Wednesday, March 18, 2009

High-Noon Rescue - Part I

With Party Pardee coming up in a few weekends I've been trying to get in a ride longer than the 35 milers I do up to Beal's Pt and the many scenic rides my riding club does on weekends. Party Pardee is only a 65 miler, but with over 4,000 ft of climbing I don't want to take it for granted. The weather looked great for Saturday, before the forecast deteriorated a bit, but when an old riding partner decided to join me I committed to going on Saturday.

When Friday night rolled around I went through the usual rituals of cleaning the bike, lubing the chain, running the drivetrain through its paces and fine-tuning the cable adjusters until shifting was smooth and the chain ran silently. I noticed that the Wippermann chain was even silent shifting over the 15,17 gap of my 9-speed 12-27 cluster. All of the cassette gears up to 15 are in steps of one tooth, so this gap has always created a bit of noise, sometimes even when not shifting, which I find very irritating.

I cleaned my waterbottles and carefully mixed a Polar bottle of blue Gatorade and Zola Acai berry juice. Not wanting to risk being caught with a mix that was too strong, I filled the other waterbottle with water and stuck them in the fridge. Since I had a half-dozen juice bottles in the fridge I decided to drink a Bolthouse Acai and Pomegranate as a cottage cheese and wild blueberry preserves chaser. My legs were still a bit sore from the ride to Beal's on Thursday so going 60 miles would be a good test of my spiked Gatorade's ability to speed recovery times.

We started out about 10:30 under blustery, overcast skies. Bruce hadn't been riding all winter like I had, so I let him lead and tried to stay off his wheel. It was a familiar role as he was my trainer and mentor last year, and did a great job of getting me in shape for my first Century only 6-7 weeks after coming off the couch. I hate riding slow, as it takes the weight off my legs and puts it on my butt - a bit sore too after riding to Beal's just 40 hrs earlier - but I kept my word and didn't push Bruce. We were rolling along between 13 & 15mph and I was finding it hard to warm up in bare legs and 15mph headwinds.

A mile or so past Bannister Pk we ran into a friend who had just come down from Beal's and warned us we'd be facing stiff headwinds coming home and wished us luck. Tom's one of those guys you listen to carefully when he speaks because he's done over 100 Centuries, is a regular on the Davis double, has done the LA Wheelmen double over a dozen times, and is a member of the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame. When Tom speaks, people listen. Clipping into my pedals and pushing off I remembered that the winds were forecast to shift from E to W during the day. We might end up facing headwinds in both directions.

After another 15 minutes riding into the wind I decided to stop at the Aquatic Center at Lake Natoma and put on my leg warmers. No point carrying them around in my vest when my legs were cold. It's not a comfort thing; my muscles just don't work well when they get cold. By the time we actually got there I noticed Bruce's legs were starting to turn beet red and assumed mine didn't look any better.

There was an event going on and the crewing skulls were out in force, with their long, lean lines, and shallow draws, they were carried past in droves as I sat on a milk crate, well-protected from the wind, back to a dark block wall which had been soaking up warm sunlight all morning. I took off my shoes and put on the leg warmers one leg at a time while the spectators began to show up in force. As we rode slowly away through the crowded parking lot, I was amazed how much better my legs felt. They had been a lot colder than I'd realized. I took the first long pull on my Gatorade bottle and felt my legs coming back to life.

It was getting harder and harder to stay behind Bruce. I needed to give my legs a stretch and get my core warmed up. We had agreed he would keep his heart rate in zone 3 and I would ride ahead if I needed to. I stayed behind him for another couple of miles until we made a sharp right turn and headed up a short hill. By now I was dying to put on some speed, so stood and hammered the climb out of the saddle for the 45 seconds or so required. As I crested the hill and sat down I stole a glance at the computer - 16.5mph.

I grabbed the aerobars and kept the power coming. I started passing slower riders in groups, until finally passing two very silly college girls out for what must have been a rare ride. As I went past them I checked my speed at 26 mph. Nice, but I'd lose Bruce in short order at that speed so I pulled over and waited for him to catch up.

The co-eds came riding by a minute or two later, laughing and joking. They asked if I was OK and I told them I was their designated pass-ee for the day. They smiled and thanked me jokingly allowing that I was the only one they'd passed all day. Bruce rolled by, I clipped in, and passed them again a half-mile down the trail. They waved and squealed out a faux protest as I smiled back at them and reminded them "payback's a bitch". It was one of those light moments that brightens everyone's day.

Bruce had picked up the pace a bit now, and was making 15-16mph right along, so I was happy to stay on his wheel, nicely warmed up now from my little sprint. As we came up through the back of the parking lot past Bicycle's Plus and Karen's Bakery I waited up just a bit and we went through Old Folsom and up the "secret" bike path up to Rodeo Pk. Neither of us wanted to stop for our usual break there, so we cruised past the new library and city hall buildings along E Natoma.

From that point on the climbing starts, mostly 3-4% grades down to Green Valley Rd, where we had to make a turn from the 5 lane wide E Natoma onto the 2 lane Green Valley. It's the one semi-hairy piece of vehicle traffic on the whole ride. We made the light without incident and narry a blaring horn. For the next mile or so we enjoyed the only tailwind of the trip and it felt wonderful to get down in the aero position and hammer. I was in my top gear, 46/12 and cranking out 29mph at 90 rpms exactly, looking around, enjoying the view.

We started to hit the stoplights between Sophia Pkwy and Eldorado Hills Blvd. I felt like I was pushing Bruce by staying on his wheel, so after sprinting through a light I kept the power down, grabbed the aerobars and started climbing hard. As I went up hill after hill I knew I was dropping Bruce further and further back, but we had agreed this was a base level conditioning ride for him and a training ride for me, so I kept at it until a nice wide spot in the road presented itself. I pulled over, turned sideways to traffic, and broke out an energy bar. I chewed it thoroughly and chased it with a few good draws of water. Bruce caught up a few minutes later and rode right by - typical. He never stops on Century rides either. He rides right past the aid stations.

I caught up with him on the next hill and we rode together again while my legs got a rest and I let some blood flow to my stomach. The spiked Gatorade really tasted good, so I over-indulged a bit, but I knew the heart of the climbing was coming up soon and I'd need that fuel. As we went up the next hill I was talking in conversational tones, and he was out of the saddle climbing. I was pushing him again. I took off and went up the final climb before crossing Green Valley and turning onto Deer Valley Rd.

I didn't see Bruce behind me, but decided I would wait for him up the road a steep couple of miles where Deer Valley makes a 90 degree right turn in open pasture land. We had been riding about 2 hrs, and while still almost an hour from the turn-around point, we were about halfway through the ride by time.

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