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Ride report: Double Bay Double 2 (9/29-30/2012)

The second Double Bay Double is in the history books, and we had a weekend that provided challenging cycling, great company, an important cause, and countless displays of the human condition at its best.

Our group of 21 riders and 18 volunteers worked together over 210 miles and more than 9,000 feet of climbing to raise more than $17,000 for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation ... and because everyone gave freely of their time and money, there was no event overhead to the foundation, meaning that every dollar we raised is on its way to providing important services.

Day 1: 110 miles, Mountain View to Marina

Again this year, we gathered before sunrise in downtown Mountain View and were quickly on our way in the morning overcast. Our first challenge of the day was Old La Honda Road, and we were greeted at the base by the first of many pleasant surprises: friends taking photos and offering cupcakes. As we climbed up Old La Honda, we gained first-hand experience in temperature inversion, as the temperature at the top was about 20 degrees warmer than at the bottom.

After a quick rest stop at the Skywood Trading Post, we began the long descent down Highway 84 to La Honda. Many of us had shed clothing layers in the warmth at 1,758 feet above sea level, and we soon got a rude surprise as the temperature just as quickly dropped those same 20 degrees as we descended.

At La Honda, we took a left turn onto Pescadero Road to travel a part of the route that was new this year: both sides of Haskins Hill. Although this meant that we had a second significant climb, we were also able to avoid the repeated rolling hills along Highway 1 near San Gregorio. Plus, the route via Pescadero Road was about 2 miles shorter than going to San Gregorio, which was important from a route-planning standpoint; because we had to detour around the west side of Old La Honda Road this year, the route was already a bit longer than advertised. Also, the traffic on Cloverdale Road was much lighter than on Highway 1, and the route seemed generally a bit more pleasant.

When we emerged on the coast at Gazos Creek, we had a well-stocked (and themed!) rest stop waiting for us, and that energized the group for the run down Highway 1 through Davenport and into Santa Cruz. (We discovered a bit too late that without cellphone service at Gazos Creek, we couldn't update the live rider-tracking website in real time.) The tailwinds were light at best this year, keeping many riders' speeds down a bit but still providing a relatively comfortable 25 miles of cycling.

Santa Cruz, Capitola, and Aptos are tough to bicycle through: Lots of weekend traffic, much of it from out of the area and not familiar with the streets. We used a new route this year, mostly hugging the coastline all the way, and for me it worked out much better (although a couple of miles longer) than last year. The only report of trouble I heard was from a misbehaving local cyclist, not motorist, who almost caused an incident with one of our riders.

The next leg of the trip into Watsonville was mostly uneventful, but again without the strong tailwinds that propelled many riders last year. Our new route through Watsonville was somewhat improved, but the extra half-mile on busy Freedom Blvd. had a couple of dicey spots. The jury is still out on whether that was a fair price to pay for getting to the low-stress Clifford Avenue to get through much of the city.

The day's final segment around Elkhorn Slough isn't extremely hilly, but the repeated small rollers and occasional steep pitches certainly were attention-getting after about 95 miles. This year, however, we avoided bonus miles (as far as I know) by carefully describing the route out of Watsonville and showing lots of photos at Day 0. As I entered Castroville on the short segment of the Highway 156 freeway, I noticed that the mileage on the route sheet was suddenly off by about half a mile. Upon review that evening, I discovered that our route in Ride With GPS had a bug in it (which I've already fixed) that caused some undocumented loops around that point. My apologies for the error ... but the good news was that the route was half a mile shorter!

The first riders arrived in Marina at 3:14 p.m., and they continued to arrive in ones and twos until 6:20. The original plans for a "group dinner" morphed into a rolling wave of diners descending upon a local Italian restaurant ... which was probably for the better, given their extremely limited seating. Our lodging at the Comfort Inn seemed to be a step above last year's "official hotel" of the nearby Motel 6, and I had a moment of pleasure seeing the hotel lobby essentially taken over by cyclists.

But as I prepared to go to bed around 9 p.m., there were ominous signs outside. The fog had rolled in from the coast, and it was already so thick that it was practically misting in the parking lot. This, of course, is normal for the coast ... but it was quite different from the prediction of a clear, mild night.

Day 2: 100 miles, Marina to Mountain View

As usually happens to me during an event, I was awake way too early. When I looked outside the window just after 4 a.m., the fog was even thicker than it had been the night before. I checked the weather observations from around the area, and they showed visibility less than a quarter-mile everywhere along the first 50 miles of our route!

