Monday, April 22, 2013

Foresthill 3 Day Adventure Ride

Come Spring I seem to start hatching evil plans for adventure bicycle riding, and this year's first adventure took place April 20-22, 2013. Riding in the Sierra Foothills this time of year is spectacular, and I've been doing it regularly for quite a while. This year, I thought it would be fun to take advantage of our modest little flat in Foresthill, and invite a few friends along for a 3 day cycling adventure.

Dave S climbs near Foresthill
The plan would be to ride from Davis to Foresthill on Day 1, with participants able to take the Amtrak Train to Davis from Berkeley if so desired. Day 2 would be one of my favorite rides of all time, Ralston Ridge and Mosquito Ridge, and Day 3 would involve the return from Foresthill to Davis via either a longer adventure route or a more direct route if legs are uncooperative. We'd stay two nights in Foresthill, cooking meals, and sleeping on the futon, floor, or outdoors.

I got it all sorted out with some folks participating for 1, 2, or 3 days. Without dwelling on those details, here is a report on how it all went down:

Day 1, Davis to Foresthill

I agree to meet Paul, Dave, and Gaston for a carpool to Davis early Saturday morning. We arrive in Davis at around 8 AM, park at Paul's brother's place, kit up, and get rolling. The route is along the bikepath/causeway from Davis to Sac, skip downtown Sac in favor of the American River Trail (ART), then on to Foresthill via a more hilly and scenic route through Cool, CA.

A good riding friend, Jim Frink, lives in Folsom, CA, and Jim advises me on the best route. He suggests the ART, but fully acknowledges that some folks really deplore bike trails. I am one of those people... but after further discussion, I decide the ART is the way to go. Jim agrees to ride from Folsom, meet us on the ART, ride with us to a point near Foresthill, then return to Folsom alone, while promising to show up for the Day 2 adventure!

We roll out of Davis, more or less understanding the convoluted route through Davis, the bike trail, the causeway, a back way through Sac, then hooking up with the ART. With only minor glitches, we pull it off. I am the unfortunate recipient of someone's poor sense of humor — spilling thumb tacks on the road to flat out cyclists. My front tire goes down and I yell "FLAT!" to the group. We stop and I discover a thumb tack in the tire. At least the problem was easy to find! Then, I look at the rear, and while still inflated, there is another thumb tack. I pull it out, and pssssssst... the rear tire goes down. After over 25 years of cycling, this is my first "double flat" but I'm not sure it's an honor. Paul and Dave help with the flat(s) and we make quick work of getting back on the road.

Rolling along the ART, Dave, Paul, Gaston

We find the ART and meet Jim along the way. Immediately, the pace rises while Jim leads the way and complains he hasn't ridden much this year, while nearly ripping our legs off as we gasp to keep up with his pace. On the bright side, the ART boasts smooth pavement, courteous and competent users, and passes quickly. We ride past the Folsom Dam, and stop at Peet's in Raley's for a sit-down half sandwich and coffee.

Gaston and Jim
Paul C's brand new S-Works parked at Peets while we drink coffee

Back on the road we begin the climb up into the foothills. Paul drifts off the front, slightly frisky. I lean on the pedals and blow past him right at the summit of the short climb. Little do I know at this point I've awakened a sleeping Giant, I'm to pay for my friskiness. Jim explains the next climb to me, the "Rhino" climb, which is a benchmark for locals. He tells me it's maybe 17 minutes for pretty fast guys. Paul is out of earshot during this tutoring.

Climbing in the Foothills, Dave, Paul C, Gaston

I promised to pace myself on the first day of tour, but I can't help wondering how this old guy might fare on the Rhino based on Jim's time estimate. We cross the bridge and I set a tempo pace. Paul is on my wheel for a while, then drifts ahead. Too fast for me, but then again, Paul doesn't know the length and difficulty of the "Rhino,"... I do. Half way up, I catch him, he asks if this is the top, I say, no, we chat a bit, then he drills it again and drops me. I keep a tempo pace going, hoping I will catch him before the top. I don't, and crest the climb behind Paul by about 20 seconds in 19 minutes. We wait for the others and then proceed to Pilot Hill, then Cool.

