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Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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Los Altos Hells (9/3/2012)

Date: Monday, September 3
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 4 - very steep hills
Miles: 28

Description:
The cyclists flock to tiny little Los Altos Hills. But most of them stick to the same old tired routes that we've done so many times -- Foothill, El Monte, Elena, Purissima -- that we can practically do them with our eyes shut. (But, kids, please don't try this at home.)

This is not one of those rides.

Your friendly ride leader has chosen seven climbs in Los Altos Hills that all have grades of at least 10%: Highlands, Mora, Quinnhill, Viscaino south, La Barranca, Altamont, and Viscaino north. He's done them all before, but never all on just one ride. None of the hills are longer than half a mile, so you can always cross-train them. And there's an easy ride back to Mountain View from almost anywhere on the route, so you can call it a day after you've conquered just one, two, three, four, five, or six of the hills.

The entire ride is only about 28 miles and has only about 2,400 feet of climbing. (Other than the seven hells, the route is merely mellow to moderate.) No food stop is planned on this ride, although we go near downtown Los Altos just before the halfway point. No SAG or sweep coverage is anticipated, so be ready to challenge yourself.

(Note: This is NOT part of the DBD2 training ride series. There are no hills this steep on Double Bay Double.)

This ride is Caltrain-friendly; the first southbound train from San Francisco arrives in Mountain View at 9:29 a.m.

Click here to RSVP now
RSVPs are recommended but not required.

Ride report: DBD2 training ride #1 (7/21/2012)

Go, riders!

Our series of eight DBD2 training rides kicked off in Mountain View this morning with 18 riders (that's a lot for a summer series), and we were greeted by sunny skies, light winds, and temperatures that ranged from warm to downright hot.

For those of you who did the Distance Training rides, the temperature change from winter to summer is one of the big differences between training for AIDS/LifeCycle and for DBD. Another big difference is that we're now training for a route that, mile for mile, is a bit more hilly than ALC. And finally, reading a route sheet and navigating the territory are two skills that you usually don't need for ALC but which are essential for DBD.

First, the weather. One of the most common questions about DBD is "What's the weather like?" There is, alas, no easy answer. Long-term averages suggest that Day 1 is generally cool to mild with a moderate tailwind to help us down the coast, with fog and perhaps scattered light drizzle common in late September. That's pretty close to what we experienced last year on DBD1. But the averages for Day 2 suggest a warm to hot day that's dry and has moderate to strong headwinds for part of the day. That's not even close to what we had last year; instead, we had cool temperatures, light winds, and even a few light showers between Morgan Hill and San Jose. The only thing about the weather on the event that seems likely is that we will experience many different microclimates. That's why it will be important -- just like it was in the winter and spring -- to dress in layers and be prepared for almost anything.

Hills. Yes, hills. We had quite a few today, but I hope you noticed that none of them were too stupidly difficult. That's also a good approximation of what you'll experience on the event in September. Much of the nearly 6,000 feet in climbing will come along Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz, where ALCers will be very familiar with the never-ending undulations of the coastal highway. The biggest climb of Day 1 is Old La Honda Road, about 3.4 miles at 7% grade, so even that isn't too bad. But after more than 100 miles of countless small hills, even little hills can start to seem annoying. And because DBD uses a different route south of Santa Cruz than does ALC, we've got a series of small hills right around mile 95 of Day 1. The moral is to pace yourself throughout the day; it's better to start conservatively and finish strong.

And then there's the route sheet. When I say that DBD is a "randonneuring-style" event, this is one of the big things that I mean. Our route isn't visibly marked with arrows, signs, or anything else, so it's vital that you use your route sheet to get from beginning to end. In fact, having fun with navigation and wayfinding is one of the most interesting parts of the event. One way that we help you with this is by publishing the event route in advance, probably one to two weeks ahead of time. This will give you an opportunity to study the route and focus on any areas where you might not yet be familiar with the surroundings. Likewise, all of my training ride routes are published in advance. You can see the routes in Ride With GPS after I publish them on the training ride calendar, and the actual route sheets for each training ride are usually available two or three days before the ride. Again, remember that navigation is as much a part of this event as is pedaling! Your goal is to ride as few "bonus miles" as possible ... hopefully zero.

