Saturday, 27 August 2011

Some big hill riding and taking a risk on a blowout!

Sunday was the big ride. I had the whole day to myself, no other plans other than to put in a big ride. I thought I would head towards the California coast the opposite direction to Saturdays ride. It was 60k away over some significant mountains, then the plan was to turn north and ride along the coast for some 50k and then back over the same mountains to home. According to map my ride, it would be 170k and over 2000m of vertical climbing. A big day especially after Saturday afternoon’s hilly climbs and Saturday mornings pack ride in Auckland.

The plan was to get up around 7am, get a big hotel breakfast into me and onto the road by 8. This got delayed, when the tiles in my shower decided to fall off the wall while I was in the shower and I had to change hotel rooms! It also took me a little while to get the garmin working with the route I had mapped and downloaded. I finally got away just before 9, in the fine mist of a Silicon Valley fog. The forecast was good, 30c once the fog burned off. The first 20k were easy and I cruised along, trying to get the legs warmed up, as the climbing started after 25k. I reached the picturesque little town of Los Gado’s well known for it’s mountain biking and big homes of those who have made a fortune in Silicon Valley shares.

Stopped for a coffee and to get ready for the next hour and a half of climbing. Back on the bike, I hit a hitch as the only way through to the start of the climb was a 3k unmade walking track with a few steep climbs. I spent a bit of time on the garmin and asking locals if there was a road that got me there. The garmin was telling me it was a 23k alternative, which was confirmed by the locals. No choice, I took the trail, praying that I wouldn’t puncture. All good, I was now on a great road, winding around the shore of a lake and starting to climb into the Santa Cruz ranges. The roads are good, no traffic and unlike yesterday, plenty of shade. The sun was out and it was starting to get hot. I found my rhythm with the climbs averaging around 6%. At the top, the garmin pointed me to turn down this little road. I turned without thinking and was on this old potholed road with about an 11% descent. If I hit one of the potholes, I was toast. My instinct told me to turn back, as the road was getting worse, however, by now I was 3k down a steep descent and I didn’t want to climb back out. I felt like Buzz on Mt Ventoux, looking for the way out, however I was getting more and more into a forest of huge redwood trees. These trees are magnificent. I stopped to take a couple of shots and then ride on. What comes down must come up and I had a steep 5k climb out of the other side of this little “Jurassic Park” valley. When I rejoined the main road it was the same one I was on before the garmin suggested I turn. If I had of stayed on the main road, I would have stayed on the ridgeline and missed a great little side trip. Funny sometimes the mind of the garmin!

Now at the top of the climb, I started the descent, 20k of non technical downhill, on great, traffic free roads. I wound the Gellie up, enjoying the feel of a Columbus steel frame and peaked out at 92k an hour. The only traffic was a group of around 80 harley riding middle aged bikies, who seemed to enjoy watching me slip stream amongst them as I descended between them. I was in the tuck position, pushing as hard as the bike would go, with 2 of 3 bikies at a time around me, all yelling at me, encouraging me to go faster! It was exhilarating and as we hit the bottom, they waved, gunned their bikes, and accelerated away. A great buzz!!!

Reaching the coast, the traffic got busier as it was lunchtime and there were plenty of people around the beachesstruggled on. One of the hard things climbing on roads you don’t know is the uncertainty of where the climb ends. I felt it would never end. I was just hanging in there, when I finally hit the top where I started a 11k technical descent, with a lot of cyclists on the road, and as I was entering Silicon Valley again, a significant amount of traffic.

At the bottom was the little village of Saratoga. I stopped and belted down a Coke. There is nothing like a cold coke when you are hot , dusty and tired after 150k. Can’t stand it at any other time. 20k to home and I had a little downhill, downbreeze, so I was making good time. Went through the suburb of Cupertino, famous for where the head office’s of HP and Apple. Punctured with 8k to go, which was annoying,but no hassle. Got back to the hotel around 5.30 with over 7 hours in the saddle, a great ride and a great day.

