How Wet Can You Get?

September 24th, 2007

On September 22 I rode my sixth double century – the Knoxville Fall Classic staff ride. A rain storm had been forecasted for Saturday and Thom had been keeping his eye on the radar for much of the week. He thought we wouldn’t get much rain. He was wrong.

There were about 34 riders total, with the bulk of us leaving at 4:30 AM. A faster group left later at 5AM. As we rolled out we saw a huge bolt of lightening off in the distance. It was far enough away that we couldn’t hear the thunder. It was definitely a portent for the day.

I started off feeling really good, riding near the front of the group. I am not a fast climber and I knew I would be closer to the back of the pack once we got to the significant climbs. Riding in the dark is an interesting experience. Your world really narrows down to the little bit that you can see and hear. I don’t wear a head lamp so I couldn’t see my computer. (My computer tracks heart rate, speed, cadence, altitude, calories… I like the numbers.) I do have it set up so that it beeps at me when my heart rate moves above or below a certain range. I was a little worried that I was going too hard, so I turned on the beeper. It commenced beeping fast right away, meaning my heart rate was too high. It actually beeps with whatever my heart rate is, kinda cool. I backed off a bit to get the beeping to stop. As we rode I talked with a few of the other riders. I think we’re all a little more talkative at the start of a ride than we are at the end.

The rain started about an hour or so into the ride. It was just sprinkles at first, then a drizzle, then full on rain. I wasn’t wearing my rain gear. Things that are waterproof don’t breathe enough to dissipate the sweat a cyclist puts out . I wanted to save my rain gear for the night time, which I expected would be colder. I was wearing tights with a light fleece lining and a fleece jacket. From experience I know both of these will keep me pretty warm, even when wet. Thom was a roving SAG driver. It’s always nice when I see him out on the course. He had a lot of the rider gear bags and was stopped at one of the corners, just before the first big climb to hand out gear to people who wanted it. I decided I was fine and just kept going.

This first climb, up Mt George, is one I have done before. It’s not bad climb, not too long, not too steep. The descent was not so much fun. It is a fairly narrow, curvy road, with no shoulder and has a bit of traffic. Normally I would descend it fast enough that I wouldn’t worry about taking the lane. However, it was still dark, raining and the road was slick. This is our first storm of the year. Even though I was being super cautious, I still passed another rider. He probably thought I was crazy. Once off the descent, the rest of the miles to the first rest stop were fairly flat and I just settled into a good pace.

  • Flying up Howell Mountain Road.
At the first rest stop, I refilled my bottles, got a little food and took off with three other riders. Because the road was wet, drafting wasn’t so much fun, with every bike throwing a rooster tail of dirty water. We had several more flat miles to the next climb, Howell Mountain Road. I had never ridden Howell Mt. before, but Thom and I drove the course a few weeks ago. I knew this would be one of the harder climbs and it was. Thom was stopped part way up it and as I rolled by he told me I was riding well and near the front still. That didn’t last long. As the climb continued I think 6 people passed me. Thom was waiting at the junction of Howell Mt and Deer Park roads and when I got there he told me I was no longer near the front. That’s all right. I had expected to be near the back by the time I got to the top of this climb. I got a Red Bull from him and continued climbing. The road was somewhat less steep and I was able to settle into a good pace again. Still I was happy when I got to the top.

The descent of Howell Mt is tricky even under perfect conditions. It’s unusually steep and narrow with very tight, blind corners. One corner looked like it had a thin sheet of ice on it. It wasn’t that cold, but the road was slick. Thom was stopped at a corner with two other riders and he hollered at me to be careful as I rolled by. I later learned that one of the riders had crashed when his front wheel washed out. At the next corner another rider was stopped with a broken spoke. I continued on down the mountain without any problems and rode the next few miles to the rest stop at Berryessa with Chris and Bill, whom I would play leapfrog with all day. I got some more food at Berryessa and when Thom pulled in with the guy with the broken spoke, I got some dry gloves and dry socks. It had stopped raining somewhere along Howell Mt and I was hoping to be dry the rest of the day. Right.

The route then goes over Knoxville-Berryessa Rd. This road starts off kind of rolling and I was feeling pretty good. It’s a long road, through a very remote area. I had several miles of this rolling terrain. The only thing on the road side were tents and trucks for hunters getting in their last weekend to hunt deer. I saw a few hunters, most of whom smiled and said hello. The end of Knoxville-Berryessa is pretty steep and this is where I began to feel the effects of not really being trained for this ride. My legs just had no power. I was in my smallest gear and climbing at 4 miles an hour. It was tedious and it hurt. I began to think that quitting at lunch would be good, especially as this climb seemed to have no end. Of course it was followed by the thought that being tired and uncomfortable was NOT a good reason to stop. Plus if I stopped now, I’d miss the descent after the Loch Lomond climb. I was looking forward to that descent. It’s a good road and has a section with 11%, a drag to climb, but fun to descend!

