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Peninsula Ring of Fire (9/29/2013)

Date: Sunday, September 29
Meet time: 9:45 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Sports Basement Sunnyvale, 1177 Kern Avenue (map)
City: Sunnyvale
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 4 - very steep climbs
Miles: 48

To mark my first group ride from Sunnyvale, we're going to do a legendary little ditty that's commonly called the Ring of Fire (a first attempt for your humble leader). The start and end in Sunnyvale give us a bit of warm-up and cool-down time, but we'll be doing (in order of appearance): Moody, Golden Oak, Los Trancos, and the reverse Westridge.

Ride With GPS says about 3,750 feet of climbing; your mileage may vary.

No SAG or sweep, so please know what you're doing. We'll have one scheduled rest stop at about mile 26.

The ride is Caltrain-friendly; first southbound train from SF arrives at nearby Lawrence station (1.3 miles away) at 9:38.

If driving, please park near Kern Avenue, away from the entrance to the store.

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

Ride report: Double Bay Double 3 (9/21-22/2013)

The third Double Bay Double is successfully into the history books! Our 20 riders and 16 volunteers have raised more than $15,000 (so far) for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and everyone ended the ride safely. Our weekend was full of fun, surprises ... and some epic challenges.

In the pre-ride orientation that all DBD participants view, there's a slide that says in part: "If unexpected things happen (and they will), go with the flow." It's become part of accepted DBD wisdom that "unexpected things happen" every year, but nobody (least of all the National Weather Service) expected the torrential rains that soaked us partway through Day 1 this year.

Day 1: Mountain View to Marina

Our day began quietly enough after a few showers moved through the area overnight, keeping temperatures a little warmer than usual and keeping the fog to only the highest elevations of the coastal hills.

We headed out about 10 minutes earlier than planned, hoping to get a head start on what we thought would be a few light sprinkles later in the day. But the roads were still wet in places, and we got a stark reminder of that less than 1 mile into the ride, when our route out of Mountain View along California Street was blocked in the oncoming direction by a serious vehicle collision that had occurred not too much sooner.

Otherwise, though, our ride through Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park was mostly uneventful, and we were soon on our way up Old La Honda Road, the biggest climb of the weekend.

Although the road gradually went from "a little wet" to "mostly wet," the rain was holding off, and there wasn't much fog until right before the summit ... where the surprise "Rogue Rest Stop" was waiting for us, staffed by Frank, Diana, and Terri and providing a much-needed collection of smiling faces and delicious snacks.

A long, gradual descent took us through La Honda and into the first rest stop of the day at Sam McDonald County Park, a new location for us this year. Instead of being the quiet, secluded location I'd scouted out during route planning, the parking lot was full of Boy Scouts and scout leaders about to embark on coastside adventures.

Most of us quickly refueled and refreshed and got back on our way to the top of Haskins Hill and on the gloriously long descent into just outside Pescadero.

By this point, the skies were becoming decidedly dark, and our first riders started to feel their first raindrops as they headed into a strong -- and somewhat unusual -- headwind out of the south past Butano State Park and onto winding, narrow Gazos Creek Road. As we neared the junction of Gazos Creek and Highway 1, a welcome sight awaited us: the colorful tent of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, set up across the highway at the ocean access parking area. (It was visible from quite a distance!)

Robin and Morgan of SFAF were there, and (just like the rest of us) had no idea what they were getting themselves into. The wind was whipping, blowing over bicycles and box lunches, and making it difficult to secure the tent.

Then the rain started.

It was light for the first few minutes, but it quickly intensified. Soon it was torrential, cold, and potentially dangerous. The first few riders had already headed onto Highway 1 toward Santa Cruz, but the rest were trying to huddle under the tent, shrouded in emergency rain ponchos. Meanwhile, on the road, conditions deteriorated rapidly. At mile 50, the rain was heavier than I'd ever encountered during a cycling event, so I pulled into a rest area and took brief refuge in a public toilet (one that was large enough to also hold my bike) as the worst of the heavy rain crashed onto the corrugated metal roof.

After a few minutes -- and a quick check of the weather radar on the cellphone -- I decided that the worst was almost over, and I got back on the road, but conditions were still poor at best. A couple of our support vehicles went by me and pulled over, and we had some discussions about what to do. I said to one, "ALC has been shut down for less than this!"

Shutting down a day of DBD would have been a difficult proposition at best, since we aren't normally equipped to transport all (or almost all) of our riders and their bicycles. We started making some phone calls to put possible rescue drivers on standby.

Meanwhile, back at Gazos Creek, some of our riders made the decision to not attempt the route between there and Davenport (where Kiki and friends were waiting by the side of the road at our next rest stop), and our vehicles were able to accommodate them. I was facing a tough call: Do we shut down the ride? Finally, I decided not to do so at that point; those who wanted to continue were doing so anyway, and those who wanted to get a ride were also doing so. One thing I did not know at the time, however, was that there had been at least two serious vehicle collisions behind me on the rain-soaked Highway 1. Had I known that, I might have made a different call.

Eventually, the rain gave way to just some scattered showers. By the time the first riders entered the west side of Santa Cruz, the streets were dry, suggesting that it hadn't rained there at all. The day started to look better, but then the skies opened up yet again, and an equally torrential rain began to dump on the Boardwalk area. Just before some of our riders went through the area, a vehicle went off the road and through a retaining wall onto the beach below.

By the time riders began to roll into Rest Stop 4 in Aptos, things were getting serious. Fortunately, the first riders in the group had decided to take an extended break there, so nobody had gone beyond that point. We detoured our gear transport vehicle -- which should have already been set up in Marina to serve arriving riders -- to the rest stop (sorry about the confusion on the location!), where riders were able to access their bags and change into their Day 2 cycling clothes if desired. (In my case, doing so probably kept me from shivering myself into sickness the rest of the day.)

