2006 Mt. Diablo Challenge

Although this year, your webmaster did not have time to prepare for the Mt. Diablo Challenge (see previous post), two Wheely Cool riders did accept the challenge, and lived to tell about it. Part one of our story begins with an account by Don Low, who made marked imrpovement over his previous attempt. Good job!

Giving the Silent Treatment

This year for the race I’d set a simple goal for myself not to ride slower than last year. This year I knew I had to make up for some lost fitness since working has put a major dent in my ride time – I have about 1000 fewer training miles under my belt this year. I gave my new strategy the code name “silent treatment.” Last year I wanted to ride with my heart rate below 170 as much as possible. This limitation on my effort level had the unexpected consequence of giving me enough remaining aerobic capacity to talk with other riders on the way up. None of that this year – I intended to rev up to 180 bpm, and there wasn’t going to be enough air to ask anyone how their day was going. I was going to be more focused and direct more energy to riding to the top, otherwise with my lower fitness level I surely would ride a slower race than last year.

This time, I was also better prepared for the race and my morning went very smoothly. I got a great parking spot and was able to warm up without rushing like last year. I spoke with Jeff on the phone and took my place in the line awaiting the start. Soon enough I was rolling along with the crowd. This year the start was staggered, and I think it worked out really well. There seemed to be less jostling for position and nobody fell over onto me this year. This also meant that there were fewer slower riders ahead of me to overtake, in fact a lot of people were hurrying past me, including one jerk who rode by shouting “SLOWER RIDERS STAY RIGHT” over and over again. I was tempted to dole out a few choice words for him, but remembered to save my breath and get down to the task of trying to ride the most efficient line I could through the curves and turning my cranks as smoothly as possible.

For about a mile or two I was sort of following an amazing little kid (could he really have been 10??), who was fighting his way up the road out of his saddle. I have to say kids like that give me hope that the youth of America aren’t just junk-food addicted TV watchers who’d rather play with a PS2 than do something like this. I have to give him a lot of credit not only for just turning out for the race, but for riding faster than many of the people out there. Although I planned to keep my socializing to a minimum and focus more on riding, I just had to congratulate this kid on a brave ride when I passed him. I know he finished because I saw him later on the summit. Incredible.

The top of the mountain was shrouded in a fog, and before I knew it, I was on the last switchback just below the towers which were hidden from view lower down. I dumped my water bottle near the last steep pitch and veered around some people who had blown up and were stopped on the road. I didn’t want to look at my heart rate monitor and I tried to edge out someone who had just started pedalling ahead of me after taking a break but I missed beating her by an inch or two. The only thing I could think of doing after I rolled over the timing mat was just spinning in the flat parking lot for a few minutes to let my heart rate come down, but the next thing I knew a race volunteer was sticking her arms out stopping me to collect my timing chip. I really didn’t want to stop and as she was on all fours taking the strap off my ankle I had to suppress a minor urge to barf on top of her head, so I’m pretty sure I tried about as hard as I could on the last few hundred feet. Having finished the race satisfied I’d executed Operation Silent Treatment to the best of my ability, it was time to relax and eat something.

After a few minutes Jeff arrived and I found Jen, who was sitting next to a nice local guy, Leo who was waiting for his family to finish. Jeff pointed out the legendary Pink Lady to me. I had heard many stories about people encountering her on the mountain, with her trademark pink saddlebags loaded with bricks for the journey to the top. Since I’d ridden here and never seen her before, I had my doubts about the authenticity of the tales. I had to go meet her. I introduced myself and got to see just how heavy her bike is – it weighs a TON. I have a lot of respect for her, after having my heart max out on the last pitch I cannot imagine how she gets her bike loaded with god knows what up to the summit (she told me the saddlebags were not filled with bricks for today’s “special event”). It’s kind of refreshing to see someone who’s the opposite of most people who are frantically trying to shave every ounce off of their bike (I, for instance, took off my helmet visor, dumped my mini tool and left all my keys except my car key behind). I am happy that she’s a real person and not just a fictional character. FYI, she does not look like a beast or anything – she looked to me just like an unassuming woman from Danville.

Meanwhile, the weather changed for the worse. No basking in warm sun sipping Jamba Juice like in years past. It had been pleasantly cool and overcast for the ride up, but the wind started blowing and it carried a freezing fog that quickly surrounded the summit. Poor Jen was really cold, but a random woman came over with a mover’s blanket and gave her a big hug to warm her up. I think she was probably still freezing but that was a pretty nice thing for that woman to do. The blanket eventually had to go back to the movers though and Jen procured an extra garbage bag from the Jamba Juice people as a makeshift windbreaker. I froze on the way down – my teeth chattered and my body shook and I had a brief flashback to my ill fated New Year’s Eve ride through a hailstorm on the mountain two years ago. I gripped my brakes and pedalled against their resistance to keep my legs warm, and soon enough I rode below the cloud level and into warmer air again.

Overall I was a happy camper – the tighter focus and higher average heart rate (180 vs. 170 last year) along with a more efficient start process allowed me to take almost 5 minutes off my time from last year. Next year I am likely to return with a new machine (my blue Klein is now almost 10 years old with over 20,000 miles on it) but I think I will maintain my strategy, save my chit chat for the nice people at the finish and aim to crack the 1:20 barrier. Now we’re talkin’

Don also found these cool Kite aerial Photos from 2005