MY First Double Century (Guest Post)

Our guest poster Don Blount has checked off another item on his bucket list: a double century. Here’s his account of riding 200 miles in one day.

BlountOnBikingA year to the day after completing my first century ride, I set out on my first double century.
A lot had happened during the past 18 months that resulted in me being a stronger rider.  Still, I never ever thought I would be riding a double century. Yet here I was riding the Bass Lake Powerhouse Double Century in Clovis, Calif. 
This double is actually like three different rides. It begins with a fairly flat 73-miles and ends with 27 miles of mostly downhill with a few rollers. Thrown in the middle is a century with 10,000 feet of climbing.
Simple enough.
As a first time double century rider it was important for me to remember that this was a ride and not a race. Riding too hard, too early could lead to trouble later. I just wanted to finish in about 15 hours of riding time.
Here are the four rules I had for riding this double:
1)    Ride safe
2)    Eat enough
3)    Drink enough
4)    Pace myself
I had a good week leading up to the ride. A few easy rides, more water and carbs to store up for later and I was well rested.
I got to Clovis about 7 p.m. Friday and picked up my registration packet. My motel was only a mile from the ride start and I was able to get to bed about 10 p.m.
I awoke at 2:25 a.m. to eat breakfast as I wanted something in my system and give it time to digest before riding. I was back in bed by 2:55 a.m. and slept until getting up for good at 3:45 a.m.
I rode the mile from my motel to the ride start, checked in and was on the course by 4:35 a.m.
I started fine, riding only at about 15.5 miles per hour to the first rest stop at about the 35-mile mark.
It was while stopped there that I encountered my first problem. There were no Hammer products at the rest stop. The ride director assured me by email weeks previously and in person the night before that there would be bars, gels and other supplements at the rest stops.
I have problems eating enough food on long rides and use Sustained Energy to supplement my on-bike nutrition. I had already gone through the only bottle I had with me. The only bars at the rest stop were Nature Valley granola bars along with the usual fare of muffins, pretzels, potato chips, nuts, oranges and other sweet stuff that does not sit well on my stomach.
What I would learn well after the ride was that a volunteer had mistakenly taken the Hammer nutrition products to another rest stop and by the time the mistake was discovered that it was too late to take any to the first (and second) rest stop.
 
I had a few items with me, a Clif Bar, some Shot Bloks, but not nearly enough to comfortably make it to the lunch stop.
I was screwed. 
I choked down a peanut butter sandwich, some potato chips and fruit and went on. The course looped back to this rest stop, so I would be back in about 38 miles.
At about mile 68 I encountered my only mechanical of the day, a flat rear tire. I pulled four goatheads out of the tire, hoping that four holes in one tire would mean that I would not get one hole in four separate tires. Don’t laugh, a friend doing the ride had three flats on the day.
I changed the tire and moved on, came across my friend Joni at the second rest stop and we headed out together.
I had ridden with Joni a bit earlier in the ride but it was good to see her again. She is a member of the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame and has completed more than 60 doubles. She helped me with my preparation and we had ridden together before so riding with her helped me feel more comfortable. I would see her off and on throughout the day.
One of the more difficult things for me at this type of ride is the time spent alone. Sometimes chatting with someone just helps, the same as it does on a club ride.
I started the day in arm warmers and a vest but it was getting warm quickly. And I was feeling it. I came upon a water stop and gladly refilled my bottles. But by mile 100 I was becoming a bit wobbly in my mind. Not addled, mind you but feeling physically weak.
I was not in very good shape when I reached the lunch stop at mile 107.
I turned my phone on for the first time that day and had a message from a friend who was checking on my progress. I texted my wife and him that I was not feeling well and honestly did not know if I could continue.
It was similar to what I had experienced at the Death Ride.
I needed to get some calories in my system quickly.
Lunch was a chicken burrito, pickle, fig newtons, potato chips, two cokes and whatever else I could tolerate. I drink very little soda but on longer rides I find the caffeine and sugar helpful.
And lo and behold, there were Hammer nutrition products. I asked for Sustained Energy, got plenty of ice.
I downed as many calories as I could without bloating myself. And then I waited. I do not know for how long but eventually I felt well enough to continue.
The roughest climb of the day was ahead. The pitches were steep and it was hot. It was like climbing out of an oven.
Volunteers at a water stop somewhere on the climb told us it was not much farther to go and then at some point to remember to make a left at the totem pole. Yes, a totem pole. (Click to enlarge.)
 