What's next? We're dark next week for the annual DSSF picnic. But we're back in two weeks on Saturday, August 4 with a 45-mile ride that again goes up the Peninsula but to some different locations. We'll travel to the end of the pavement on Alpine Road, and we'll visit a few more hidden gems in Los Altos Hills. You can find out more and RSVP here or on the DBD Facebook page. (Be sure to Like our page!)

And if you haven't registered for DBD2 yet, go ahead and do it now. There are only 22 cyclist spots left, and I know several folks who have been putting it off. Registration is only $35, and the fundraising minimum is only $300. And because DBD is entirely volunteer-driven, every fundraising dollar that you raise goes directly to the programs and services of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation with no event overhead.

Thanks for riding with us today!

DBD2 training ride #4: Kings Mountain (8/18/2012)

Date: Saturday, August 18
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 4 - long climbs
Miles: 55

Description:
Kings Mountain is one of the signature climbs of the Peninsula, topping out at an elevation of 2,421 feet. (That's just a little bit less than Mt. Tam!) It's a long but mostly consistent climb of about 7%, so it's not stupidly steep. But you definitely need to pace yourself to have enough energy to make it to the top with grace and aplomb. After reaching the summit, we'll head back into Woodside on the Highway 84 descent.

But are we done? Of course not! After traveling around the backside of the Portola loop, we'll make our way into Los Altos Hills where we'll do a bit more climbing (Elena, Stonebrook, Magdalena) before we finally head back to Mountain View.

This ride has about 4,000 feet of climbing. Be sure to bring plenty of water and electrolyte replacement, especially if it's hot.

This ride is Caltrain-friendly; the first southbound train from San Francisco arrives in Mountain View at 9:29 a.m.

Click here to RSVP now
RSVPs are recommended but not required.

DBD2 training ride #3: Stevens Canyon (8/11/2012)

Date: Saturday, August 11
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep hills
Miles: 50

Description:
This week, we head up Stevens Canyon to the end of the paved road -- a gradual but persistent climb that takes us to an elevation of 1,125 feet. Next, we'll climb Mount Eden (but not Pierce!) and head into Saratoga for our first rest stop. Then it's over to Los Gatos and back into our second rest stop, which will be at the same location. (A savvy cyclist can figure out an easy short cut.) We finish with an out-and-back climb of Prospect Road to the Fremont Older Open Space Preserve. After that, it's mostly an easy return back to Mountain View ... except for our little run past Rancho San Antonio.

Total climbing on this ride is about 3,000 feet.

(If you're in or near San Francisco and want a closer option, consider attending today's DSSF Jersey Ride instead.)

Click here to RSVP now
RSVPs are recommended but not required.

Ride report: RUSA Moss Beach 200k (7/7/2012)

I faithfully send my $20 dues to Randonneurs USA every year, but I rarely participate in their events. More often than not, they conflict with some aspect of my training schedule. And the "entry-level" brevet is a full 200 kilometers, which of course is the ultimate challenge -- not the first step -- in my annual Distance Training rides.

But the stars aligned this week, and Santa Cruz Randonneurs happened to be presenting a 200km event on a date that worked for me. Just one problem, though: The route was hilly. Up and down Highway 1 with a diversion into La Honda to climb Haskins Hill, which I'd tackled for the first time only a few weeks ago. But emboldened by my performance on a partial Climb to Kaiser last weekend, I hit the road to Santa Cruz at 4:30 a.m. Saturday ... although I had, perhaps unwisely, done a hilly 40-mile ride just the previous afternoon.

One thing is different about brevets right away: The starting location and the ending location often aren't the same place. In Santa Cruz, the difference isn't all that huge -- less than 2 miles -- but it adds another layer of logistical complexity. Some folks park near the start and then ride back at the end of the day, but for me, when my ride is done, it's done. So I parked at the finish instead -- as several other riders were doing when I arrived -- and did the short ride on the just-barely-light-enough-to-ride streets of Santa Cruz to the lighthouse.

Check-in consists of signing a waiver and receiving one's brevet card: the important document that you must carry with you the entire day and fill out at the checkpoints, or controls, in order to receive credit for completing the event. At each control, you do something like get a timestamped store receipt or answer a question about the location. This is how you prove to the organizers that you actually rode the entire route. (There are, of course, ways to circumvent this, but that wouldn't be very sporting now, would it. And at least one other rider would notice and say something.) I carefully put my brevet card in a plastic bag and placed it in my Camelbak.

