May 2, 2011

Devil Mountain Double Century ride report

You might want to print this one out - about 3000 words.

The day for me started at three in the morning with my alarm telling me it’s time to get up and get ready for one hell of a ride. I got out of bed, downed a 5-Hour Energy Shot and started to make final departure preparations, like grabbing my bottles from the fridge and taking breakfast items along. I was out of the house by 3:45a.m., on the way to the San Ramon Marriott from which the Devil Mountain Double Century was to start. I parked and ran to registration to get my number. After getting my number, I went to pin in on my jersey and just then the little part on the zipper that prevents the movable piece from completely sliding out fell off. After a few moments of trying to get it back on and letting Louis Garneau know exactly what I thought of him, I figured I shouldn’t waste any more time and solve the problem with the abundance of safety pins I have in the car. I pinned the bottom of my jersey together and that quick fix would have to do.

I got to the parking lot (full of other riders) about five minutes before the start, but my friends – Jay, Alex and Keith - with whom I was going to do the ride were nowhere in sight. I called Alex, but the phone went to voicemail. Thirty seconds later, they came up behind me and another 30 seconds later, we were given the go signal. We were off on our 206 mile adventure.

We started in the dark with our lights, and I have to say, I have never ridden with a sketchier group of people in my life. Jay, Alex and Keith were somewhere behind me, and I was in a middle of a group that moved around as smoothly as someone having an epileptic seizure while trying to dance to one of Madona’s hits. People were shifting sideways without looking, slowing down, speeding up, taking horrible lines through corners and not calling anything out on the road. There was only so much of this I could take so I made an effort to move myself to the front of the group. I didn’t care if I was in front of the whole field, but I knew I didn’t want to be in the middle of any large pack.

About 45 minutes into the ride we hit our first climb, Mt. Diablo. This bad boy climbs 3200 feet in about 10.5 miles. The climb itself was actually not that bad, I climbed completely within myself and covered the 10.5-mile stretch in about an hour and five minutes. However, wind was a major factor. As I started to climb, Alex, Jay and Keith were somewhere behind me. I passed a few riders and kept on climbing, the winds picked up. As I made each turn on the climb, the wind hit me from a different direction. In a couple of spots I actually had to lean into the wind just to not get blown off the road. A couple of miles into the climb, I felt as if I had gotten a rear flat, the bike started feel slow. As I looked down at my wheel, I saw Jay come around me smiling – he had played a prank on me by holding my bike back slightly. We continued to climb together, chatting it up, but in the last 2k or so, Jay started to fall behind. I didn’t think much of it because I knew he is a stronger climber and is probably just warming up or pacing himself a bit more conservatively.

The last 200 meters of Diablo are very steep, pitching up to 20 percent in parts and after already having climbed 10 miles or so, they really sting the legs. The winds at the top were insane. I waited for Jay to go the bathroom, but when I saw that he was going to get something to eat, I signaled that I would wait at the bottom where I knew it was warmer and not as windy. The temperatures at the top were probably in the high 30s and the descent that followed was probably one of the most painful experiences of the ride. I couldn’t figure out where I wanted my hands on the bars. The fingers in my cut-off gloves felt like I had submerged them in icy water and kept them there for minutes. What ended up being a 28-minute decent felt like an eternity. As I descended into Walnut Creek, I continued on before finding a sunny spot to wait for Jay. After about fifteen minutes and probably about a minute before I would have taken off solo, I saw Alex and Jay on the horizon. Turns out Jay started to come down and then doubled-back for Alex.

We took off for what would be the next climb, Morgan Territory. Our rapid start was rapidly halted by Jay’s flat; however, after a quick change, we were back at it. The three of us stuck together for a bit and then it all came apart right before the turn onto Morgan Territory. Jay and I dropped Alex on a short climb and then Jay and I lost each other in the neighborhood where some streets were apparently closed for some sort of a block-party.

Through some small streets, I made it out on the right road as I saw other cyclists funneling in from various directions. Then I made the turn onto Morgan Territory climb – the second longest of the day after Diablo at 7.4 miles, rising about 1500 feet. This climb went very easy for me, I kept passing people right and left and the fact that no one was eager to grab my wheel told me I was keeping a pretty high pace. I got to the rest stop, which was also annoyingly windy, but not nearly as windy or cold as the top of Diablo. I took off extra gear from my body and the bike and gave it to the staff to take to the Pet-the-Goat rest stop, where I would later pick it up for the final miles into the finish.