Totem_Pole2
 
And there it was signaling the beginning of an 8.6-mile climb. But the climbing was gradual and led to the fourth rest stop at mile 132. There was only one difficult climb left.
Powerhouse grade was actually not as bad as I had anticipated. It was dark again by the time I reached it, so I could not see the grades, but I could feel them. It went on for a good seven miles, so all I did was sit and pedal. 
Eventually, I was over the top and at the next-to-last rest stop. I had not completed that century in the middle of the ride but I was close and there were no real climbs left.
I was told the last rest stop, no. 6, would be the most fun. It was only 14 miles from the finish. By this time anyone there, barring a catastrophe, would finish. Music was playing, people although tired were happy and the volunteers were jovial.
My Garmin died on the last descent of the day and I did the only unsafe thing I had all day. I took my phone out of my jersey pocket and turned it on so I could calculate my total time.
I arrived at the finish, with Joni again, at 10:25 p.m.
I had completed my first double century in 14.5 hours of riding time and a little less than 18 hours total time for the day.

But Sometimes, You Can Handle it Yourself

Huh? The headline refers to a post earlier this week, when I gave up on a repair and decided to take my bike to our club mechanic. Sure enough, he did the repair in his driveway in about five minutes. Total cost: $5 for his labor, $3 for a new brake cable. A bargain, I thought.

But guest poster Don Blount is more adventurous than I. He chimes in with his own view on doing your own work.

BlountOnBikingThe latest Bikenoob post got my attention. I changed the shifters and brakes on my bike a few weeks weeks ago. I had Shimano 105 shifters that earlier this summer a mechanic had pointed out were in need of replacement. This was not an imminent need but something that could wait until winter. And then I came across a sale at Probikekit, the Internet retailer, for Shimano 105 shifters with internal cable routing.The cost was about $160, or about 55 percent off regular price. I consulted with a bike mechanic who confirmed it was a good deal and urged me to buy them.

And I did. I also bought some bar tape.

Well, I had the shifters for about a week. The mechanic said to bring the parts and the bike by his shop and he could install. The only problem was his shop was closed on Sunday and Monday and I literally had no time to get my bike there during the week.

So I decided to take the job on myself.

I measured where the old shifters rested on the handlebars and removed one.

I started the install of its replacement and hit the same roadblock as you on how to remove one of the existing cables. I could not find this step anywhere in the instructions. So I scoured the Internet. It took me a bit but I eventually found instructions on how to remove that blasted cable — a small screw removes a panel and then after that panel is removed the old cable comes out and the new cable can be routed in.

Of course that would not be the only roadblock I encountered.

I discovered the front brake was moving oddly. It was loose. That more than likely explained a grabbing action and squealing I was getting from it. The decision to replace it was easy as it broke in my hand as I removed a fastener. Fortunately, I had an old brake set on hand and used one of those until I could get a replacement.

I have had this new set up of shifters and brakes for a few weeks now. They work fine, although when I get a chance I would like to take it to a bike shop to have my work checked.

A moral to this story would be to review the directions beforehand, decide if you can actually do the job. In my case, I had removed shifters and installed brakes. But I had never changed cables.

Also, take your time as you work and keep in mind that the Internet can be a font of information full of videos and instructions on a number of jobs.

And keep a good bike mechanic on speed dial in case you get in over your head and need a professional to finish the job.


The Death Ride

Our friend Don Blount treated us to his training rides f0r the Tour of California Alps Death Ride…and now, he’s got the story of the ride itself. Spoiler alert: He survived.

BlountOnBikingFor seven months I had been training for the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride. I have ridden more than 3,600 miles (5,794 kilometers) and climbed more than 117,000 feet. I have ridden a metric century, two double metric centuries, a century and a near century.

And when the ride came on July 12, I was as ready for a long, hard day in the saddle. At its most simplistic level, the Death Ride is a double metric century (200km) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing. But of course, that’s like calling a lion a large house cat.

The Death Ride’s route covers five mountain passes at altitude. Starting at about 5,800 feet (1,767m) elevation and climbing to near or more than 8,000 feet (2,438m) elevation five times was a challenge. It would have been easier to ride with a gag stuffed over my mouth and a clothes pin clipped over my nose.

Did I mention that this was hard?

The views in the mountains are well worth seeing.

The views in the mountains are well worth seeing.

This is how the day went:

I was up at 2:15 a.m. and departed the place where I was staying in Bear Valley, Calif. a little after 3 a.m. I had an hour-long drive and wanted to get started before sunrise. I arrived at Turtle Rock Park and was ready to go at about 4:36 a.m. except for one small detail. I could not find the necessary mounting bracket for my headlight. I searched for 20 minutes. By now, it was nearly 5 a.m. and sunrise was less than an hour away. But first light would occur in about 20 minutes. I put a small blinker light on my bars and set out.