There's another aspect to the route: the cut-off times. RUSA has specific time limits on its rides, and they're elapsed time limits. This means that the clock is running no matter what you're doing, be it riding, eating, resting, or anything else. And even if the actual route is slightly longer, there's also no extra time. (Today's route was actually 207km.) There's also no allowance for terrain; for a 200km event, the limit is always 13.5 hours, regardless of how hilly it is. My last official RUSA 200km brevet was in 2008, and my time was 11:14. (True randonneurs will say that it's about finishing and camaraderie, not about the time ... just like ALC is a ride and not a race. But the times of every RUSA finisher are dutifully recorded and are usually online for all to see for eternity.)

After a brief safety speech, our group of about 30 randonneurs was on the road at precisely 6 a.m. Much to our pleasure, there was no fog, there was no wind, and temperatures were in the lower 50s.

The route was almost entirely old hat for me. ALC, of course, goes down Highway 1, and I've been up Highway 1 both on my own and as part of other RUSA events. It's a "lumpy" route without big hills but which quickly builds up the climbing stats. The front group of serious, time-focused riders quickly headed off into the distance, leaving the rest of us to jockey for position. Some of us would fly forward on descents; others would recover time on the short climbs. There was a lot of back-and-forth and, much to my surprise, no significant pacelining (which RUSA does not prohibit, as long as the paceline consists only of riders on that event).

Alas, my stomach was not a happy stomach this morning. Some combination of the early hour and the previous night's Chinese take-out had left my stomach in a confused state where I took a pink bismuth before the ride. I started to think that a toilet might be good idea, and as I approached the Gazos Creek turnoff at mile 25, I had planned to use the portapotty that was at the mini-mart when we used it as a rest stop on DBD1 last autumn. But today, it was gone ... and the Gazos Grill next door appeared to be out of business. (This could give me some additional grief in planning the route for DBD2.)

So I pressed forward another 8 miles into Pescadero, where my store receipt indicates a time of 8:10, well ahead of the 9:36 cutoff time. We got there by taking Gazos Creek and Cloverdale roads, which are certainly a lower-traffic alternative to Highway 1 ... but one with a couple of rather steep pitches that were mercifully brief. On my previous visit to Pescadero, I had found a porta-potty behind a local church, and making prompt use of it today, I was no longer in quite as much gastric displeasure.

Next came the northbound ride up Stage Road to Pescadero and beyond to rejoin Highway 1: three nasty hills. I took them as gingerly as I could, knowing that there was plenty more climbing to come later in the day. By now, our group had become so dispersed that I saw only a couple of other riders, a couple of whom I passed, and another couple of whom flew right by me on the descent as if I was standing still. (Strava reports that I set a personal record on my descent into San Gregorio, but that I'm still ranked number 1,612 out of 1,745.)

The return to Highway 1 heralded the beginning of the mostly-flat section of the ride, through Half Moon Bay, up to the turnaround point at Moss Beach, and back. The north wind was still mercifully light, but the fog had rolled in, making for a chilly, moist mix. I thought this was the part of the ride where I would be the happiest, but I turned out to be wrong. The lumpy part of the route had at least given me short breaks where I could coast down hills; the flat route offered few such rests. When I arrived at mile 58 in Moss Beach, I still was doing mostly OK; my receipt time was 10:10 compared to the cutoff time of 12:12.

But with so many miles behind me already, what did I buy in the store? A sandwich? A snack? Nope. A gallon jug of water. And that was it. (It was cheaper than buying a chilled bottle, and I was able to share it with the few other riders who were also there.) I was drinking my Perpetuem, and I had a Clif Bar, but I was clearly running a heavy calorie deficit. I was focused on having a lunch of Subway comfort food when I returned through Half Moon Bay, and I was forgetting to eat enough before that.

Now, our route went south. But there still wasn't much wind, so there was hardly any benefit to be had. And it was still chilly and foggy. This was the new part of the route for me, between Half Moon Bay and Moss Beach, and it was, to put it mildly, singularly unexciting. Traffic was heavy, there was little scenery to be seen, and there were just enough traffic signals to disrupt one's pace. As I rolled into the shopping center in Half Moon Bay, it had happened again: I had become grumpy.