Jay was not too far behind me, and Alex pulled up soon after as well. Then, we discovered that Jay’s tire had a pretty bad tear and we would need to replace it. Luckily, the SAG vehicle that was at the rest stop had a tire, so a couple of tubes later (user error on the first try), we were off.

The descent from the top of Morgan Territory is called “the plunge” and it definitely lives up to it’s name; however, as we started to descend, we had to stop due to medical personnel being on the road, helping a downed cyclist (he looked okay from the road). We were told to get off our bikes and walk past the sight before remounting. The downhill was on. That was a very fun descent, until I was going extremely fast into an S-turn, going right first and then left into a blind corner. I came into the first part of the S really hot and used the entire width of the unmarked road. I was probably within inches of flying out. As I came out of the turn and started to bend around the second part of the S, I saw a fire truck coming at me. Luckily, I was already coming to the right side of the road to set up my next turn, so I was able to stand the bike straight and continue past the truck. This wasn’t really that close of a call as it may sound, but it definitely made me slow it down a bit. To my great surprise, two more ambulances went up the road after the truck. It must have been a very slow day in Alameda county if all that equipment was needed for one cyclist.

We descended from Morgan Territory and began to make our way toward Altamont Pass and the Wente Road Race course. Coincidentally, the race was going on that day and we would hit the course twice – once for about two miles and the second time for about five. As we hit the course, I noticed that a field of ladies was coming up right behind me and I thought it would be courteous to the racers if we pulled over and let them pass. In hindsight, we didn’t have to, as they were moving at a crawling pace (these were Pro/1/2 ladies). Soon after, the men’s Pro/1/2 field blew by us and the women’s field. Then, as the ladies took the turn toward the main climb of the course and the eventual finish line, we continued onward to Patterson Pass.

The approach was mellow with a few rollers and soon we would be dropping down to the start of the Patterson Pass road race and the ascent of the pass itself. We made a brief bio break and continued onward to the climb. Jay and I crossed what we thought was the summit only to see that after a brief downhill, another steep climb awaited – I think this is what the race description referred to as the “oh my gosh” summit. By this point, Alex had fallen a bit behind and Jay and I decided we’d wait for him at the Mines Rd. stop at mile 91. After hitting the Wente course again, we soon hit mile 91 and another checkpoint.

Jay was saying how he wasn’t feeling so hot and had some knee pain, so I gave him some ibuprofen and we waited for Alex to pull in. We made a decision to stick together until lunch. That, however, didn’t last very long. The description of the ride between Mines Rd. stop and lunch read that it was 25 miles that rose 2000 feet. I expected a very, very gradual climb, but that was not the case.

The climb began at a relatively steep grade for the first few miles and most of the 2000 feet were gained right there. From that point on, it was either flat or gradually climbing, but I could really move on that stretch of road and passed at least a dozen cyclists on the way to lunch. At lunch, mile 115, I inhaled a pulled pork sandwich, a bag of chips, a banana or two, took some ibuprofen myself for the Achilles tendon that was now making itself felt and topped off my bottles. At that point, I was still feeling very strong and ready to press on, despite the slight Achilles heel ache. As I was about to continue, Jay arrived at lunch and made a very quick stop of it, so I waited and we took off together. We continued together for the next 14 miles until the base of the Mt. Hamilton Climb (from the backside), which would rise 2000 feet in about 4.4 miles. After filling up with water at the base, we began the climb.

The climb up Mt. Hamilton was by far my lowest point of the whole ride. By this time, whatever Jay was taking/eating was working for him and his climbing legs did what they are supposed to do - drop me. I told him that I would take this at my own pace and that he should go on. My feet felt like they were swollen, my Achilles was aching, and on top of that, there was as sharp shooting pain in the ball of my left foot which greatly restricted how hard I could push on the pedals. I was already more than 130 miles and 13.5k of feet into the ride and I knew that the next rest stop would be at mile 150, and had absolutely no intention of getting off the bike in the interim. Slowly but steadily I pressed on. The distance on my Garmin screen is in the smaller window, so it only goes up to three digits, which means when I hit 100 miles, I lose tenths of miles markers, and when my speed on a climb is reduced to a crawl, it’s very daunting to look at the same mile marker for over 10 minutes. So I switched to the screen that showed current elevation and I knew that I had to get up to 4000 feet before the start of the descent.

