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Ride report: Double Bay Double (9/24/2011 and 9/25/2011)

Go, riders! Go, volunteers!

The first Double Bay Double has gone into the history books, and our 17 riders and our team of incredible volunteers were part of a weekend that quickly uses up the list of available adjectives: amazing, epic, challenging, inspiring, successful ... and one more very important adjective: safe. We had no injuries, we had no significant mechanical failures, every cyclist completed the ride, and we set a positive example for the other cyclists and motorists with whom we shared the road. And to top it all off, when the final accounting is complete, our small group raised about $10,000 for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Day 1: Mountain View to Marina (108 miles)

Our weekend started in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning. We gathered at the Franklin/Evelyn parking lot one last time before the lot -- our meeting place for ALC, DSSF, Seismic, and DBD training rides for the past five years -- closes forever next month for the long-promised housing project. After a few opening remarks and a safety speech, we rolled out five minutes early at 6:55 a.m. just as the sun was beginning to rise. The first leg of our ride was quite easy -- just 8 miles on familiar streets into Menlo Park for our first rest stop at Starbucks. Why so soon? Because after that, we wouldn't see much of anything in the way of services for the next 35 miles.

As we left Rest Stop 1, many of us ended up in the middle of groups of cyclists taking part in the Ride for Ravenswood, another charity event that we knew would be following our route as far as San Gregorio. Our small group of cyclists suddenly felt like a much larger group as we crossed over I-280 and conquered Horse Hill as our first significant climb of the day. But that was only a warmup to the day's main event: the 3.3-mile climb of Old La Honda Road, the benchmark of all Peninsula climbs.

When I reached the top, I saw a huge group of cyclists gathered by the side of the road, clustered around one of our support vehicles. Not wanting to contribute to the crowd, I rode on and began my descent of the other side of Old La Honda. What I didn't know at the time was that some of the Ravenswood riders were using the services (especially water and tubes) of our support vehicles because we apparently had supplies available and they did not! SAG driver Taryl was more than generous but eventually had to relent and let them know that her water was for us unless there was a dire need. There was also a brief encounter with a Woodside police officer who thought we were part of the support for the much larger Ravenswood ride, which had generated some complaints about blocking traffic. (As I said before, we set a good example by riding single file and calling out our intentions. I wish other rides were as serious about this.)

As we descended Highway 84 toward the coast, the skies turned gray as the coastal fog became low and thick. By the time we reached our toilet stop at San Gregorio State Beach, it felt more like March or April than late September. But our spirits were brightened considerably by Terri's well-stocked supply vehicle, accompanied by special surprise guests Diana and Frank, two riders from next weekend's Seismic Challenge. (At least I think it was Frank. Some folks weren't so sure!) Aron, our bike tech, set up his stand and was busily tending to the minor issues that arise on the road -- his expert skills no doubt allowed some of our cyclists to finish the ride.

The long ride down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz is a well-worn route that's familiar to AIDS/LifeCycle riders, and most of us knew what to expect in the way of countless small but attention-getting hills (the randonneuring groups call the route "lumpy"). The routine of countless rides past was broken up somewhat by having different rest stop locations -- at Gazos Creek and in Davenport -- but the fog kept the seaside views from being all that they could have been. And the fog was so thick at times that we even had some drizzle, which I especially noticed whenever I would turn my head and a puddle of water would fall down off the top of my helmet!

Santa Cruz is where things became different for most of us. After passing through the city's west side on a bike route different from the one used by ALC, we dealt with the Soquel Drive Slog amid heavy Saturday afternoon traffic that posed challenges similar to those at the beginning of ALC's Day 2. I was near the front of the group at this point, and that was a good thing, because I came across a "turn" that I had failed to include on the route sheet: the right turn "from" Soquel Drive "to" Soquel Drive just past Rio Del Mar Blvd. The turn usually isn't included on ALC or randonneuring route sheets because it's "just one of those things that all the locals know." About half a mile later when I realized what I had just passed, I got on the phone to Adam, our super logistics wizard, and said that we needed to put a person there, but it was too late to prevent at least one of our riders from missing the turn. (Sorry!)

Minor crisis averted, our route then departed from the traditional ALC route and ventured inland (and uphill) toward Corralitos and Freedom on our way to Watsonville. I greatly prefer this route to the lumpy ALC route along the coast and through agricultural flatlands (which also happens to be the official Pacific Coast Bicycle Route), but when we reached Watsonville (at breakneck speed for, thanks to a strong but short-lived tailwind), it became quite clear why the inland route simply wouldn't work for a large group.

Getting through much of the city itself wasn't too bad, but leaving the city and heading south into Monterey County was another story. The road through Pajaro is not well-designed for bicycles, and the heavy local traffic gave us some of the most challenging urban cycling of the day. Moreover, to someone who had never been in the area before, the route to the Elkhorn Slough was a bit confusing in a couple of places, and a few riders ended up with some unexpected bonus miles -- quite a few miles in a couple of cases. This was one of the few times where our randonneuring-style lack of route marking didn't work out so well. (The good news is that, now, you know the route for next time!)