Although the showers were still popping on and off in Aptos, the weather radar indicated that the storm was quickly passing through to the north. We pressed forward toward Watsonville and our final rest stop, where skies were finally rain-free. But the winds were still annoyingly out of the south, and our final segment around Elkhorn Slough and Castroville was slowed considerably. By the time we reached the end of the day's route in Marina, we had just about every emotion in the book: relieved, exhausted, tired, grumpy, excited, triumphant, and on and on.

Beginning in Davenport and continuing through Aptos, bike tech volunteer Aron put in a stellar effort to keep our bicycles running. Like the rest of us, he couldn't have imagined what we were getting into, yet he set up his work area and rack outside the Comfort Inn in Marina, where he offered to work on each and every rider's bicycle, cleaning drivetrains and doing whatever else was necessary to keep us on the road.

It's not an understatement to say that many of us could not have completed the event (myself included, after my rear brakes disintegrated in Santa Cruz during the storm) without Aron's help.

After such an epic day, many of us were tired and sore. But another 100 miles awaited us.

Day 2: Marina to Mountain View

It would have been tough to outdo the excitement of Day 1. But by this point, many of us were quite happy to be without such excitement.

As mornings in Marina go, Sunday was just about picture-perfect. No fog, temperatures cool but not chilly, and almost no wind. So our spirits were up as we headed out of town on a slightly new route that avoided road work in the hotel area.

We made reasonably good time into our first rest stop at Salinas, and after an extended serenade by a canine duo in the parking lot, we began our annual assault on San Juan Grade.

Under mostly favorable conditions, the ascent was about as painless as it can be, and many of our riders set personal-best times. The descent, of course, is still the same rutted, bumpy, patched, cracked 80-year-old pavement, but there was one added attraction this year: A large herd of cattle had gotten loose overnight and were defiantly occupying the middle of the road. (And from the, er, deposits strewn across the road, it was clear that they had been there for quite some time.)

Loose cattle are not to be trifled with! A couple of riders reported that a cow made a moooove on them. Some of us saw the police cruiser headed up the hill from San Juan Bautista, presumably on its way to corral the wayward herd.

The ride from San Juan Bautista to Gilroy can be windy and challenging, but many of this year's riders got a special treat: a slight tailwind on Highway 25 that allowed us to quickly dispose of that 6-mile segment of busy, straight, and flat highway through the fields of rural San Benito County.

In true South Valley fashion, however, the winds began to increase as the day wore on. After our lunch stop in Gilroy, the winds turned from the north and picked up. The first riders of the day didn't have too much difficulty around Uvas and Calero reservoirs, but that wasn't the case for those who got there as the afternoon progressed.

Again this year, the fine folks of South Bay Blaze set up a bonus rest stop for us at the end of the reservoir segment, just before we reached San Jose. "Rest Stop 4.5" was a fun-filled and much-needed respite from the wind, and it put riders into good spirits as we began our last 30 miles through the urban byways of the South Bay.

After 180 miles, the weekend was beginning to take its toll. A couple of riders missed a key turn on Almaden Expressway and ended up with about 14 bonus miles! Another went the wrong way after leaving Rest Stop 5 in Los Gatos and picked up some extra distance as well. But everyone eventually got back on track, and the last rider of the day successfully crossed the finish line in Mountain View at about 6:25 p.m., a job well done.

Random notes

Of the 20 cyclists who began the ride, 19 finished under their own power. One rider had to end early after some minor medical issues, several riders were transported through the worst part of Saturday's storm, and one other rider began Day 2 mid-ride. We had our first vehicular casualty in the event's history: Our caboose vehicle broke down early on Day 2 and had to leave early to limp back to the Bay Area. Thanks again to our volunteers, who quickly and adroitly shuffled responsibilities to keep the route covered.

The story of our journey inspired many. Kudos to the passer-by who gave us a $20 bill at the Gazos Creek rest stop. And during dinner in Marina, the owner of the restaurant where many of us ate returned with $50 in cash after hearing about our day. (Both of those donations will be employer-matched and, therefore, doubled.)

When I began to organize DBD3 several months ago, I was hoping we'd reach our no-permit limit of 50 riders. That didn't happen this year, due in part to a crowded event schedule and a last-minute shift in the date of the Surf City AIDS Ride (which shared part of Sunday's route with us, although we passed through the area before any of their riders did so). That was a bit disappointing for me, but a smaller event allows me to do things that I couldn't easily do for a larger group. We had plenty of amazing volunteers this year, but they would have been spread too thinly if we had twice as many riders.

On the plus side, however, our increased social media presence this year has definitely spread the word about DBD. And again this year, we were safe. Everyone did what they felt necessary during Saturday's storm, those who had difficulties didn't try to ride every mile, we stayed mindful in difficult traffic, and no ambulances had to be called.

After three years, DBD has grown well beyond my original vision ... and it's done so organically, made possible by the event's cyclists, volunteers, and friends. The level of support during the event has increased to a level I didn't think possible, and that's entirely due to the determination and effort of the many volunteers who have been part of DBD -- and who have often had to deal with the lack of structure and organization that is common on larger and more established events. I continue to be amazed and impressed that so many people get together and simply do the right thing to empower and support one another for an entire weekend. And I continue to be impressed that all of our riders and volunteers help fund the event so that every dollar raised can go directly to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Thanks also go to Different Spokes San Francisco, who continue to provide the legal framework without which DBD would not be possible.

Our DBD orientation slides also say: "Remember why we're here." For everyone who is part of DBD -- cyclists, volunteers, supporters, family, friends, and everyone else -- thank you for again allowing us to remember why we're here.

Photos by DBD3 participants and friends