At the Subway, there was already a short line. Then, a family of three walked in the front door just as I was about to do so, and the thought of waiting for three more people's sandwiches to be prepared made me even grumpier. Then, when they couldn't decide what to order, I began a slow boil. The event clock was running! After nine minutes in line, I finally got my sandwich (only a six-inch sub, since I didn't want to run the risk of further antagonizing my stomach), and the Sandwich Artist™ skipped me ahead of the family, who were still trying to figure out what kind of sauce they wanted on Little Billy's Kid-Meal Extravaganza. I took my sandwich outside and ate, but I wasn't happy at all. And the various colorful characters of Half Moon Bay weren't helping my mood much, either.

I finally got back on the road. But I hadn't used the restroom at Subway because I didn't want to leave my bicycle unattended, so I made it only about 5 miles before I stopped at a beach parking lot. And while it still wasn't sunny, the temperature had finally risen to the point that I started to shed some of my clothing: the base layer and the arm warmers under my bright-green, RUSA-friendly jacket. Cooling down a bit, and having some more Clif Bloks, seemed to improve my mood somewhat, and I tackled the big climb up Highway 1 to the Stage Road turnoff.

As soon as I got just one mile inland, the sun came out. As I continued inland along Highway 84, things began to get noticeably warm. By the time I reached the third control in La Honda, I was sweating profusely, and I finally removed my jacket. (What? I couldn't have been bothered to stop by the roadside for just a minute to remove it earlier?) With a receipt time of 12:23 and no more scheduled controls, I did the math and realized that I had seven full hours to complete the final 44 miles of the route, so I gave myself permission to stop stressing about being a dreaded DNFer. But I still wasn't practicing proper nutrition; my entire purchase was one can of V-8 juice, with the rest of my second Perpetuem bottle on the side.

I started to think about my next time goal of the day: beating my previous 200km time of 11:14. That would be almost five hours for 44 miles, which seemed doable enough. What about 10 hours? That might be a little more difficult. But at La Honda, I had a seismic shift in thinking: Today's ride was no longer just about finishing; it was about finishing strongly. The mood shift was subtle but significant.

Haskins Hill was the next challenge. While it was tough -- and seemingly never-ending -- it really didn't bother me all that much, perhaps because it was similar to the hills I'd just tackled near Fresno the weekend before. The return trip down Cloverdale and Gazos Creek roads was over quickly enough, and I was back at Highway 1, where I stopped at the Gazos Creek mini-mart for another bottle of water and a giant bag of salted peanuts. The restroom inside the mini-mart was still "out of order" (although I didn't ask; I think that's just a ploy to keep non-customers from using it).

And then something nice happened. The wind picked up. And not just a little bit; it picked way up, almost as strong as it had been on ALC11 Day 1 just one month ago. I started to fly (at least by my standards) down Highway 1, exceeding 30 mph on several occasions. Except for a quick toilet break at Greyhound Rock (the site of ALC's Rest Stop 3), I did the final 25 miles non-stop ... and I did so even just a little bit faster than I did on ALC11.

I was way, way ahead of my 10-hour goal. Was 9.5 hours doable? Now that was going to be close. Alas, as soon as I hit the Santa Cruz weekend traffic, it was not to be. I waited at red lights, and at the left turn from Mission onto King, I actually had to dismount and walk across the street because traffic was so heavy that I wouldn't have been able to safely negotiate the left turn at a non-signalized intersection. And after I rolled in to the finish line, I stopped to turn off my Strava recording ... but my phone started to act slow and wonky, and I lost another minute in just doing that and hoping that I hadn't lost my recording of the ride. After I walked my bike into the finish area in the organizers' back yard, I received my official time: 3:33 p.m., for an elapsed time of nine hours and 33 minutes. (And it was a nice touch that Lois, who earlier had completed the worker's ride, was wearing her ALC11 victory shirt as she greeted us.)

My signed brevet card now goes off to France and the offices of the Audax Club Parisien, which will certify my results, affix a numbered sticker to the card, and record it in their giant book of all official brevet results worldwide since 1921. I should receive my official card back in the mail sometime around ... wait for it ... December.

My pace for the day? A surprisingly strong 15.6 mph, on very hilly terrain.