In pain, I made it over the top and proceeded to descend Mt. Hamilton. What I thought would be a fast 14 mile descent, turned out to be two descents with very evil, but short climbs in the middle, which just added insult to injury at this point in the ride. Beaten up, but far from defeated, I made it to rest stop five, which was a private residence, generously opened up to host a rest stop. As I got there, Jay was just about to take off and that was the last I would see him before the finish.

I took off my shoes, and began stuffing my face with bananas, and PB&J sandwiches, and chips, and a coke, and whatever else I could stuff into my body. I sat and relaxed for a few minutes, rubbing my feet to hopefully get the swelling down and get rid of the pain in the ball of my foot. I spent about 25 minutes at that stop and I needed every single second of that rest. I put on my shoes, buckled them very loosely and continued on. Ahead lie a few more miles of the Hamilton descent and some flat roads before I would hit the infamous Sierra Rd. at mile 156 or so, with already 15.5k in my legs. I remember Dan telling me about that climb when I first emailed the group about the ride. I don’t recall that he had anything good to say about it. Coincidentally, he tweeted a video of it today which you can view here. That guy is going twice as fast as I was.

After the long rest, I felt like my body and mind were once again composed to take on the last 50 miles in stride. Sierra Rd. is a tough climb, rising 1800 feet in just 3.5 miles with extended segments of grades between 10 and 18 percent. But I felt good on that climb, as good as one can expect to feel, I suppose. I was going slow, but steady and watching the elevation increase with each pedal stroke. On the one hand, steep pitches meant pain, on the other, they meant faster attitude gain and the quicker I would get to 1900 feet, the quicker the ordeal would be over. After about 50 minutes, I arrived at Pet-the-Goat, where my gear was waiting for me – boy was I happy I didn’t have to drag anything extra up Sierra. I spent no more time at the stop than was necessary to get my lights on and fill my bottles.

The next 20 miles were pleasant and fast. First, there was a four-mile descent from Sierra and then I hit Calaveras Road, which started with a wall of 14 percent for about .2 miles, but then leveled off and turned into gentle rollers before becoming a fast downhill. I recognized the last five miles of the road as the Calaveras TT course I raced last year, so the neighborhood as a whole seemed familiar. Before I knew it, I was at the Sunol train station for my last checkpoint of the day. I snacked on some potato chips – which were kept there for me by Jason Pierce, one of the volunteers and no stranger to riding doubles himself (on a fixie) – had a soda, refilled my bottles, made a quick stop at the Port-a-Johns and was off to tackle the last 25 miles of the ride.

I knew I had two more mild climbs ahead. A 4.4-mile climb that went up about 1000 feet and about a 2-mile climb right before the finish. As I hit the first climb - Palomares - the light began to quickly disappear and I turned on my headlight. Again I tracked feet climbed on my Garmin (while I could still see the numbers) and reached the top of the climb around the same time as the unit read 1000 feet. Then was a dark descent, followed by a few flat miles and a turn toward the last climb – Norris Canyon Rd.

This last climb was very, very annoying. It comes at mile 200 with 18.5k feet in the legs. For me it also came in complete darkness and at the time, I had absolutely no clue how long it was going to be. I just climbed as hard as I could to get it over with as fast as possible. Illuminating my Garmin screen, I noticed that there was a good chance that I could make it under 16 hours, which would be a nice achievement. A quick descent and a few flat miles later, I was back at the San Ramon Marriott. I checked in at 8:59pm, and considering that we left a few minutes after 5am, I was just under the 16-hour mark.

I didn’t see Jay in the room immediately, so I proceeded to sit down and munch on lasagna, salad and rolls. A few minutes later he came into the room and we exchanged our views on Sierra Rd., which I’m not going to type out here because I know my mother sometimes reads my blog. Looking at our Strava times, it appears that he arrived about half an hour before I did. Alex and Keith were still out there and we were determined to wait until their arrival. I felt that since I was the reason they were on this ride, I should stick around to welcome them in. They both arrived around 11:30, visibly beaten up, but in very high spirits after having finished one of the (if not the) toughest doubles in California. Four of us started and four of us finished, that’s a 100 percent success rate!

Read Alex’s report here.


  1. It was a pleasure riding with you, Vitaly. Your courage, though far ahead of Keith and me, was viral. Thanks again for waiting at the end, it means a lot. Awesome job!

  2. Nice work, guys! Congrats all around!

  3. finally had a chance to read this - good job you guys! holy smokes.