We started gathering in the Comfort Inn parking lot at about 6:30 in the sub-50-degree temperatures, and I started letting volunteers know that we would probably need to escort riders along a 5-mile section of San Juan Grade Road. This road, while just gently rolling in the run-up to the actual climb, is rural, straight, and shoulderless, and it carries a decent amount of traffic -- a combination that would be dangerous in thick fog.

So it was with some trepidation that we hit the road at 7:00 for the normally easy ride into Salinas. This is part of the ALC Day 2 route, and it's usually characterized by a generous tailwind. But that didn't happen this time; instead, a brisk headwind developed out of the east, and I was exerting myself just a bit too much as I tried to keep up with most of the riders who were following behind me.

This, however, turned out to be a very good thing indeed. The wind quickly blew all of the fog out to sea, and by the time we reached Salinas, skies had become quite sunny and bright. We wouldn't need to escort the riders, and our faster cyclists quickly took off and were on their way back north. (Has the National Weather Service ever been so wrong about so many things in so short a time?)

After an amazingly well-stocked rest stop in Salinas, we began the trek toward San Juan Grade. Now under sunny skies, temperatures began to rise quickly, and more layers of clothing were coming off. The ascent of San Juan Grade usually provides the most scenic imagery of the event, and in the light wind, it wasn't all that difficult for most riders. The descent, on the other hand, is still the same patched-over 80-year-old pavement that's annoyed cyclists for years. This was my first time there on my new bike, and it seemed not quite as bad as in the past. Another cyclist, also on a new bike, made a similar observation.

At San Juan Bautista, the nature of our riding changed dramatically. We went from quiet backroads to the very busy, high-speed hustle and bustle of Highway 156 toward Hollister. Even early on a Sunday morning, the highway was packed with cars and a surprising number of large trucks. The shoulder was nice, smooth, and (mostly) wide, but it was still quite a change.

After curving to the left onto the Hollister bypass, I again had my favorite moment of the ride: the part of Highway 156 that rolls through mostly-barren golden hills with mountains visible in just about every direction. More than any other, this three-mile segment is always where I feel like I've gone somewhere far away from my usual travels. Even the heavy traffic didn't bother me one bit as I actually slowed down a bit to take in every scenic moment.

The ride on Highway 25 into Gilroy is notorious for extreme headwinds, but most of us had no such problem this time. Winds were light, and the biggest annoyance was the mystery Caltrans employee(s) who blocked the entire shoulder with a portable message sign. I dismounted and carefully walked around the sign, doing my best to rearrange the traffic cones to make something resembling a cycle path without venturing into the nasty rumble strips. Highway 25 isn't totally alien to cyclists, so Caltrans should have known better.

Gilroy is where things started getting serious. Temperatures were starting to heat up, and the humidity was falling dramatically -- from 82% in the morning to only 17% in the afternoon. Any last excess layers of clothing were quickly shed at our new rest stop at the Garlic Farm, and our volunteers were hard at work getting more ice.

We headed into and through Gilroy after the rest stop (instead of before, as we did last year), and a small route change allowed us to avoid a nasty section of Highway 152 in town. But then the climbing began as we headed northwest into the hills. The climbing up to around around the Uvas Reservoir isn't steep or long at all. But after more than 160 miles of cycling, many cyclists were feeling every last foot of elevation gain. And with temperatures officially into the 90s by then -- which meant an on-the-pavement temperature well into the triple digits -- the difficulty level of the ride suddenly increased for many of us.

That's why it was so nice to see friendly faces at Rest Stop 4, new this year at the Uvas Reservoir. Julie and Amar of AIDS/LifeCycle graciously offered to come down from San Francisco (and bring their tent!) and staff this rest stop for us pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

I left the rest stop and headed back onto Uvas Road in good spirits, but the conditions quickly got the best of me. Soon, I was stopping every 2 or 3 miles, often taking in some Sport Beans, Clif Bloks, and/or salt pills. And drinking water, lots of water. This is where I had difficulty last year, and the weather wasn't nearly as bad. Also, I slowed my pace significantly and deliberately. I was at least a couple of hours ahead of closing time, and there was no rush at all. In short, I shifted from "ride strong" mode into "just ride" mode -- a self-preservation move.