And the terrain around the Elkhorn Slough was another matter entirely! I had warned folks that the short but steep hills in the area would seem especially challenging after 95 miles, and I was right. They just kept coming and coming! In fact, I even lost count at one point and was quite dismayed when I thought I was done with the hills, only to be confronted by yet another one. Traffic in the area, on the other hand, was much lighter than I anticipated, and that made this segment a little less stressful for me.

After a brief toilet stop at the famous Pezzini Farms artichoke stop at mile 103, I successfully negotiated the final few miles on Del Monte Blvd. into Marina. (Path or shoulder? ALC seems to change its mind from time to time and has used both. I put us on the shoulder, but the path was a viable alternative as well, albeit one with extra stop signs.) I arrived at the Motel 6 parking lot ("up the hill," as the route sheet noted, for one final devious twist to the day), where super bag transport volunteer Charlotte was waiting to check me in. After a quick shower, I came back to congratulate the rest of the returning riders -- and I saw the typical mix of joy, excitement, determination, and frustration that comes at the end of such a long and challenging day.

The last rider arrived at about 6 p.m., well ahead of the official 6:30 p.m. route closing time, and about 19 of us (we lost count somewhere along the way) managed to overwhelm Denny's for a lively, free-wheeling dinner, where even more friends of DBD joined us to offer their congratulations and support. As we left dinner and headed to our motel rooms, we were surprised by a quite unexpected light drizzle, casting doubt on what already had been a somewhat unreliable weather forecast.

For me, sleep was definitely not a problem. But longtime ALCers will know that most nights on the ride are punctuated by at least one visit to a toilet or portapotty. I had no such interruption, and this would be significant the next day.

Day 2: Marina to Mountain View (100 miles)

We had been promised cool, foggy conditions for our 7 a.m. ride-out from Marina, but instead we got just higher clouds and temperatures near 60 -- warm enough for many of us to forgo jackets. Our route out of Marina toward Salinas followed the traditional ALC Day 2 route, which didn't stop me from accidentally almost leading our group into a wrong turn along Reservation Road when I headed to a left turn lane one intersection too soon! (And everyone followed me because I obviously knew what I was doing, except that I did not.) Super SAG driver Dennis helped us get back to the correct side of the road.

Salinas had pleasantly light traffic at 8 o'clock on a Sunday morning, so we easily made it to our first rest stop. After that, however, was our big climb of the day: San Juan Grade. It's not all that steep, and it's not as consistently uphill as Old La Honda, and most of our riders made fairly easy work of the climb -- perhaps inspired by the dramatic golden landscape that unfurled as we ascended toward 1,000 feet.

The descent, on the other hand ... well, I warned everyone that it would be rough, and I certainly was right. As we passed the oddly-lettered sign that proclaimed the San Benito County line, the road surface turned to utter crap. This road was one of the first routings of Highway 101 between Gilroy and Salinas, and it's entirely possible that the cracked, patched, rutted, torn-up concrete base on which we descended was part of the original surface from more than 80 years ago. It's hard to believe that funds can't be found to repair this dangerous 3-mile stretch of highway, but one possible reason for not fixing it is that doing so would only encourage more motorists to use this narrow, one-lane road as a bypass for Highway 101.

When we arrived at Rest Stop 2 in San Juan Bautista, super volunteer Danni was there to greet us, and a well-stocked grocery store gave us a mid-morning pick-me-up. A minor crisis was averted when we spotted one of riders exit the rest stop and head the wrong way up Highway 156, but SAG driver Dennis quickly took to the road on a rescue mission.

The route from San Juan Bautista to Hollister and then up to Gilroy was all on major, high-speed, busy highways, but nice shoulders kept it from being too annoying. In fact, much as I suspected would be the case, my favorite segment of the entire weekend was along Highway 156 just past the turnoff into Hollister. For me, the combination of valley and mountain terrain and the wide-open landscape was unlike anything else we saw the entire weekend, and I truly had a sense of being somewhere else. And for a special treat, the winds along Highway 25 were not nearly as bad as they often can be, so most of us arrived at the Day 2 halfway mark in Gilroy in rather good form (some of us later than others, due to a few unfortunate flats earlier in the day).

I had a "healthy, hearty meal" at the Togo's in Gilroy, but as soon as I got back on the road, I could feel that something about me wasn't quite right. The first sign -- and one that didn't really register with me at the time -- came even before I left the lunch stop, when I realized that I had not properly paused my GPS route recording while I ate. As I started to ride, I started to fear that maybe I had things backwards and I was actually paused while riding and recording while resting. I quickly stopped by the side of the road to reassure myself that this wasn't the case. But as I continued the gradual, slow climb up Day Road and toward the Uvas Reservoir, I knew that my speed was dropping considerably from the aggressive (for me) pace I had maintained throughout the weekend.

