Sunday, June 30, 2019

Epic NorCal Road Ride - Day 2


This post is a sequel.  For best results, start here with Part One, or you’ll be a bit lost, though no more than with all those stupid Marvel movies. If you’re the kind of big shot who doesn’t have time for more than one albertnet post, stick with this one. It packs in way more drama and suffering to indulge your thirst for epicaricacy.

(What is epicaricacy? It’s the only synonym I could find for schadenfreude, a word I worry about overusing in these bike ride tales.)

Executive summary

This was way harder than Day One. I haven’t suffered this badly in five years. After being thoroughly worn out by the Day One ride, we knew Day Two would be brutal, but—you know what? We didn’t know anything. We only thought we knew. Holy shit. We went out there and rendered ourselves … but we did manage to complete the full route. As I write this two days later, my throat is still sore. I  need a nap.

Short version

Pete charted a tough 90-mile Napa-centric route, which featured a nifty optional shortcut we could take to shave around 40 miles if we couldn’t cut the mustard. (Of course, taking this shorter option would lead to a lifetime of self-loathing, so it was never really an option.) On paper, Day Two looked a bit easier than Day One, because it was a shorter, but a) it packs in almost as much climbing, and b) we were already good and knackered before the first pedal stroke.

We went to the same bagel joint as on Day One, and the same sad-looking guy was sitting at the same table there, immersed in his phone just as before, almost as though he’d never left. This time we got bagel sandwiches with egg, ham, cheese, etc. and they weren’t very good. Coffee.

During the ride we ate the usual energy bars; willfully ran out of water on principle (see full report for details); got baked like anchovies in the 95-degree heat; met salvation at a general store in Pope Valley (Cokes, a gallon of water, Hostess fruit pies, ice cream bar); got poached by the smoke from a nearby fire on the second big climb; then suffered a terrible drubbing on the final climb. Even the long final descent was agonizing because everything hurt … my legs, my butt, my back, my neck, my hands, my psyche. Back in Albany we rebuilt our broken bodies with Little Star pizza (deep-dish with pepperoni, mushroom, and onion and thin-crust with mushroom, onion, and black olive) and recovery beers (Stella Artois and, for the potassium, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA).

Here are the map and elevation profile of Day Two:

Full report

I didn’t sleep very well the night before because my body, limbs, even fingers were still buzzing from the Day One ride. The light pollution in a cheap motel is inescapable, and it was a really warm evening so we had the overloud HVAC fan going the whole time. At least the pillows were like cinder blocks so I could arrange them like a fort around my head to block the light … a good hobby for an insomniac.

In the morning I grimly inspected my knackered rear tire and the bulge in its herniated sidewall. Follow the line of the spoke up and you’ll see the lump (from the boot) and the slash. Pretty sketchy.

If I were looking for an excuse to bag the ride entirely I suppose this could have been it, and Pete could have begged off because of his badly dented rim. But we’d planned this ride for months and weren’t about to weasel out. The show must go on.

Here is the obligatory “before” shot. Using our reflection seemed like a good way to conserve arm strength vs. lifting the camera for a selfie.

We cruised through Sonoma, this time to the southeast. Pretty as a postcard.

My butt was really sore from the day before. I mean, it hurt constantly. Meanwhile, my trashed rear tire was going lub-lub-lub-lub. I took a twisted kind of solace from knowing that soon enough my legs would hurt even worse, and then I wouldn’t notice my butt or my tire so much.

Soon enough, we hit the first big climb, the infamous Cavedale Road.

Man, that is a tough climb. It’s got pitches of 16%, and gains over 1,900 feet in about five miles of battered road.

Check out the fire damage. Local legend has it that a fire was once started by a cyclist who totally detonated up there. They say his legs were on fire, and I believe it … I could feel the burn myself.

You can tell how badly I was hurting by how far ahead Pete is in this next photo. He tries to hang back with me, but his gearing isn’t as humiliatingly low as mine so sometimes he can’t help but roll away.

Something must be wrong with my right eyebrow: sweat was just pouring into my right eye, but not my left. Weird.

Eventually we reached the summit and took in this most pleasant sight:

Cavedale Road eventually gave way to Trinity Road, which I’ve ridden a few times. This was mostly a descent until we hit a little f-you climb, not very steep but into the wind. It was already getting hot. My legs were already complaining. But we got past that and enjoyed the swift and steep descent of the Oakville Grade. We couldn’t fully enjoy it, though, because of Pete’s rim and my tire. We kept our speed down. (-ish.)