After about 12 miles, I tried to take a drink from my 70-ounce Camelbak and found that it was empty, although it had just been filled at the last rest stop. (I later discovered that it wasn't really empty, but some of the ice in it just hadn't melted yet.) Fortunately, I also had a water bottle full of mixed Perpetuem, but it had become an overheated, poor-tasting mess by that point.

We had been alerted that members of the South Bay Blaze group were setting up an unofficial rest stop for us somewhere near the beginning of the San Jose metro area. So I was surprised -- and more than a little grateful -- to see them a little bit sooner than expected, just before the end of McKean Road, set up in a school parking lot, complete with tent, water, ice, and snacks. It's definitely not an exaggeration to say that, without this extra rest stop, some riders might not have been able to complete the day.

After that, we were back into the Silicon Valley traffic and (for most of us) familiar territory. So even though temperatures were still insanely hot for the last day of September, things were looking up because the end of the ride was now a much more tangible thing. After a final rest stop in Los Gatos, the run into Saratoga and through Cupertino and Sunnyvale began to feel like a celebratory ride ... even though the thermometer at Saratoga High School reported 98 degrees even at 3:40 p.m.

I was riding faster now, but I was still taking frequent breaks, and I was often pouring some of my water-bottle water over my head and onto my face. Even though the water was toasty-hot by then, it provided a precious couple of minutes of cooling once I got back in motion.

As we got closer to Mountain View, temperatures began to moderate ever so slightly, and the final 3 miles from Loyola Corners were the usual all-downhill relaxing ride that has become familiar from so many training rides. I rolled across the finish line at 4:57 p.m. -- almost a full hour behind last year for essentially the same route -- but I had survived, and I had conquered.

There were still six other riders on the route, and the last two crossed the line at 6:11 p.m. Again, the careful plans for a celebration dinner sort of fizzled, but some folks went to Fiesta del Mar Too as planned.

Observations

Of our 21 riders who began the event, two did not finish for various reasons, and one other rider was briefly hospitalized after the event for dehydration, but everyone seems to have recovered. There were no crashes or accidents during the event, and that's always a good thing.

We had no major mechanical issues, only the usual assortment of squeaks, flats (the roads seemed unusually full of broken glass this year), and even one instance of chain lube that was melting due to the extreme heat. As is often the case with such things, our bike techs provided a most useful service (especially when I got a flat -- my first-ever flat on any charity event -- just 7 miles from the end and was too heat-stressed to do much of anything on my own), and I am certain that had we not had the bike techs, we would have had serious issues that required them. That's the way such things usually work.

I still have two event jerseys available: one L and one XL. They're $70 each; let me know if you'd like one. Also, if you didn't get the event T-shirt, let me know. I still have several S, M, and XL; my apologies for running out of Ls.

As the ride director, I cannot say enough good things about our determined riders and our amazing volunteers. More than once, I stood back and just took in everything that was happening around me, and I marveled at how everybody knew what to do to make it all come together. Yes, I was the facilitator, but it is each of you who embody the spirit and vision of DBD and turn it into reality.

One measure of that determination: People are already asking me about DBD3. I'll work on that later, probably starting in early 2013. For now, I'm taking a brief break off the bike (perhaps only a week or so) followed by a very low-intensity month. Then, when November arrives, I'll begin my seventh year as an AIDS/LifeCycle training ride leader, and I'll start working on our plans for the sixth year of the Distance Training rides in Mountain View, culminating in my next big event: the Altamont Pass Double Metric next May.

My fundraising page for ALC12 is open for business, although I'm determined to keep it low-key until at least sometime after the first of the year. (Year-round fundraising wears everybody out, you and me alike.) But if you never got around to donating to my DBD2 page, you can now go to my ALC12 page and help the same great cause: the important work of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Thanks again to everyone who made DBD2 a success. Thanks also go again to Different Spokes San Francisco for providing the legal framework without which DBD would not be possible, and to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation for allowing DBD to be part of their Greater Than One endurance events program and handling all of the fundraising for us. Also this year, DSSF provided generous financial support for T-shirts and many of the SAG and rest stop supplies.

When I created this event in 2011, I had a sense of what I wanted it to feel like. Again this year, each of you made it an extraordinary weekend that exceeded even my best hopes. To each of you, thank you.

(Photos by DBD2 participants and friends)