Hell and Back Again
What made me do this ride again? The devil only knows. Maybe
the seed was planted during the 300K Malibu Brevet. Maybe one of his fallen angels
talked me into it during the Spring Furnace Creek 508 Camp. Suffice to say I was
ready to "whip it". Doubt was raising its ugly head however after
learning a low pressure trough was moving through California. Rumors of 33
degrees at the top of Mt Hamilton abound. Was I really ready for this epic
George Pinney and his gang designed the course to surpass the
Terrible Two in difficulty. It starts and finishes at the San Ramon Marriott.
The course includes every conceivable climb and heads to wherever the prevailing
winds can make you suffer most. Throw fog, hail and rain into the mix and you may get the
Paul Kopit, Dan Mitnick, Steve Pack and I, drove up together. Since I
rode the 1997 and 1998 editions of the ride in 14:20 and 15:30 hrs respectively
I was confident in joining the 6am departure group. Steve and I would ride
together. Just in case, we send lights to the last rest stop at mile 181. The 6
am group was mostly made up of fast and young(er) riders. I recognized several
from the Davis Bike Club as well as several TT/ DMD record holders. Some appeared at the
start without any weather protection, no arm or leg warmers, no wind breakers.
Unbelievable! After the usual plea to just be safe, this is not a race ( yeah
right! ), we are off. We get dropped almost immediately on the first
"hill". No worry, we are "pacing" ourselves. We lose sight of
the riders so quickly, that we wonder if we missed a turn. Backtrack 1/2 mile.
Another rider informs us we are still on course and now we are really in last
place with still 200 miles to go. It's COLD. The climb to Mt Diablo is stunning,
even without the views ( did I mention fog? ).Half way up the mountain we meet
some of the faster 5am starters descending. This is getting tricky, the
road is wet with strong crosswinds pushing the descending riders to the double
yellow line. Amazingly nobody is to get hurt on this ride. The mixed tandem with
Richard Boettner, last years DMD record holder, comes roaring down. Rick
yelling: "To your left, to your left!" His stoker: "Careful,
careful!" Finally "The Wall", a short very steep section to the
summit. The temperature has dropped to 36 degrees. George describes the descent
as "the most fun you can have with your clothes on". I beg to differ. It
reminds me of the famous painting " HELL" by Hieronymous Bosch. The naked sinner
sliding right through a hole in the ice. Quite appropriate for this hellish descent. Halfway we
meet Paul Kopit mumbling something about having lost all feeling in his hands
but determined to go on. I am shaking so badly, I can hardly control the bike. I am
just praying for this descent to end. It all seems a blur now. Somehow we
survive and start the climb of Morgan Territory Road. It's even warming up! This
is pristine cycling. Short steep climbs, steep turns and a canopy of trees.
Steve and I have finally the opportunity to commiserate about life and cycling
in particular. After the second rest stop another series of descents. The
crosswinds are so strong I experience high speed wobble and nearly lose it. We
are having fun! On to Altamont Pass and Patterson Pass Roads with the " Oh
my God" climb. Did I mention headwind? On the last few steep climbs into
the headwind we are hardly moving. We pass the tandem with Ron Way and Lynn Catano.
Lynn seems to be in her usual great spirit. The last climb looks actually
steeper than it really is, but it still delivers a knockout punch. Finally the gradual
climb up Mines Road. This is probably a great cycling venue, but I am just in
survival mode trying to keep up with Steve. Lunch at mile115, but no stop for
the wicked. We have to push it to make the last rest stop before dark. On the
approach to Mt Hamilton, we meet the riders from Mt Hamilton Challenge coming down.