Our planned route, programmed into Pete’s fancy Wahoo GPS device, had us continuing on east, but I requested a small detour to visit the Oakville Grocery. I was pretty low on water and also looking to some lowbrow refined-sugar snacks to buoy my spirits. I now know that Google Maps calls Oakville Grocery a “gourmet destination with buzzy deli.” I could direct you to a recent review granting five stars on the basis of “adorable country style atmosphere” and “tons of unique Napa offerings for yourself or gift giving.” Be advised that “they offer several taste samples of local items” but that  you should “be prepared to buy everything you try.”

Of course I didn’t have this backstory yet, but I rolled my eyes at this little lawn area around the side with a postcard-perfect backdrop, seemingly designed for visitors’ Instagram photo-ops. There were a couple of young women in dresses mugging for their smartphone cameras and a big wind was blowing their dresses everywhere. Even though I know this same wind would probably be in my face for much of the afternoon, in that moment I was glad for it. You could say I wasn’t in a very gracious mood.

We went inside, and the place was mobbed. Everything in there was just so nice, all the foods artisanal and all the patrons in that blissed-out state you can only get in a truly special place like the wine country. You know what? I didn’t want organic natural sodas and ten kinds of mustard, or a made-to-order sandwich or other “picnic-friendly fare.” I wanted a damn Hostess fruit pie and some tap water without having to stand in line behind a bunch of gussied-up wine tourists who are rightfully offended by the smell of my sweat. “Pretty busy in here,” Pete said. “Yeah, let’s bail,” I replied. So we headed off into the great unknown without any water.

We rode into an increasingly hot wind, taking on some rollers but mainly a false flat rising about five hundred feet in 23 miles. Our average speed went down, down, down. At least the scenery was nice.

We rolled along the southeast rim of Lake Hennessey. I didn’t know the name at the time, of course. I didn’t know anything except I was out of water, the wind felt like a hair dryer, my legs hurt, my ass hurt, my hands hurt, and my back hurt. Of course, I was in good company and chatting with Pete kept my morale up, even though I was sorely tempted to just suck his wheel for the rest of the ride.

We started climbing. Standing up felt a little better than sitting down, but only for about ten seconds at a time. You know how sometimes you’ll be sitting on the sofa, and it’ll dawn on you that you’re not as comfortable as you could be, and then you’ll realize you’re sitting on, like, a hairbrush, and when you remove it you’re suddenly much more comfortable? Well, imagine if somebody then stuffed the hairbrush back under you. I hope that kind of conveys the highly temporary benefit of shifting my position on the bike.

We started descending. I discovered that if I put a pedal all the way forward, splayed my toes, and angled the toe of the shoe upward, wind would flow through the underside vents and give my foot a delicious moment of coolness. After enjoying this phenomenon for half a minute, I realized my rear tire was going flat.

I stopped and pumped it up and remounted. Pete said something more diplomatic than “aren’t you just pissing into the wind?” and I ignored him. I was in denial. Five miles further into the sauna my tire was flat again and I fixed it properly. Part of the sidewall now had two all-the-way-through gashes, requiring two boots, and once I got rolling again the squirming of the tire was almost comical (I say “almost” because there was nothing funny about it).

I mused idly, as we dragged ourselves through the burning wind, about how long a person could go without water while exercising in 90-plus degree heat. I mean, my body was still doing its thing, right? Maybe I could go on forever like this. I really had no idea how long it would be until the next town. I hadn’t so much as glanced at our route. I had a sense we were somewhere northeast of Saint Helena, but I had no idea what towns, if any, existed out here, nor when we’d start to head southwest again.

Salvation appeared in the form of Pope Valley and its little market.

Pope’s was a pretty humble place. Check out these mounted animal heads … probably all roadkill.

A card on the fridge door said, “Please pay for your drink before opening this door.” (Makes sense.) They had the snacks I wanted and no line. After I paid, the cashier said, “Don’t forget your Coke!” How could I?

Pete and I sat on the ground outside in the shade of the awning and basked in the bounty we’d acquired.

Once or twice a year I try a sip of someone’s Coke and think, “Yuck—too sweet.” Needless to say this one was like a miracle elixir and I couldn’t quaff it fast enough.

A group of Chicano laborers in jeans and long-sleeve shirts were hanging around at the other end of the porch, enjoying their day off by kicking back with some Budweisers. One of the crew strummed a guitar and sang softly in Spanish. I give this place five stars.

I saved the Hostess pie for later but inhaled the ice cream bar. We topped up our bottles and I guzzled the rest of our gallon jug of water. So, 128 ounces minus the 80 in our bottles makes 48 ounces, plus the 12-ounce Coke, so I left Pope Valley with almost four pints of fluid in my belly. I almost expected to hear it echoing against the inner wall of my distended belly—“baLOOMP, baLOOMP, baLOOMP!”—as I stood on the pedals for the next climb.

