Assembling at my house on a cool Saturday morning we were planning on biking to the summit of Mt. Diablo. This ride was a prep ride for the upcoming Death Valley century two weeks from this day. Two of my cycling teammates and a friend who I had convinced to do the DV century with me were all in the back yard getting ready for the day. The entire day would have us riding about 85 miles or so. This would be a good warm up for the big ride in a few weeks.
The summit of the 3,849-foot Mount Diablo is the Bay Area's window on the world. Atop Diablo, is a grand view of the region. When the air is clear, you can take in 25,000-30,000 square miles of central California countryside below. The mountain rises 1200 meters above sea level, and is the tallest mountain in the California coast range in Northern California. On a clear day, from it's summit you can see more of the surface of the earth than from any mountain except Mt. Kilamanjaro in Africa.
Looking to the west is views beyond the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands; southeast to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton at 4,213 feet elevation; south to Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains at 3,791 feet elevation, north to Mount Saint Helena in the Coast Range at 4,344 feet elevation, and still farther north to Mount Lassen in the Cascades at 10,466 feet.
OK, enough with the facts, let's ride.
Oh yeah, there would be one more person joining us. A guy named Joe. He found me through our team website. The welcoming kind of guy that I am, I invited him to join us. I did let him know that we would be going on a long ride with a really nice climb... When my doorbell rang we met Joe.
While we were in our lycra clad racing kits with expensive bikes and all the do dads that make cycling so much fun, Joe arrived on a old steel 50 lbs beater touring bike adorned with "ORGANIC" & "ONE LESS CAR" and other assorted stickers.
I am sure we all had the same thing going through our minds. He said he just needs a few minutes to take the touring bags off the bike. I am sure we all wondering if he was going to change or just ride in the baggy ripped cargo shorts, T shirt and really worn pair of Chuck Taylors.
It was a social ride so off we went. Casually we rode through several towns as we came closer to the start of the climb. We all realized that none of us were dressed correctly. Even thought it was warm and overcast by my house, the summit of the mountain was hidden by dark ominous clouds.
Before beginning the climb we 'found' some newspapers in a mailbox and took a few sections to stuff in our jerseys for the way down. Joe didn't take any; he had a thermal shirt tied around his waist.
The beginning of the climb isn't so bad; several switch backs and a comfortable grade.
We climbed and chatted with other cyclists on the road.
Each October there is a 'challenge' to the top. I think the best time is 58 minutes. I was hoping to conquer this beast in an hour and a half.
A brief background on the participants on this ride, Joe you have already met and there is myself on the left at a dainty 218 lbs, climbing isn't one of my specialties. Dave second from left is a strong criterium racer fair climber, Matt is the strongest of the day and is a fantastic climber even at his weight and is training for the 24 hours of Adrenaline race the same weekend I am doing Death Valley. He is doing it solo. Why anyone would want to ride on a mountain bike for 24 hours straight is beyond me but to each his own. Then there was Schmide who is taking the photo. He's the guy going to Death Valley with me. This is his first real road ride.
We climb for about 45 minutes and regroup at the ranger station. Here, the South Gate and the North Gate meet and you begin the summit 4 miles away. This is when it starts to get steep. While we begin to climb my legs started to feel it and I backed the pace off a bit and decided to ride on my own. In addition to the increase in difficulty, we were riding through the clouds. The wind was howling through the tree line as I continued out of the saddle trying to keep my cadence.
Once I was around Devil's elbow I knew the end was near. Although I was close to the end of this ride, the last 1000 feet are a real killer. After riding for about an hour and half the last 1/4 mile has a 18% grade that basically tears your legs off. The only other time I attempted this summit I had to get off and walk it. This time there would be no chance of walking I was determined to finish it all on the bike.
As I started the going was tough, the bike teetered and I had to jump out of the pedals and there I was stopped. Panting, I tried to refocus and get back on the bike. I took a deep breath and jumped on and started pedaling again. I could hear my fellow riders at the top cheering me on. As they chanted my name a surge of power entered my legs and I started sprinting up the hill. I made it about 20 feet and my legs cramped, heart rate soared and my thoughts of triumph were fading quick. NO! I would make it to the top. Everything I had inside fought to get the pedals spinning, (I am using the word spinning very generously) but alas I made it to the top.
It took me a minimum of 10 minutes for me to come back to earth. I really thought that the pain would never end. The shaking in my legs, the feeling as if I was going to throw up the few powerbars I consumed earlier, the spinning of my head was all too much. I sat in the middle of the parking lot hoping that no one would come over to me and try to talk to me, not yet at least.
Please allow me to jump off a bit and fill you in on the story of the day. Joe, our new friend that we named 'Nature Boy' ended up climbing like a goat. Matt remarked that he was barely able to ride him off his wheel. Nature Boy was a mad man. He rode like the wind. His sparse words throughout the day and riding ability earned him a new nickname of "Mr. Business"
Now back to the story. We socialized with the others that had made the journey to the top of Mt. Diablo on this day. With the clouds below us we got ready to descend and continue on with our ride.
Other than getting lost for about an hour the rest of the ride was uneventful. When returning to my house we had the traditional BBQ with too much food and drink. Sitting in the back yard relaxing we laughed and talked about the days events.
Footnote: while sitting in bed that night I was hoping that the ride and lack of proper clothing wouldn't get me sick.