There is a mini rest stop for water at what I thought was the top, I refilled my bottles and kept going. It wasn’t the top. Chris passed me while I was getting water, but was stopped a little further down the road. She was having trouble with her derailleurs. Thom was there, helping her. I crawled on by. I could tell it was going to rain again. The sky had darkened and the temperature had a dropped a few degrees. Drat! Then the rain started, heavier than before; so much for drying out. I continued to crawl my way to the top of the climb. It was still raining and by the time I got to the descent it was coming down pretty hard. The drops were pelting me in the face. It hurt.

Chris and I rolled into the lunch stop at Foster’s Freeze at Lower Lake together. She was worried about her derailleur; I was kind of wishing I had a mechanical issue. Stopping seemed like such a fine idea. I was cold, wet, hungry and miserable. I had a hot chocolate and a grilled chicken sandwich. Thom arrived while I was waiting for my food and fixed Chris’ bike problems. After I finished eating I got my bag from the car and changed into dry clothes. It was still raining quite hard so I decided to put on my rain gear as well. It was so nice to be dry. It didn’t last long, but it was nice.

After lunch we had another really difficult climb up to Loch Lomond. This road climbs 610 feet in a mile. That’s an average grade of nearly 11%. I’ve climbed steeper grades, but after 115 miles and having already climbed more than 8600 feet, it was tough. I think I may have set a new personal best slow speed record – 2.6 mph. As I was grinding my way up the hill, I could see Chris walking ahead of me. It occurred to me that she might be going faster than I was. I did eventually catch up to her. She was just taking a break. I was so happy to get to the top of this climb and begin the descent. This was a pretty nice road, good pavement and I hit my highest speed of the day here – 40.6 mph. I was kind of cold though. My waterproof jacket, wasn’t waterproof anymore and my upper body was thoroughly soaked again.

  • Veronica falls back on the tried and true waterproof rain wear when her "water proof jacket" wasn't.
After the descent we had a mainly flat section to the next rest stop at Guenoc and mercifully it stopped raining. I had another Red Bull and a few wheat thins. I really should have eaten more. I also dressed myself in the latest cyclist fashion – a trash bag. The bag wouldn’t breathe, but it would trap my body heat and keep me from getting too cold on the descents. I took off from Guenoc and almost immediately started feeling crummy. Anytime I exerted the least little bit, I thought I was going to vomit. At about mile 145 Thom pulled over to give me the battery for my light and Jesse rolled in behind him. Thom was heading over to the Monticello Dam, about 30 miles away, to set up one last rest stop. I asked if I could just get in the car now. He refused. Thom is a smart man. He knows how mad I’d be at myself if I quit. My stomach was still really bothering me and I really wanted a rest room. Jesse stayed with me all the way to the next rest stop at Lake Hennesey, even stopping with me at the store in Pope Valley. Their rest room was out of order.

Fortunately, there was a rest room at Lake Hennesey. I had a soup and some hot chocolate. I was feeling much, much better. We had 40 miles left to go and two more climbs. It was now dark and the moon was peeking out from behind the clouds. The climb out of Lake Hennesy was over before I knew it. I had done this climb before when I rode the second half of a 400 Kilometer ride with my friend Sarah. It seemed a lot harder then. We descended and had some more flat sections as we headed off to the dam. The final climb up to the dam, the back side of a hill known locally as Cardiac, wasn’t bad and the descent off it was a lot of fun. The last time I did it, with Sarah, it was dark, cold and foggy. This time it was dark and cold, but no fog. I took the lane and felt like I was flying, even passing a couple of other riders. I wouldn’t do that on a road I didn’t know.

I grabbed another Red Bull and a half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We had 18 more miles to go. Jesse agreed with me that the “worst” climb was the little one as you turn onto Pleasants Valley Rd. It’s just a little hill, but it annoys me. Pleasants Valley Rd seemed to go for forever. With about 5 miles to go my light battery died. I was on the front when it died and the light from the moon and Chris and Scott’s lights seemed plenty to get me back. The three of us rode in together with Chris and I debating when the road was going to end. Poor Scott had to listen to me moan on and on about how long the road was. With the end in sight he said that we would turn left and go over an overpass. I whined about one final hill as we all sprinted (sort of) to the finish.

Mentally, this ride was kind of hard. I seemed to spend a lot of time pondering stopping. I really have to thank Thom, Jesse and Scott for believing that I could finish and for keeping me company. I don’t think it was physically as demanding as Eastern Sierra was for me. I believe what it made it hard was the cold and my lack of training. I am really thrilled that I finished. Knoxville is a great ride and I will definitely do it again.

As always, the photos link to the full gallery.

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