Monday, November 12, 2007

Low-Key Hillclimbs, week 7

Going to this race came at a big personal cost to me, so my meager points haul for Team Bicycle Trip in the team competition may not have been worth it. But it was still an adventure of sorts and a great workout, so it wasn't all for naught!

This uphill-only race series is usually held on paved roads. But this time the course was to be held on a dirt fire road in the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve in the hills above Portola Valley. Their website originally said the course was just 1.6 miles long, and ended at the summit on Skyline Blvd. That's so short it is almost a sprint; yay!

Teammates Jim Langley and Melanie Dominguez expressed interest in going, but Melanie didn't show, and Jim couldn't get to the race because his van broke down while he was returning from a table tennis tournament in Sacramento. (My car only holds one bike at the moment.)

There was some online debate about whether to use a mountain bike, a road bike or a cyclocross bike. The best balance between low weight, low gearing, and the bike's handling on rough terrain would determine which was best. I was unwilling to use either of my road bikes because of the steep 8.3% grade and loose dirt trails, which would make traction difficult and the gearing too high. So I spent some time getting my mountain bike ready, including removing unnecessary weight like the water bottle cages because I would not need water for such a short race. I even cleaned off months of accumulated gunk. This brought it down to 23.1 pounds, which isn't too bad. Unfortunately I gained 2 pounds of body weight through water retention the 2 days before the race by eating out too much. Duh!

I enjoy doing things with my wife, and she wanted to visit her dad in Cupertino anyway. So I suggested she go with me and then we'd visit him on the way home. We could even have breakfast on the way.

The organizers had changed the course just before race day, so I was a bit unsure where I would emerge at the summit. And the length was now posted as 3.6 miles on a 7.3% grade. (After the race I noticed they'd changed it again, to 2.5 miles at 7.2%.) Yeah, there was some uncertainty, but I figured it would all work out OK. I'm so stoopid.

On race day we went to El Palomar Cafe for breakfast. I had the healthy ostrich sausage scramble with fruit and coffee. After a nice drive up, we got to Portola Valley and I got signed up and suited up. I didn't even wear socks, gloves or eyewear, or bring tools, food, tubes or my cellphone in order to save weight. While Margaret could have just waited at the bottom for me to return, I worried that she'd get bored and that it would take too long. I thought she could instead meet me at the top of the climb on Skyline, with my water and recovery food in my car, thus getting a head start on our return trip instead of her waiting for me to ride all the way back down. I had printed out maps and such to make it easy, so I gave Margaret the maps and showed her roughly where I thought I'd emerge onto Skyline, and we agreed she would drive up La Honda to Skyline and cruise back and forth on Skyline until we spotted each other. Brilliant! Yeah, right. If I could turn back time...

Anyway, the organizers gathered us all together at 10:10am for a neutral ride up to the start line, which turned out to be 4 miles up Alpine Road, on a fire road named, I think, Ruolf Trail that follows what may have been the original stagecoach route that Apline Road started out as. This was a mass start, not an individually-timed time trial, and they asked us to place ourselves in the pack relative to where we thought we'd finish. We waited around for stragglers, Steven Woo, Frances Cebedo and I cracking jokes, until they finally decided that we were ready to go. I suspect we started around 10:40 or so.

Very soon after the start we hit a bunch of very loose gravel patches where trail crews had prepared the trail for the upcoming winter rains. This put a lot of the road-bike riders in bad shape, their narrow, slick tires slewing them around. I was OK even with my relatively narrow 1.8" mountain-bike tires, and happy I hadn't ridden my road bike as I passed many of them. Soon the pack spread out with the fast guys climbing ahead out of sight, and riders of like ability clumping together. I left Steven and Frances behind, but had another guy drafting me for a long time.

After the gravel patches ended, the smoother trail allowed a couple of guys, one on a road bike and the other on a cyclocross bike, to pass us. I was almost blown out, so I was unwilling and unable to follow them without risking a complete meltdown. Instead I concentrated on setting a consistent, but very hard, pace I knew I could sustain to the top. About 3/4 of the way up my caboose parted company with me and he pedalled ahead. Again, I was not about to push myself harder, and let him go too.

After 18 minutes and 3 seconds I passed the finish line at the top of the fire road, in 11th place overall out of 28 men, and emerged onto... Page Mill Road, much to my surprise! I didn't even stop but kept time-trialing up to Skyline, knowing that Margaret was up there looking for me.
Once I got to Skyline I turned north, towards La Honda, since Margaret was more likely to be looking for me around the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve parking lot on Skyline. Well, after several miles of hard riding I came to the parking lots, with no Margaret in sight. I thought I might have spotted her by then, but figured she was further north per our plan so I continued north.

As the miles faded behind me, I started to worry that perhaps she was lost somewhere, and when I got to Old La Honda I stopped to ask a group of roadies if they had seen my disctinctive car. Yes, they had, and they thought it looked like the driver was searching for somebody and was last seen driving north. "That was my wife," I told them with relief, and sped off in hot pursuit. I was getting a good workout, and thought she was probably in the La Honda area and I would soon be reunited with her.

OK, by the time I got to La Honda and still hadn't seen her, I started to worry all over again. I didn't think she would have gone further north, or west down La Honda towards the ocean, and I wouldn't follow her even if she did, so I decided my only option was to ride down La Honda to my starting point in the hope that she'd gone back there to wait for me. At least it was all downhill from there, in more ways than one it turned out.

After speeding down La Honda, with sprinkles warning me of the impending rainstorm moving in, I spotted Margaret just before I reached Portola Road. Whew, was I happy and relieved! But my joy sooned turned to pain when I saw the look on her face; she was not happy at all, and had been driving around for what seemed to her an eternity, looking for me. She thought I would have finished long before then, and couldn't understand why I hadn't appeared. After talking to a few people on Skyline, getting bad advice, she'd returned to Portola Road to see if I'd returned, before trying to go up La Honda again.

Well, during the long drive back, I could only express my regrets and hope she'd forgive me for the whole ordeal; I think she has, and hope that I will learn from this; I think I have.

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