I make an error here as a tour guide. I'm feeling we are not that far from Foresthill, so why not skip the stop in Cool, and just get in early? Our ETA was 5 PM, but now it looks like we can make it by 3:30. We make the glorious, fast, descent to the American River, only to discover it's pretty hot on the climb out, a Southern exposure, and at the top realize we are short of water with 13 miles of warm climbing to go! Jim says goodbye and heads toward Auburn.

We do eventually find a Fire Station with water (I believe all Fire Stations should have this liquid), and continue to Foresthill, ordering burgers and fries at Wortin's Market and enjoy the views of the Sierra Crest toward Desolation Wilderness.

Gaston and Dave drink up while Paul C fills bottles at the Fire Station

Dave, Paul C, and Gaston, fine dining, and enjoying the view of the Sierra Crest

 We later head back to the flat, get everyone settled for the night, enjoying a peaceful beer while staring at the quiet meadow behind the house. I prepare bean/cheese/salsa quesadillas for everyone. Theresa arrives, and Janet is working in the garden. We later hit the hay to rest for a big, epic, Day 2.

Dave and Paul C enjoying the back yard in Foresthill
Theresa and Janet pour over the map planning an alternate route for Day 2

Tired and at a loss for words, Paul C resorts to hand signals to explain something. Crossed arms by Dave and Gaston probably mean they are not fully embracing whatever theory is being proposed.

Day 2, Ralston Ridge/Mosquito Ridge

In the morning it's a hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and wild boar sausage brought by Dave. We cook it all up and sit down to fuel up for a big day.

Dave cooks the sausage while I man the pancake griddle
A breakfast extravaganza, pancakes, eggs, wild boar sausage, yoghurt, fresh blueberries and raspberries, maple syrup, coffee, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember
I invite many to participate in the epic Day 2 adventure, but the only additional takers are my teammates, Conrad and Matt, and Jim, who makes the drive from Folsom as promised, and Theresa. I warn everyone, "they'll be fresh..."

MPS teammates Conrad and Matt

Janet and Theresa take off early on their own adventure (out and back on Mosquito Ridge with detours to the Big Trees and an exploration of the dirt road to Robinson Flat).

We roll down the 9 mile descent into the American River canyon, cross the bridge at the North Fork of the Middle fork, and stash a third bottle at the bottom for the hot climb out later in the day. I figured this out about 20 years ago, passed along the knowledge, and it now seems to be standard procedure for anyone doing this ride to stash a bottle for the long climb out.

Stashing extra bottles for the hot climb out at the end of the day

I enjoy a view of the road we descended across the canyon while taking care of business

We do the short climb, then descend to Oxbow Reservoir on the Middle Fork before beginning the famous "Corkscrew Grade." It climbs 2,000' in just 4 miles and feature some brutally steep pitches:

Corkscrew Grade on Strava

I set a tempo pace and Matt and Conrad join me. Paul drifts off the front. Conrad decides it would be a good time to discuss options on the latest digital cameras. So while suffering on this brutal climb, Matt, Conrad, and I, discuss the latest digital camera trends. It was kind of comical, actually. Paul reaches "Mile 4" and circles at the short downhill, thinking he's at the top. I tell him, "No Paul, it's a 4 mile climb, we're at road marker, 4 miles, but still have another mile and a half to climb!" He joins us as we proceed to the summit. I make an effort at what I think is the top, but Conrad easily counters and nips me at the top. But the Strava segment is further back, I have no idea where, but... whatever.

Ralston Ridge... no cars.
After that we back off the pace and just enjoy rolling along Ralston Ridge at a sensible pace so that everyone can stay together. Things get frisky here and there with faux attacks and chases by Conrad, Jim, and yours truly, but nothing hard, just good clean fun. We stop at the natural spring to refresh our water bottles and I warn everyone to drink up and continue with full bottles, and a belly full of water.

Paul C handles the chore of filling everyone's bottles at the spring... wonderful cool mountain spring water

Conrad, Matt, Paul C make the final approach to French Meadow

We reach French Meadow reservoir and stop for eats and pics.

(l to r) Gaston, Matt, Jim, Paul M, Paul C, Dave (Conrad taking photo)
Paul C, Jim, Matt, Conrad at French Meadow
We then proceed to the two climbs out of the reservoir, first a short climb with a super fast technical descent, featuring trees downed on the road that isn't technically open this early in the season. We are now at nearly 6,000' and this remote road is not plowed or maintained this time of year. A light snow season has enabled us to reach this destination in mid April... It's not always so easy.

