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Ride report: Millerton Metric (Climb to Kaiser), 6/26/2010

The cool kids show up in Fresno on a hot summer morning to ride 155 miles to the top of 9,200-foot Kaiser Pass and back. The almost-cool kids ride 95 miles to the top of old Tollhouse Road and back. And the rest of us ride 70 miles to the town of Tollhouse and back. For my fourth Kaiser ride, I again chose to be part of the latter group. (I've done the century route once, but never the full Kaiser.)

The so-called "Millerton Metric" is more than sufficiently challenging, especially during the post-ALC recovery period. And, unlike many other riders, this ride wasn't my "big event" for the year, so the stakes and pressure were appropriately low.

The most significant difference between riding in the Sierra foothills and the Bay Area is that most of the climbs tend to be long, and most rides are generally "up" followed by "down."

But to get folks warmed up, the first 15 miles of all three routes are as flat as a pancake, and riders seem to feel the need to dispose of those miles as quickly as possible. I fell into that trap yesterday, when I discovered that a group of riders had fallen in behind me and was maintaining my speed whether I went fast or slow. (I guess "draft the big guy" is an effective energy-conservation measure!) As a result, by the time we began the climbing part of the ride, my average speed was a blistering 17.2 mph -- way too fast. I'll also add that the pace was so fast in part because of the outstanding moto support from the Kaiser crew; even though we didn't get the same police escort as did the 155-mile riders, most intersections were controlled for us so that we could get out of Fresno and Clovis almost without stopping.

With only about 130 riders combined between the metric and the century, the route never felt crowded; in fact, my entire last 13 miles were done almost solo -- only a couple of speedy century riders passed me once.

There really were no big surprises during the ride; this was home turf for me for so long, and I rode pieces of the route many times outside the Kaiser framework. Perhaps the most pleasant feature was a recent resurfacing of Watts Valley Road, although the process left some ugly washboard segments in a few places. Other than that, however, the major climbs (our peak elevation was about 2,000 feet) were about as major as I had anticipated, the good-ol'-boy mountain traffic was as annoying as ever, and the temperatures were about as hot as predicted, although we stayed on the happy side of 100 degrees this year.

The results? I knocked an impressive 32 minutes off my time on the same route last year. That's in part due to the too-fast start, but it's also because I took longer breaks at the rest stops while waiting for Adam, who did the route for his first time -- and also finished at a very respectable ALC category 3 pace. I found the breaks quite refreshing, which probably helped me finish at a stronger pace. (Perhaps that is a lesson I should pay attention to more closely.)

And yes, about that heat: Although I hydrated often during the ride, I clearly didn't do enough. On the long drive back to the Bay Area, I took in another 64 ounces but still was barely getting rid of any from the other end, if you know what I mean. The question was asked: Was the century route doable for us? Perhaps so, but the extra two hours of afternoon heat could have made things much less pleasant and a bit more risky. I was quite content with my 70 miles at a pace of just over 14 mph.

This ride, coupled with a short 17-mile circuit the night before along the banks of the revitalized San Joqauin River, reminded me how different the cycling conditions are in that part of California. The views are wide open, and when the city ends, it really ends -- from my apartment, I could be in the middle of almost nothing within 15 minutes. In the Bay Area, even though challenging terrain is just 4 miles from my front door, it's still part of the hustle and bustle, and it's tough to experience any solitude, especially when dozens of other cyclists have the same idea at the same time. Conversely, however, it's nice to be close to civilization in case something goes wrong.

Perhaps I need to try again to run a DSSF ride in Fresno -- hopefully, unlike last time, without getting rained out.