So, what did I learn from this experience?

-- I still haven't got this on-the-bike nutrition thing down right. I had enough food both before and after the ride that I didn't end the day grumpy, but I had a serious dip in the middle of the day that was just a hair shy of bonking. The time pressure was of my own making, of course, but even using pricey high-tech sports nutrition wasn't enough.

-- The hilly terrain didn't bother me nearly as much as I expected. I don't really want to think that I'm "good" at hills now (especially the descents), but at least they're tolerable. This is a good sign for DBD.

-- I could probably do another 300km brevet if I wanted. (I did so once, in 2010, and it was generally a very trying day.) The key would be to pace myself. Unfortunately ... or fortunately ... this year's Santa Cruz 300km event conflicts with a DBD2 training ride.

-- On both of my previous RUSA events, I was firmly near the back of the pack at the finish. This time, I was firmly in the middle. That's probably about as good as I'll ever get, and I think I'm OK with that.

On the morning after, as I write this, I'm feeling mostly OK, although my legs still tingle a bit. I haven't decided for sure whether to go out for a short ride today, but I'll probably do so ... even if it's only a trip to the bike shop to get my rear shifter cable readjusted after last weekend's replacement.

If you completed my Altamont Pass Double Metric, you can do a 200km brevet. It's an experience that I highly recommend: It exposes you to another group of non-ALC endurance riders (with some overlap, of course!), the rules have a small added layer of formality that's an interesting change of pace, and you might even get to see some new scenery. San Francisco Randonneurs has three 200km events coming up this fall. A $20 annual membership in Randonneurs USA qualifies you to buy a fancy medal for each event that you complete, and it gets you "American Randonneur," a very informative quarterly magazine that keeps you in the mind-set of endurance riding year-round.

But for me, it's now time to shift into the DBD2 training season, where we reset at 40 miles and build from there. The ride is less than three months away!

DBD2 training ride #2: Alpine Road (8/4/2012)

Date: Saturday, August 4
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep hills
Miles: 45

Description:
There's a lot of climbing in this ride, but almost all of it is short-lived ... just like most of the climbing that you'll encounter on the event in September.

After a very brief warm-up leaving Mountain View, we get right into it with a clockwise trip around the Loyola Corners golf course, followed by the short climb to the top of Barley Hill. Then we'll do a little more climbing in the Los Altos Hills before we eventually emerge at the intersection of Altamont and Page Mill, where we'll descend to the Arastradero nature preserve. After a quick rest stop in Portola Valley, we'll tackle our significant climb of the day: the 3.3-mile ride to the end of Alpine Road (followed by the corresponding descent, of course). We'll travel the backside of the Portola loop into Menlo Park for our second rest stop.

We could have chosen to take a direct route back from there, but nooooo. Instead, we'll return to Los Altos Hills for the often-overlooked 0.8-mile climb of La Cresta Drive, and only then will we wind our way back to Foothill Expressway for the easy return into Mountain View.

This is a moderately challenging ride, but it's very doable. We'll have a SAG vehicle on the route. Strava reports about 3,300 feet of climbing for this ride.

This ride is Caltrain-friendly; the first southbound train from San Francisco arrives in Mountain View at 9:29 a.m.

Click here to RSVP now
RSVPs are recommended but not required.

DBD2 training ride #1: Woodside (7/21/2012)

Date: Saturday, July 21
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep hills
Miles: 40

Description:
The training season for DBD2 is officially under way! We begin by going "only" as far as Woodside, but we've got a somewhat hilly route to get there. We'll start by visiting the quarry in Los Altos Hills and climbing Elena Road behind Foothill College. Then it's a familiar route through the Arastradero nature preserve, around the backside of the Portola loop, and into Woodside for our rest stop.

After that, we'll head partway up CaƱada Road and then take Jefferson Avenue back to the valley floor -- which, incidentally, involves a 0.7-mile climb before we can descend. We close with an easy route along Alameda de las Pulgas, Junipero Serra Blvd., and Foothill Expressway back into Mountain View.

Strava reports about 2,250 feet of climbing for this ride.

This ride is Caltrain-friendly; the first southbound train from San Francisco arrives in Mountain View at 9:29 a.m.

Click here to RSVP now
RSVPs are recommended but not required.

