick work of Butters, down Redwood Road, up and over the climb, down to Castro Valley, and up and over Palomares Canyon road into Sunol where we have our first brief stop. Turns out the Calaveras Time trial is today, so tons of riders warming up for their time trial.

Pacelining along Hwy 84 heading into Sunol

(l to r) Vajda, Omar, Adam, Katherine, at Sunol Café
Vajda gets jiggy in Sunol While I play the straight man (Photo: Omar)

We leave Sunol and head for Calaveras Road, one of the most beautiful routes in the Bay Area. This twisty gem of a road winds us along the Calaveras reservoir, in and out of creek canyons, and drops us into the South bay at San Jose.

 Katherine gets her climb on chasing me down on Calaveras Road.

Omar climbs on the extraordinarily beautiful, Calaveras Rd.

 Next we drop from the quiet Calaveras road into San Jose and work our way across the Southern end of the Bay. On the descent, Vadja dodges a car at 45 mph crossing an intersection, but all is good. Also good is that our crossing of this section is largely through an industrial park, housing some of Silicon Valley's largest companies, such as Cisco, and Samsung. They're closed on Saturday and it's still early, and it's quiet, so this section goes smooth. We enjoy our second stop at a Starbuck's. We suspect we are in Santa Clara at this point. It's just after 9 and we've got 70 miles out of the way.

A nice stop in Santa Clara, fueling up, checking messages, checking Google Maps. We think the guy on the computer is writing an article about us for Velo Magazine, but we might be wrong.

 Now we've got more urban riding to do, making our way from Santa Clara to Woodside. We're going a little Outlaw here, running lights and stop signs when we can. We just can't afford to sit idle with all the distance and elevation at hand, and frankly, if we do have down time, we'd rather spend it at a nice Café!
We find a local rider (red/white jersey) who helps us find the quickest route to Woodside.

Enjoying a little down time at the wonderful Robert's Market in Woodside.
After Woodside, we travel the ever popular Cañada Road corridor, with many cyclists trying to show us their stuff, on $10,000 machines with deep carbon rims. We gladly let them tow us along, comfortably sitting on their wheels, until they're completely winded, and once their pace drops, we float by, smile, and say, simply, "Thanks for the tow!"

The route gets a little tricky here with road closures, and no easy way through this section as we get closer to South San Francisco. We are forced to get on Hwy 280 for one exit, to connect to a bike path, then back to Skyline for the approach into San Francisco.

Always feels weird to get on a freeway on ramp on your bike. This is Hwy 280
After one exit we are reminded to get off the freeway. No problem... let's get the hell out of here!

We find our way along Skyline again, heading into South San Francisco. Vajda falls off the pace a bit here, legs saying enough of this big gear. Not wanting to hold up the group, he ejects and heads down the hill to catch BART, and prepare for the after party. While Vajda is arguably the strongest rider in the group, the little bike and big gear are just too much today on this arduous route.

Once we approach San Francisco, we've got some route finding to do. I'm trying to navigate with my Garmin, while others are going from memory and pulling out iPhones and Google maps. All this while trying to negotiate mid-day traffic in the big city! However, once we get into San Francisco proper, Adam becomes a whole new person. He's worked these streets as a bike messenger and it shows. He knows the streets and the pace kicks up. First thing he does, is a little Skitchin', grabbing the bed of a pickup truck, perfectly timed, and drops us all on a climb. Legend has it that he beat Chris Phipps, one of the best racers and climbers in NorCal in an inner City race. They were neck and neck on the last leg. Adam knew he would be totally outclassed by Phipps on the last segment, so he skitch'd up a hill leaving Phipps and the others in the dust, and winning the big prize... the very bike he is riding today!

If you look close you can see Adam hanging on to the pickup truck, Skitchin' while we're dropped!

 As we approach Golden Gate Park Katherine announces she's had enough for the day and heads for BART, while Omar, Adam, and I head to Velo Rouge Café to meet Amory, who plans to do the last leg with us.
Adam and Omar rolling through Golden Gate Park

 We arrive at Velo Rouge Café and Amory is there waiting for us. We figure we are good on time so decide to take a nice "sit down" stop.

Velo Rouge Café, San Francisco, Arguello at McAllister, Amory in the yellow helmet, "eating safe."

My sandwich and Salad, the Fausto Coppi. Omar enjoys soup.
 After Velo Rouge, I start crackin' the whip. "OK boys, it's after 3 and we've got a long way to go."
We head out through the Presidio and onto the the Golden Gate bridge. Man, what a shit show. Seems every single bike is rented out from Blazing Saddles and no-one knows how to ride a straight line. Crazy dangerous trying to make time on the bridge, but we make it through, somehow, in one piece.

Making our way through the Presidio. Amory's fresh legs and smile are welcome to the weary group.
Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge
The madness on the bridge is about to begin, I was nearly crashed out several times by inattentive tourists.