They look pretty worn out too! After a few "speed bumps" we get in the
groove of the final push to the summit Mt Hamilton. The scenery is spectacular, but the
weather is getting worse. About 3 miles from the summit, hail starts
pelting us. It's coming down in buckets. We are really having fun now! I swear
never to do this ride again. On top of all this my Ciclo computer stops
measuring speed and distance, so much for the download of the ride profile. Not
to DNF is now the only factor motivating me from throwing the bike to the side of the
road and calling it quits. A mile from the summit I yell my name and number to
the sag/rest stop. No way I am stopping and spending even one second longer on
this damn hill than necessary. Forget the "far ranging view of Silicon
Valley", the fog is so dense I can hardly read the street signs. Fortunately I
remember the only way to go is DOWN that mountain. The descent is very technical
in these wet and slippery conditions. The new Campy Record single pivot rear
brake does not slow me down much. The rough road surface makes it hard to fully
apply the front brake. I am again amazed this ride was completed without major
injuries. Surely a testament to the bike handling skills of the average
DMD challenger. Having dropped Steve somewhere during the climb, the only riders
I meet are the slower riders of the Mt. Hamilton Challenge climbing its front
side. Are they in for a treat! Steve catches up and we cruise into the 5th rest stop
at mile 151 at 6:20 pm. Now we are in a quandary. No lights and there is no way
we can make the next rest stop before dark. Darn! Unless Hell freezes over, I am
not going to sag in after all this suffering. After warming up with soup, we decide
to "wing" it and just leave. So we take off and after a few miles
Steve comes to an abrupt stop: forgot his water bottles. Another 10 minutes down
the tube. Next up SIERRA ROAD aka Satan's revenge, Devil's Highway,
Purgatory North. You take your pick. It shoots up 1800 feet in 3.2 miles.
Previously it did not strike me as a very difficult climb, riding it in a 30/21
gear. Now however I am wishing I had a smaller gear than 30/29. Steve gets
his second wind and stays in front of me. There is simply no way for me to go
faster and still be able to finish the ride. After a series of false summits we
start the gradual descent of Calaveras Rd which meanders along a large
Reservoir. This is usually pretty but now we are racing against darkness. Sharp
turns followed by short climbs and so on. The sharp turns are getting more and
more difficult to negotiate while it 's getting darker. The last 4 miles it is
so dark, we basically feel our way to the rest stop. This stop is so poorly lit
and obscured by a parking lot we nearly miss it. Hallelujah! Lights! Riding
on Niles Road
in the dark, is like playing Russian Roulette with passing traffic. There is either
no shoulder or it is covered with debris. After many expletives we make a
hard right turn onto Palomares Road. This climb and the next one nearly do
me in. One thousand feet in 4.5 miles? Not much of a climb one would think, but
I ran out of gears ( 30/29!). Steve is swearing all the way up Norris Canyon.
The Freeway at last! Praise the Lord! We drag ourselves across the overpass and
ride in at 22:59 pm. What a ride. Paul Kopit greets us warmly, he turned around
at the Morgan Territory Rest stop. My riding buddies Dick Dickinson and
Charlie Griffice are recharging their batteries, they left at 5 am and took just
over 17 hrs. A new course record was set of about 12 hrs. Dan Mitnick raced in
with the lead pack at 14hrs.
"Who whipped who?" That is the question. For me
that's it, three strikes and I am out! No more DMD's. This year's Devil Mountain
Double stands out among those rides which have caused me intense suffering. My
first Death Valley Double is still first on this list. The torture between the
descent of Salsberry Pass and the last rest stop at Furnace Creek will be
etched in my memory forever. The Tour of North Texas with its 500 plus miles of
infernal headwind used to run a close second. The 2002 DMD may take its place.
Even the misery encountered on some of the very cold and wet nightly descents
during RAAM does not equal what I went through on the descent from Mt Diablo.
How riders like Richard Boetner and Craig Robertson, riding in just their cycling
jerseys were able to complete this ride, blows my mind.
What did I learn from this ride? I am getting a Bento Box! A
nifty small cordura box which fits on top of the top tube and behind the stem,
Great for snacks and Hammergel flasks. All the layers of clothes made it hard,
if not impossible, to reach my Hammergel flasks. Without a doubt, part of my
exhaustion stemmed from a lack of calories.
Thanks George for continuing to put on this epic ride. This
year's ride was truly not only a test of one's endurance but even more so of
one's perseverance in the face of some of Nature's worse cycling conditions.
Please continue the good work. I will be on the lookout for that special person
I will recommend this ride to.
Mountain Double website for course description.
Triple Crown website for details, finishing times etc.