Davis 600, May 3rd 2013
After a storming time on the Davis 400, we knew we had our work cut out for the 600. Still no news from Santana / Crank2 of when we would receive Katina back from repairs, but never mind, we were settling into a comfortable pattern of surprising ourselves by how much fun we could have riding our "heavy" touring tandem on this brevet series. Being on a flat handlebar bike for such distances does take its toll on my wrists and shoulders, but the combination of aerobars and dual bar ends, plus the portable pilot-massage attachment all good tandem teams carry (aka Emma) meant I'd got this far without any complaint.
The bigger challenge of the 600 was it was back into more mountainous terrain, climbing a good way into the Sierra Nevadas for a 1500m altitude half-way point, and also an unconventional 8pm start time, guaranteeing awkward sleep patterns. As if that's not enough, I also was planning to go straight from the end-line to SFO airport and get on a flight to London. At least, I should sleep well on the flight!
The first 50km we spent with a group of fast guys -- not The fast guys, who were off the front chasing down a slick yellow Velomachine (fully faired trike recumbent) that had shot off into the night making short work of the North-Eastern almost head wind that had blustered up against us from nowhere -- but certainly fast enough. Somehow our echelon riding was even worse than the fortnight before, with me completely misreading the wind direction and failing to pick the right line when we turned off the main roads and onto the never-ending "Reclamation Road", nt doubt annoying some other riders about the tandem not performing the quality of "pull" expected of it; too bad! Shortly after the pace seemed to rise further with some groups quite sensibly wanting to break off what had become an unwieldy large pack, and we had no interest in playing along with the "attacks" so we sat up to see who else might fall off the back with us, but as it turned out the the whole lot disappear into a line of red lights dissolving into night across the paddy fields. Not a problem - on a tandem we have our own company built in ☺
The fastest guys were leaving the first control as we approached, and the rest of the group left while we were there. So we spent the second stage on our own too, plugging away at the miles in the darkness, and to one of he more unusual controls I've seen, hosted in a motel in Oroville. The next stage proved a shake up to the rhythm, as here we hit the first big climb past Feather river West branch and onto the North branch, which would be our companion for most of the coming day (Saturday). The drop down to the river proper was exhilarating in the dark, and seemed to go on for far too long (knowing it was all altitude we needed to climb back over on the return half!). Had it been daylight and I'd been able to see the precipitous drop to the right (near) side of the road all the way down, I might have taken it a shade more gently too...
The gradual drag up the Feather river seemed to go on forever in the dark, so we were both really glad to see the 200km control at Tobin resort welcoming us just as the distant blue of dawn was building in the sky. The freshly cooked waffles were a real welcome comfort here, although I struggled to drink the very strong coffee at that point in my messed up metabolism. As we'd not got in any proper rest on Friday afternoon, with my coming straight to the start from work, we were now feeling the effects of riding right through the night. As were others: we saw the Velomachine parked up on arrival, and still there when we set off into the daybreak.
Seeing sunlight hitting the sheer canyon walls above our heads was tantalizing, as we experienced the coldest part of the night just below it! In an effort to cut weight for this day of climbing I'd left my nighttime cooler-condition clothing at the control. Eventually we turned off the picturesque Highway 70 and onto the even more charming Indian Creek road. A fellow cyclist asked if we'd rather be enjoying the downhill return leg, and at that point I had to say no I was genuinely enjoying the amazing scenery and being able to take it all in as we trundled up, in a way you really can't when piloting a tandem downhill.
The organiser Dan was the man at the control at Tayersville, and again we enjoyed his cheery company while also enjoying his great hospitality - soup, cooked to order omelets and a couple sandwiches. He was a little concerned about one rider, Kaley who had been riding ahead of us by half a stage all night, but had not yet been seen at Taylorsville. So Dan was sure she'd missed the turn and would now be well on her way to Quincy.
The last stage to the turn around point I found fairly brutal. While not yet the hottest part of the day, and the heat reduced by being in the mountains, but still the remote and dusty situation somehow got into me, not to mention this was the steepest sustained climb of the whole event. At 270km in this was probably the toughest point for me -- if doing an evening start again we must remember to get a couple hours lie down before, as indeed we did on previous 2 night start long distance rides. Eventually we got to Antelope lake and what an amazing setting it is... quickly blowing away any grumpiness! On the way up we'd spotted Kaley heading back down, so at least solved that conundrum (she'd just missed the control).
The next 150km was downhill tandeming heaven. And, the only part of the ride with a tail wind to boot. Sailed through Taylorsville, narrowly resisting more omelets but still enjoying great food, and down to Tobin where we were reunited with our "bag drop" bags for another change of shorts and to pick up the cooler weather clothes. The climb back over to Oroville was tough, but not unexpected so easy to pace, and the descent the other side, with a spectacular late evening sunset laid out infront of us across the wide Central Valley really left us in awe. I could have stopped at the vista point and watched the sunset right through, but we had a pressing engagement to meet in Oroville - hoping to get there for 8pm and squeeze in 4.5hours sleep in the motel room we'd booked. Of course brevet plans are always subject to change, this time being a really fierce side wind that like ius, was falling off the Sierras in the setting sun, and wanted to do all it could to knock us off during those final 10 miles into the town. By the time we got there, we knew we couldn't sleep so long, as if that wind kept up we'd need more time in hand for the remaining 150km in the morning. Still, sleep, in a proper bed, is an amazing thing on a 600km ride, in any quantity - and so our 3 hours was truly restorative.
Alarms just after midnight, we were back rolling before 1am, enjoying the quiet of the night. In the distant Sierras to our left we could see lightning flashing around, so were glad to have left that weather in the mountains, and hoped it would not be joining us up the road.
Reclamation Road eventually came around again - this time we could see just how flat and bleak that area is. By now the sun was rising once more, and with it was returning the Easterly wind that we'd mostly avoided by striking back out in the middle of the night. This got pretty weary riding, so we had to stop and hide out behind a barn for 20mins to eat sandwiches and get a breather. Along with a prior bonus service station stop, and then a Starbucks stop 20 miles from the arrivée, we managed to turn a 2 stage ride into 5 stages on that Sunday morning. We later heard that Reclamation Road is variously now as Redemption or Revelations Road by the local cyclists; all very appropriate names for the emotions you dig on in that flat and shelterless lands.
After our sneaky Starbucks stop, we cruised into the Davis outskirts feeling pretty good and with 3 hours in hand. We could see the storm cloud now brewing on the nearer side of Sacramento, so were very happy when the road finally swung south and then west back into the park and ride and the end line. And after a well earned 2 hours extra snooze in the car we secured an enormous brunch in a local diner.