After the descent we tackle the longer climb up to the high point of the ride at the junction of the dirt road leading to Robinson Flat. While we stop there, Theresa is exploring this dirt road on her Randaneé bike. We don't see her, but later discussions confirm that she would have been on that road as we passed.

We begin the epic, 18 mile, 4500' descent on Mosquito Ridge Road back down to the American River. Conrad takes the lead and the pace becomes quite fast. I am on Conrad's wheel and Matt is behind me. The three of us shed the others and Conrad does most of the work at the front. He occasionally waves me through and I do my best to pull. Matt Yo-Yo's off the back but has the power to hitch back on. At the bottom, we have the Strava KOM, although who it's awarded to depends on which segment you look at. Bottom line, it should go to Conrad, who lashed out a stellar performance on the descent.

Check out this amazing Col du Mosquito Ridge Descent segment.

On the climb out, we are all pretty much limping, except that Matt puts in a strong performance to arrive first, way ahead of everyone, while Dave empties the tank for bride's maid honors, knowing he's near the barn. We stop again at Wortin's for burgers and fries as the food and views just can't be passed up, even for the second day in a row!

Last climb, (Jim off the front) Conrad, Matt, Paul C, Dave. This order would undergo multiple changes over the 9 mile climb
In the evening, Jim heads home to Folsom, while we enjoy beer at the flat, and Janet has prepared a huge bowl of guacamole for the riders. It's awesome. We prepare a spaghetti dinner, featuring a delicious sauce prepared by Paul C, pasta, salad, Garlic/Olive bread. For desert, we enjoy a home baked apple cobbler from Janet, and Vanilla Ice cream. We're all so full we can barely move. But with 85 miles and 10,000' in our bodies, we figure it will all be absorbed.

Sunday evening after dinner Janet, Theresa, Dave, and Gaston head home. This leaves Paul and I to finish the adventure. We tidy up, do the dishes, and hit the hay.

Day 3, Foresthill to Davis

Paul and I wake up at around 6 AM and get the coffee going. We have an "interesting" breakfast of leftovers. Paul enjoys spaghetti directly out of the pan, and Garlic Bread, while I enjoy apple cobbler, yoghurt, fresh blueberries and raspberries, a piece of Wild Boar sausage, and a half of a left over pancake with almond butter. Ahhh... the joys of having a cast iron stomach.

"leftover" breakfast on Day 3

Paul and I jump on the bikes and are on the road at 7:30 AM. We elect to pass on the epic Iowa Hill ride I have planned as an option in favor of the most direct route to Davis, save for one minor detour. I take Paul on a fun little wrinkle, show him the address where a friend of his has a home nearby, then take him on a tiny back road that leads us out to the Auburn Foresthill Rd, which features some fascinating little farms and feels like rural Italy.

We make quick work of getting to Auburn, then head through Old Town Auburn and catch the Auburn Folsom Road. It's rolling downhill all the way to Folsom and we are averaging over 20 mph to this point.

Paul points out the rumble bumps while I snap a photo on the fly

We roll through Folsom and begin to wonder where we are. We ask a pedestrian about where the ART is, and it turns out we are just a stone's throw away from a turn we need to make. We catch the ART, as the mid-day winds are picking up. The riding is easy but slower than it would be without the wind.

The ART is really nice, and we eventually make it to Sac, and retrace our route by memory. We even stopped at the same porta-potties as we did on the way out...

Back on the American River Trail between Folsom and Sacramento

We grab a little water before we hit the causeway between Sac and Davis. Paul puts in an awesome pull along the causeway into the wind. He loves to hammer into the wind. I'm hoping some of this will rub off on me at some point, but so far, no luck. I still hate the wind.

Paul C pounds into the wind on the final stretch
We roll into Davis just a bit after noon and take a short tour of the neighborhood near his brother's house, checking out the architecture on some cool Adobe style homes.

We clean up, get out of our chamois, and head to Murder Burger in Davis. Burgers and Fries three days in a row. A PR for both of us.

Ready and willing to take on the Murder Burger challenge

Parting shot. Yeah, I know they misspelled Murder Burger