Ride report: Climb to (Half) Kaiser, 6/30/2012

Photo credit: John Walker/The Fresno Bee
While the Climb to Kaiser is best known as a grueling 155-mile ride, there are also somewhat mellower options for mere mortals like myself. I've done the 70-mile metric(-plus) version several times, and I did the century ride once before, way back in 2005. After my recent cycling successes, I decided to return to Fresno this weekend to tackle "most" of the century route, including the 7.6-mile, 2,600-foot climb up old Tollhouse Road. This would be the ride that takes me past 50,000 total miles of cycling since I began training on June 1, 2004.

Why "most" of the century? On this year's ride, the century route continued an additional 6 miles past the top of Tollhouse and into Shaver Lake for lunch ... along very busy, winding, and narrow Highway 168. Add to that an extra 1,000 feet of climbing, and I had decided long before arriving that I was going to skip that out-and-back and do a still-robust ride of only about 85 miles. (As I learned during the day, many of the other century riders chose likewise.)

The day did not start smoothly, however. I left my hotel at 4:50 a.m. and drove the 6 miles to the starting point in Clovis. After I got there, I realized that I had left my Camelbak in my room! I quickly drove back and retrieved it, but by then I had just missed the 5:30 a.m. mass start -- and the associated police escort that provided free passage through all the traffic signals in Clovis.

I quickly got moving on my own. The police escorts must have been efficient; although I rode out at 5:36, they were completely gone by the time I got to every signal except for the very last one at mile 7. A couple of miles into the ride, as I was making a turn, I noticed another cyclist coming into the route from the other direction. He had his event number on, and he said, "We're so late!" I followed him for a couple of miles and to the next turn.

Then I realized that he'd made a wrong turn, as did I, and he was already out of sight. Fortunately, the streets are laid out in an almost-perfect grid, and I knew the area well enough that I was able to get back on the official route within a couple of miles. But I was all by myself, at the beginning of the ride where in the past I've been able to get some wind benefit from being in the large group of riders.

I left the trappings of the city and got out into the countryside, and still nobody else. Finally, around mile 12, I passed a rider stopped at an intersection. Then a couple miles later, a small paceline finally passed me. But it was clear that the vast majority of riders were way ahead of me. At first, this disappointed me, but then I decided that this was a good thing because that meant that they wouldn't be passing me all day long -- the Kaiser riders are notoriously strong.

As I entered Watts Valley Road, I began to see more signs of event life: an occasional SAG vehicle or motorcycle support, a rider or two. I'd last been out here in October 2010 with a small group from DSSF, and it was my first time here with the new bicycle and with Strava running. And I started overtaking cyclists. One here, another there. And nobody was passing me? I'm not overly fast on climbs, but I was approaching the tail end of the mass-start group.

Rest Stop 1
The first big climb of the day began at mile 24 -- which, by coincidence, was exactly mile 50,000 for me. Wildcat Grade is 3.6 miles with an average grade of only 5.2%, but that's highly misleading: Parts are downhill, parts are gently rolling, and, yes, parts are 16%, especially toward the end. And all the way up to the top, nobody passed me! I wasn't exerting myself all that much because I knew there were big climbs still to come, but I seemed to "fly" (if you can call 6 mph flying) by other riders all the way up the hill. And as I pulled into Rest Stop 1 at the top of the hill, I easily had a couple dozen riders behind me. It's a ride, not a race, etc., but yes, that made me happy.

A long descent, another climb (where, yes, a few folks finally did overtake me), and another short climb later, and I was at Rest Stop 2 at the base of the Tollhouse climb. This is where, in past years, I would have taken the metric route directly back to Fresno, but not today. My spreadsheet says my last climb up Tollhouse was on Sept. 10, 2006, and I distinctly remember that it was quite painful, taking 82 minutes to go from the Tollhouse Market to the top. (This is why I keep such detailed records!)

To get right to the good part: My time on this ride was 68 minutes. And it wasn't painful at all, except for the last half-mile or so where the average grade is 12% and some parts hit 20%. Again, I didn't push hard at all, and I probably could have shaved another couple minutes off my time if I had tried harder. But I was passing cyclists all the way up, including the one couple who said, "You make it look so easy!" I even skipped the water stop a mile from the top because I didn't want an interruption in my elapsed time for the climb (see also "The Strava Effect").