“Look out there,” Pete said, pointing to a column of smoke in the distance. I tried to delude myself that it was steam off a hot spring, but no, it was too dark. Seemingly within a minute of seeing it, we smelled it. I guess the fire season has already started. As we made our way up the day’s second major climb, Ink Grade, the smell grew stronger.

Not shown: the fire truck that raced down the hill past us. I guess every firefighter in the vicinity was being dispatched.

I missed snapping a photo of the first “Col de la Croix de Ink Grade” sign, but here’s the 2K-to-go sign:

At first blush, there’s a grammatical error here: the French would contract “de” and “Ink” to “d’Ink.” But that’s not the whole problem. The English name for this climb is Ink Grade, but if the rest of the sign is in French, why would “Ink Grade” remain in English? It should say “Col de la Croix de Col d’Encre.” But even that would be stupidly redundant. Surely this signage is a play on “Col de la Croix de Fer,” the famous Hors Categorie climb in the French Alps, and I guess these locals didn’t wonder what “Croix de fer” means. There’s an actual iron cross atop that pass; what is “Climb of the Cross of Ink Grade” supposed to mean? I know this isn’t very charitable toward this lighthearted signage, but it’s what I was thinking as I ground my weary way up, inhaling a lot of smoke.

Sure enough, the air began to take on that orange color we saw so often last year when wildfires ravaged California and Oregon.

You know what? The Col d’Encre wasn’t actually that hard. Maybe I was still flying off of that ice cream and Coke. Before too long we were descending again, into fresher air no less.

We had another long, steep, would-be fast descent that taunted us because between Pete’s dented rim and my time-bomb tire, we had to really watch our speed. Meanwhile, even coasting hurt—who knew simple jobs like sitting, braking, and holding up your body on the bike could so overtax the human body? I was just blown. Still, it was a gorgeous descent and it’s a pity I couldn’t be bothered to stop periodically for photos.

Speaking of which, the ensuing final climb rendered me incapable of doing anything but surviving, and barely that, so I have no more action shots for you. It wasn’t too bad at first—like a 4% grade—but then suddenly it’s like Mother Nature tipped up the game board and it was a 9-10% grade the rest of the way. It was dead quiet at least, so I could listen for cars and weave back and forth like a paperboy on a steep driveway. Needless to say Pete couldn’t ride slowly enough, in his 34x25 gear, to hang back with me, and floated off into the sunset while I fought my seemingly losing battle against the climb.

Soon enough this little voice in my head asked, “Can I even do this? Am I actually going to grind to a halt?” Doubt, of course, can deal your faltering body its final blow. Fortunately, I was well steeled for this: by years of flogging myself on lunatic ventures like this, but also by recently reading my own pep talk. I’d written this for a friend back in 2012, posted it to albertnet, and came across it again because it’s having kind of a renaissance, racking up an oddly high number of new pageviews (563 in the last month). Rereading it had given me a good refresher in something I haven’t had to think much about lately. The gist is, resignation is totally underrated. The trick is to pretend you have no choice and to take one unthinking pedal stroke at a time, riding like a robot. Sometimes the brain just needs to be shut off, so that the question “Can I make it?” is off the table. You keep pedaling as if attached to a machine that’s permanently switched to “on.” And if my pedals ever actually do grind to a halt, well, that’d be a first.

Eventually, inevitably, we reached the summit. The final 13 miles were almost all downhill except for one last little climb, a quarter-mile at 10%, that was like a little kid throwing rocks at your car as you speed away—like, don’t make me laugh. We found our way back to the car and celebrated with the requisite “after” photo.

It’s funny … we don’t look shattered. Well, a good bike racer knows how to keep a poker face.

You might say we sweated a bit during the ride:

Back in Albany, where the weather was blessedly cooler, we got take-out pizza from Little Star and almost caused a revolt. My kids strongly prefer Zachary’s, nearby alternative. (For a thorough comparison in these pages, click here.) This meant two things: 1) my kids complained for almost the entire meal, and 2) Pete and I got way more pizza for ourselves: ¾ of a large pizza each. I’d say we earned it.

Ride stats

Here are the stats based on my old-fashioned bike computer, with the stats from Pete’s Strava file in parentheses. (Which is more accurate? Beats me … how about you just always go with the more impressive number?) 
  • 89.95 miles (88.1)
  • 6:48:47 ride time
  • 13.2 mph average speed (ouch!)
  • 8,117 feet cumulative elevation gain (8,825)
  • 30.1 miles total climbing
  • 32.2 miles total descending

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