When I reached Terri's toilet stop at the reservoir, I put on a brave face, but I was starting to suffer. I ate one of my two packets of "emergency" energy beans, I drank most of my water and got a refill, I stood around to talk a little bit more than I normally would at an intermediate stop, and I even took off my leg warmers as temperatures appeared to hit the low 70s. That might not have been such a bright idea; almost as soon as I pushed myself back onto Uvas Road, the first sprinkles began to fall on me.

By this point, Uvas Road was trending generally uphill, and even the tiny 2% to 3% grades were giving me difficulty. Just a couple miles up the road, I stopped again (giving SAG driver Taryl a half-hearted thumbs-up as she went by) and took some ibuprofen and a pink bismuth tablet. Just a couple miles later, the sprinkles had turned to a light shower, and I stopped yet again, this time to put on the jacket that I had been carrying all day (but not, oddly enough, to put my leg warmers back on). As the slow climb continued, I still was not having much fun at all. I stopped one more time and ate my second and final bag of beans.

I finally reached the summit of Uvas Road, and as I began to speed downhill, the rain became somewhat stronger, whipping into my face as I was trying to stay under 25 mph. This wasn't "heavy rain" of the type that would have canceled a training ride, but it was still plenty annoying, especially considering my frame of mind at the time.

But then, something changed. The rain stopped, and the double dose of caffeine-laden beans appeared to take effect. (The downhill trend of the road certainly helped a bit, too.) By the time I reached Almaden Expressway on the outskirts of San Jose, I was back mostly to my usual form, although I recall being a tiny bit disoriented when I heard someone yelling "Chris!" at me at a traffic signal ... just Taryl in the lane next to me.) A strawberry-banana smoothie and a salted bagel at the San Jose rest stop helped things considerably, and by the time I left Rest Stop 4, I was ready to again start thinking less about myself and more about everyone else.

The rain had already passed through San Jose, and the streets were a bit damp in places as we headed toward Los Gatos. After passing through downtown, I was quite happy knowing that only two significant climbs remained on the route. Rarely have I been so pleased to finish the short half-mile climb on Highway 9 from Austin Way!

After a quick stop at the final rest stop, I was ready for the mostly-downhill final leg of only 11 miles, and I powered my way down Miramonte Avenue from Los Altos into Mountain View filled with a sense of accomplishment for completing my first-ever back-to-back century rides.

I quickly rode home (another half-mile on the bike!), showered, and returned to the Franklin/Evelyn lot to congratulate the rest of the returning riders (except for one rider who went directly home instead). We didn't have any big banners, balloons, or ceremonies, but the emotions were plenty powerful as cyclist after cyclist arrived at mile 208 with a successful ride.

The last rider beat the official closing time by more than an hour, so 11 of us went for an early celebration dinner in downtown Mountain View.

Then we all went back to the real world.

Random observations

For an inaugural event, things seemed to go exceptionally well. When I first envisioned DBD back in January, I had a mental image of a "vibe" that I wanted to see around the event -- in terms of route, challenge, scenery, and people. For the most part, my expectations were exceeded. That's not really because of me -- I was only the facilitator -- but because of each of the people who were part of the event.

The rider tracking website from super logistics volunteer Adam was fantastic. Not only did it help our volunteers immensely, it gave riders' friends and families an easy way to follow us in real time. This was one of the advantages of having a smaller group; we couldn't have done this with hundreds of riders.

I cannot express enough my thanks to our awesome volunteers. The level of support we got all weekend was way above and beyond what I had hoped for, and the smiling faces at each and every rest stop undoubtedly made a difference for most of us. To both the official volunteers and all of those who joined us before, during, or after the ride: Thank you!

Thanks also go to Different Spokes San Francisco for allowing me to produce this event under their banner, thus giving us a legal structure that allowed the ride to happen. And big thanks also go to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, where their staff put in behind-the-scenes effort to enable DBD online fundraising and to accept us into their Greater Than One endurance events program.

And, of course, thanks go to all of the riders. You rode safely and wisely, you supported one another, and you helped the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Cycling events often give us an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, and I hope that the weekend was transformative for you.

What about DBD2? For now, the answer is "maybe." Stay tuned. For now, it's on to AIDS/LifeCycle 11.

Photos by Dennis Soong, Kevin Hunter, and Terri Meier

The end of Franklin/Evelyn

I just found out this weekend that the Franklin and Evelyn parking lot, our Mountain View meeting place for the past five years, is (finally) closing forever on October 17.

This means that we'll need a new location for our ALC11 training rides. I'm considering the possibilities (nearby, I hope) and will have something figured out before our rides begin in November. Stay tuned.