Sunday, September 16, 2012

Davis 200 -- Cycling through a furnace

Having not been on a brevet since April - and we failed to even get that one validated - we’d been thinking for a while it was time to give it another go. We’ve had a few niggly injuries, and so been slowly building up distances, cycling from our home over to the Pacific, and a fortnight ago taking a 3 day tour in the south bay mountains over Labor Day weekend.

So Friday night we packed up the car, with Katina on the roof, and headed to Davis, near Sacramento, to make an early start Saturday morning on the Davis 200.

A short ride from our Motel on the east side of the town got us to the start in plenty of time, despite Google Maps’ best efforts to lose us in the bike-paths of several parks along the way. The town is clearly very keen on cycling heritage, not only does the round town loop have the town’s penny farthing logo depicting the way, but many shops display it too, and even the MacDonalds holds a fullsize chrome Penny!

At the start we were warmly welcomed by Dan and Jonathan and several other of the club regulars. A quick cup of tea in Peet’s Tea & Coffee, and then it was time to go. (First ride I’ve done with full 1 minute, 30 second, 15 second countdown to the start time!)

The first 25km heading due west out of town is fairly flat, and as we were warmed up from the cycle to the start we got ourselves onto the back of a faster group that included another Tandem (a Habanero, not seen them before). As we approached the foothills of the first - and main - climb of the day, we ‘took our turn’ on the front and just then rounded into a small canyon with a blustering strong wind. Promptly our group speed plummeted from a steady 36km to a variable 28 as we battled with the wind and rollers. We dropped off as we turned past the Berryessa dam, and settled into a more relaxed tandem hillclimbing pace. We had a nice chat with Deb Banks who introduced herself and the club. Just over the top, we had a slow deflation from a thorn in the front tyre, so saw most of the rest of the riders come through as we tended to that. This doubled as a good opportunity to pack away arm warmers (the cool of morning most definitely now replaced by strong sun), and grab a snack (some “Sloth” flapjack).

This is a straight out-and-back ride, with only one control at the turn around point, unusual to us used to windy AUK routes sometimes with 4 controls per 200km. The way out is three parts: flat/mountain/flat, and the way back the same (but in reverse!). Once over the climbs, we then dropped down onto the Silverado Trail, in the northern part of the Napa valley heading up to Calistoga. This was a narrow and busy road by local standards, heavy with tourist and group minibuses visiting the hundreds of wineries along the way, but not too bad compared to an average UK B-road. We got to the turnaround point in high spirits, and bought lots of drinks and snacks in the store before discovering the “Taco Truck” parked around the back, so called by there to pick up a veggi Burrito and a couple beef tacos too.

After enjoying this birthday treat, and welcoming the final few riders in, we set off back the way we came. Navigating the bike paths back down the Silverado trail was a little more tricky this way -- while the tour buses had reduced (being lunch time) we were cycling against the flow of a fun run which also used the shoulder, so had to negotiate our way into the traffic and around runners at numerous points. I was happy to see the turning onto the state highway 128 to cut back across the mountains, as that is a quieter road.

While the roads then became a bit easier, it was now gone 2pm and the intense midday heat had turned the valley of the climb into the proverbial oven. We’ve done our share of cycling in hot weather, and considered ourselves relatively good at coping with the heat, but this was something else. I seemed to suffer in particular, first sweating profusely (as told by salt tide marks on my clothing) but later drying right out and not sweating at all. At that point, I also felt the strength just leave my legs. It was not just the heat, but the desert-dry nature of the heat, combined with dry-dry wind, that seemed to suck all the moisture from our bodies. We hauled ourselves through to the midway point (where we’d seen a shop and refreshments for the 100km riders’ on their turn-around stop) but were devastated to find it deserted, and the shops firmly closed. We hid out in the shade for 30mins, and tried a couple taps on the outsides of the buildings before finding one very disused one that surprisingly worked so filled up bottles and added plenty of Nuun electrolyte tablets.

20km more in the mountains, and then we’d be in the home-straights. After the final big descent, we spotted some public loos so stopped there. Once stopped though, I just had to find some shade so we hid out there for another 30+ mins! There was a pleasantly cool stream running by (the loos being for the benefit of picnickers and fishermen) so we went to visit that; Emma cooling her feet, and me washing my jersey and enjoying the ice-cold feel of it on my shoulders.

It was now 5pm and heat becoming more bearable so we pushed on for the final flat drag to the end. We split this up with one more stop in a roadside bar to get more water and some fizzy drinks (and enjoy sitting right under the air-conditioning until we started to shiver!) and then rolled back to the ArrivĂ©e at about 6.30pm. Without the extra shade-stops this would have been a 9 hour brevet - blistering by our standards, especially considering we’d not been riding so much this year, but 10h30 is still a pretty decent time given the 13h20 limit we thought. Yet, by local standards this is lets say on the slow side. We were last-but-one back, and the organizer had actually started to worry that maybe we had gotten lost or had some other mishap when so much time passed between the previous rider and us arriving back! A nice reminder that, unlike the UK where randonneuring grew as a branch off of the cycling touring tradition, over here it tend to be more closely aligned with cycle racing clubs: taking the place that cycle Sportives and to an extent “charity endurance races” have recently grown to fill in the UK. So we’ll either need to get faster (and moreover, learn how to deal with the dry heat), or just get ourselves used to coming home as lanterne rouge and being known as a couple event organizer worryers!

Tandem: Davis 200 by tandemthing2 at Garmin Connect - Details