At the top at mile 48, about 4,600 feet up, the official route took the forementioned right turn up Highway 168. I stopped and dismounted and pondered my options. I certainly felt good enough to continue up to Shaver Lake, but I had decided earlier that I would not do so ... and since I had told the ride organizers of my plan, I didn't want to show up at Shaver Lake and use the rest stop services. Also, I knew that I had nothing extra to prove to myself today. Instead, I dismounted and ran quickly across the four-lane highway and picked up the route again at mile 59.

The rest stop issue wasn't an issue at all, because just a quarter-mile farther along the route was the next rest stop at Pine Ridge. I thought I was back in ALC! It was a luau-themed rest stop, complete with a volunteer in grass skirt and coconut bra with a garden hose to cool down overheated riders. (The temperatures weren't that warm yet.) Even better, a massage therapist was there with his table ... and since I had arrived early, I got to be his first client of the day. A few quick minutes, and my lower back was no longer complaining about the Tollhouse climb, and I was ready for the ride back to Fresno.

Since I'd just climbed to 4,600 feet, most of the remainder would be downhill, with an occasional break or two for small hills, but nothing significant at all. And it went quickly! When I reached Pine Ridge, my pace for the day to that point had been only 11.6 mph. But at the end of the day, I was at 14.1 mph, so you do the math.

I took the descents in my usual cautious way, but the new bicycle seems to have allowed me to slightly increase my speed ... I averaged 23 mph on the 10-mile descent (with a couple of uphill interludes) into Auberry. A quick rest stop near Millerton Lake, and as the mercury approached 90 degrees, I hit the final stretch back to Fresno.

As I rounded the last turn, I started to shift, and it wouldn't shift all the way, but I was able to complete the final half-mile without incident. I learned after the ride that my rear shifter cable had just failed (and it's being replaced as I write this). Imagine what would have happened if I had done the extra 11 miles!

My total riding time was 6:05 for just under 86 miles, at about 14.1 mph. When I last did the Tollhouse route seven years ago, I completed 100 miles (which didn't include the Shaver Lake out-and-back anyway, because it wasn't part of the route that year) in 8:34, for a pace of 11.7 mph. This was an appropriately uplifting way to reach 50,000 miles (and to exceed 1,100 miles in a month for my first time ever).

I arrived at the check-in desk and turned around so the staff could record my rider number. Because I had arrived before the scheduled 2 p.m. free dinner, I simply went back to my vehicle and headed back to my motel. Things seemed a bit subdued and a bit "off," I didn't know any of the other riders, and I really wanted a hot shower anyway.

What I did not know until later in the day was that there had been a fatality on the ride in the morning. It happened on a winding, steep, high-speed, high-altitude part of the route that only the full Kaiser riders use and that I hadn't been on. This was a painful reminder to me that descents are one of the most dangerous aspects of our sport ... and that I really don't need to gain five or six seconds on Strava at the risk of injury or death. In fact, the 10-mile, 23-mph decsent into Auberry -- the one that pleased me so much -- is actually the slowest descent ever recorded by anybody in Strava (out of 139 riders) for that segment.

The only other disappointment of the day was how motorists behaved in the higher elevations. Even though I was staying to the right and providing plenty of room to pass, one yahoo with a truck-style air horn attached to his 4x4 felt the need to repeatedly sound it as he stayed behind me and finally passed me more than a little too closely. And just outside Auberry on a reasonably flat stretch of road, another yahoo in a pickup coming in the opposite direction on a wide, two-lane road with a center line felt the need to yell "Idiot!" at me for no apparent reason. I know that cycling has become very popular in the mountainous areas where we are usually just guests -- and I also know that some cyclists behave like idiots as well -- but that's no excuse to lash out at everyone. I lived in Fresno for four years, so I had more than my share of run-ins with the colorful local population ... and it's one of the reasons why I don't go back there more often. The cycling scenery and variety are unmatched anywhere else in California, but it's not worth getting hit or run off the road.

But I'm glad I did my own personal abbreviated half-Kaiser yesterday. I was able to return to a route I'd not done in a long time, and I was able to reaffirm that, yes, I actually have become a better cyclist.

View more of The Fresno Bee's photos of the event here.