 We get over the bridge and it's a smooth ride through Sausalito, Corte Madera, and up and over Wolfe Grade to San Rafael. Then on to Novato to prepare for the dreaded Hwy 37. We have another stop at Peets in Novato just before the Hwy 37 journey. We try a back way to access Hwy 37 just to save a bit on the busy road.

A little cyclocross to access Hwy 37 brought us across a few obstacles.
Here we go! Entering the dreaded Hwy 37.
Comical. Normally the concern is getting buzzed by cars at 70 mph, but here we are buzzing them in our paceline. They're stopped and we are doing 25 mph. Race day at Sears Point!

 Things turn sour here. There is a horrible obstacle in the road. I can't even describe it. It's like a dismantled truck scale or something. But they didn't clean up the surface. There are huge pot holes and steel bars sticking up. Omar goes through first, he has no time to warn. He veers right and misses it. I'm next. It's basically... do the biggest bunny hop of my life... or eat shit. I figure I can at least get my front wheel over, and maybe case the rear and flat or ruin the wheel but I'll be OK. I leap, I clear it, I'm good. Amory is next with Adam on his right shoulder. Amory is lined up with the biggest pot holes you've ever seen. He veers right, takes Adam's front wheel out and they are both down in a horrible crash. I see Adam's head hit the pavement out of the corner of my eye just as I land my jump. I'm terrified. I flip it and head back to the scene. Adam is already sitting up, he's lucid, talking clearly. Wow man, what a relief. Really. I can't tell you how relieved I was.

Broken handlebars keep Adam from continuing, but he's otherwise OK if a little banged up. Amory is OK, slightly bent wheel and some bad scrapes. They're not going to continue. A super nice dude in a VW bus comes along and volunteers to help. He does, and Omar and I continue, knowing our boys are OK.

Wicked cross wind here and Omar shelters me for much of this before finally succumbing and saying, "We've got to switch places!" We do, and after what seems like an eternity, we make it to Vallejo. I feel it's in the bag now if we don't do anything stupid.

Omar and I working the crosswinds and rumble bumps on Hwy 37

Omar (l) and Paul (r) on Hwy 37 at about mile 170. Still smiling... sort of. (Photo: Omar)

 We then make it to Mare Island, a deserted Navy Base in Vallejo. There are some run down, bombed out buildings, but some nice restored areas as well.

Nice old draw bridge on Mare Island
 We need one more stop before we can finish this puppy off. We stop at a convenience store and there is an armed guard. He asks if we know where we are, and I say yes, I think we are in Vallejo. He says, you'd better not leave these bikes here for long. I say I am going to stay with the bikes while Omar goes inside. He looks me up and down, shakes his head like, "You ain't gonna stop what's gonna happen here, white boy!" So we grab our supplies and get the hell out of there.

Convenience Store in Vallejo. Stop at your own risk.
 Now onto the Carquinez bridge and the new bike path for the final leg. We cross the bridge and it's gorgeous in the evening light.

Omar crossing the Carquinez Bridge in evening light.

 After the bridge we have a minor route finding glitch, but get it sorted out and it looks like we have a few ticks before dark. Vajda originally wanted to finish with the optional Arlington climb. I told him that I didn't think it was practical and nobody would want to add that rather brutal option late in the ride. But my legs are good, Omar is good, so we decide to knock it out for Vajda, and besides, why not take in some great evening views of the entire bay we just rode around?

Omar climbing The Arlington. Sun is low, shadows are long, spirits are high.
Paul does the last dance on the Arlington, still cranking out 280W. I've never felt this good at the end of a Double. (Photo: Omar)

The sun sets on the Bay in an epic day. Omar is happy to be done.

Omar and I roll down the Arlington and finish off the ride. I head home, but meet up with the group at Vajda's for a feast of Zachary's Pizza, Chicken Pot Pie, and fruit pies along with some beer and plenty of talk about future adventures. Adam and Amory are fine, and we're all good for the next adventure. We've got some ideas... stay tuned.

Here is the Strava file showing about 200 miles and 12,000'. My Garmin was left off for one leg so I am missing some mileage and climbing:

A few parting notes:

This was truly an epic adventure. Undoubtedly the most "interesting" Double Century I have ever done, and there have been about 50 of them. The challenges of this route are many. The distance and climbing are a given. But throw in lack of support, city traffic, stop lights, down time, route finding, roads that were not meant for cycling, etc. etc., and you have a truly epic day where all cycling skills come into play. This was a great group. Strong, competent, cooperative, no egos, and good energy. It was too bad that not all finished, but it was still a great day for everyone. Photos were all from an iPhone and most were taken on the bike on the fly, so the quality is what it is. Photos by Paul McKenzie unless otherwise noted. Enjoy