Monday, was a rest day. The legs were toast. Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I was up at 5am and did a flat 40k each morning. I had one more opportunity to ride and that would be on Thursday afternoon before I headed back to Sydney.
The one climb I wanted to do was up to the Mt Hamilton Observatory. Like Sierra Rd, which I did on Saturday, this climb was also used in the Tour of California. This is the highest point around the San Jose Valley at around 1200m above sea level. My hotel was at sea level and according to Map my ride it was 51k each way and nearly 1600m of vertical climbing. This is as the climb was actually broken into 3 sections with a downhill in 2 places as you descend into valleys and then you have to climb back out again. The climb is over 27k and averages (if you take the 2 downhill sections out) around 6%. It was long rather than steep, not like the super steep Sierra Rd climb.

I finished work around 1.30pm and figured it would take me 4 hours to do the ride. I had to be at the airport and checked in at 7pm. I was on the bike just after 2, so I knew it was going to be tight, however as it was climbing on the way there, and downhill on the way back, I figured that I would turn once I hit 2hr 20min into the ride whether I reached the observatory or not. Another hot (32c) mid afternoon sun, but good news, a tailwind would be behind me all the way up the mountain. After 23k, I started the climb proper, and settled into a pace of around 17kph with the gradient around 5-6%. I felt pretty good, and after about 6k of climbing, all was going well when I felt a significant bumping on my front tyre. A quick stop confirmed my suspicion. I had a Schwalbe on the front which was appeared to be one of the tyres that were from the bad batch.These were prone to swelling up and bursting at any point. Not a good situation. The combination of the hot sun and the tyre getting a bit old had caused it to swell significantly. Cursing to myself, I had a decision to make. Keep going to a very remote mountain, risking a blowout that would cause me to crash if it happened on a descent, not to mention me missing my flight due to there wouldn’t be any easy way back as it would be 30k from the closest town, or turn around and miss my one chance to do this climb. Time to take a big bet, I elected to keep going.

The observatory was actually 54k from the hotel. At the 51k mark, I reached the 2hr 20m mark. With 3k to the top, on the steepest part of the whole climb, my earlier 17k speed had dropped to 12k, I had run out of water and the legs were gone. I would be making the time to get to the flight extremely tight, not to mention the tyre. It would take me 15 more minutes to get to the top. I could see it, so decided to go to the top. I made it, but was absolutely spent. There was no way I could just turn and ride back down. I stopped, found a coke machine, poured the cold sweet liquid sugar down the throat, also had my snacks of a banana and a scone I had bought so I wouldn’t bonk. Found some water, took some photos of the magnificent view, looking back to where I started from and was ready to head back. Ten more precious minutes had passed, while I took on food and drink. I had 1 hour 20min to do 47k (as I reset the garmin and it found me a shorter return trip) and besides the 2 climbs of 2k each it was mainly downhill all the way back. I was very concerned about the time, and took off with some gusto. However, the top part of the descent was very technical and the road very bumpy. I was doing over 50k and hour, pushing it through the corners, when after about 3k of descending, the front tyre started drumming significantly. The tyre wouldn’t take the pressure. If I kept this up, I would be off the side on a desolate mountain side. If I slowed, I risked missing my flight. I had no choice, but to slow. I nursed the tyre, pushing it on the straights, as if it popped then, I figured I wouldn’t come off. I was watching the time, and counting down the k’s -40….35…..30….25….20k to go.

div>Now I was back in suburbia, relieved and thought if that if I fractured the tyre now, I could find a bike shop. It was now a race against time. I threw caution to the wind and had 15k to go. My legs were shot, but I could still make my flight if I didn’t have any more issues. 10k, 5k, I was almost there, when with 3k to go….bang!, the speed, heat and the bulging of the tyre had finally caused the tyre to burst with an almighty bang and blow a 3cm gash in the tyre. I didn’t even stop, pushing on with a flat, flapping tyre to the hotel. Relieved to had made it back, it had taken me 3hrs, 56m of riding with 15 mins of stops. It was now 6.15pm and I had 45mins to pack the bike, shower, check out, drive to the airport 4k away, return the hire car, check 2 bikes (I had Tic Tac’s warranty Scott Addict I was bringing home) and a third bag without getting charged excess baggage. (managed to do that as well…. I had over 50kgs of bags)

Without going through the detail, besides setting a new record of 13 mins to disassemble and pack my bike, I made the flight!!!

So I did 6 rides while away, nearly 500k, over 5000m of vertical climbing, one puncture and one blowout!

Southern California, is fantastic for riding. We should seriously think of a FFT Tour of California. The roads are great, even bike lanes on all city road, good climbs, and great weather

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