I had ridden the first four climbs during a training ride a few weeks earlier and was so glad that I had done so. About halfway up the first climb, Monitor Pass, someone said “I think the top is up there.” Little did he know how much farther away it was. The first climb was easier than I had remembered and I hoped that would be a good sign for the day.

Riders mill at the Monitor Pass rest stop.

Riders mill at the Monitor Pass rest stop.

It took about 1 hour 40 minutes to ride 15 miles to the second rest stop. I had gained about 2,200 feet (671m) of elevation. My reward? My first sticker, a blue one. Stickers are put on your bib to show that you have completed a climb. In two places, they are actually given before the climb because they begin on the opposite side of a pass; you’re in a place where you have no choice but to climb out. This was the only sticker I remember noting the color as I received it.

The descent down Monitor was long and the climb out of this canyon was about nine miles with 3,000 feet (914m) of elevation gain. It would take me 98 minutes. What made it more difficult is that this type of ride, with some 3,000 riders, is akin to driving on the highway at rush hour. I would get into a nice climbing rhythm, end up behind someone even slower than me, look over my left shoulder for an opening, pull out and accelerate past the slower rider, then get back over to the right and try to regain that rhythm again. Plenty of people passed me as well, so I did not have the option of staying to the left.

A stop during the final descent to grab a photo of my bike there.

A stop during the final descent to grab a photo of my bike there.

There was some relief descending Monitor again and heading for Ebbetts Pass. Like the second climb of Monitor, Ebbetts is long but it also has steep sections and hairpin turns to navigate. By the time I reached the summit and received my third sticker I was talking to myself – sometimes aloud – to keep moving forward. I descended to Hermit Valley where I received my fourth sticker. I lingered a bit here, trying to recover, telling myself I had four of the five stickers, just one more to go.

The climb out at about 5½ miles (8.9km), was by far the shortest climb of the day. It is not a terribly difficult route when fresh. However, I was far from fresh, my stomach was rumbling and it was hot.

A few experienced riders had advised me to skip the lunch line because it could be long and time consuming, instead I had my lunch packed in a cooler in my car back at Turtle Rock Park, about 20 miles (32.2km) away.

By the time I reached my car I was beat. I have come to expect this feeling during these endurance rides. I think it is just my body’s reaction to the physical stress.

I tried to eat a chicken panini. It tasted so awful that I nearly gagged. I ate a boiled potato and a banana and drank about three-quarters of a liter of warm sparkling water. I sat there trying to gather myself. I thought seven months of training for this. Seven months of work and a number of people who I would have to go back and explain what happened if I had quit. My stubbornness would not allow me to do that. I thought that if my body broke down officials could drag me off the course but I was not going to quit. At least being dragged off would give me a better story to tell.

I headed off toward the climb to Carson Pass in hopes of getting that final sticker.

I was well ahead of the cut off times as long as I kept moving at a reasonable pace. I rode next to one rider wearing a 2013 Death Ride five-pass finisher jersey. I asked him how long the climb was and then went ahead of him. I came across another rider in a five-pass finisher jersey. He told me that we would be well-within the cutoff times. I then went ahead of him. I figured if I was ahead of those two then I was in good shape to finish.

At Pickett’s Junction, the final rest stop before the Carson summit, the most marvelous volunteer helped me. She brought me watermelon – which for some reason I wanted. She filled my water bottles with ice and most importantly informed me that the summit was 9½ miles (15.3km) away. The time passed ever so slowly. It seemed that the summit was 1,000 miles away. I just kept turning the pedals. Pedal circles, pedal squares, pedal parallelograms, octagons, whatever it took to get there.

And finally I did. It was an indescribable relief. It took me 10 hours 21 minutes of riding time to travel the 105 miles (169km). I got my fifth and final sticker. Volunteers scanned my bib number, I got an ice cream sandwich – I rarely eat ice cream but it is part of the tradition of making the fifth pass and signed the poster.

Having that last sticker put on my bib was the sweetest moment of the ride.

Having that last sticker put on my bib was the sweetest moment of the ride.

I ate, hydrated and felt good now. It would be a long but fun descent back to my vehicle. Overall, I had ridden 124.21 miles (200km) with 15,030 feet (4,581m) of climbing in 11 hours 19 minutes, 41 seconds, at altitude. It was by far the hardest ride I had ever done. You can view a map and elevation profile of the ride as well as my Garmin stats here.

The day after the ride I celebrated a very happy 53rd birthday.

I have been asked if I would do the ride again. I would and already have ideas of changes I would make to my training. But before I get to that I need to prepare for my first double century in October.

Big Ride for the Death Ride

Our pal Don Blount is at it again, as he prepares for his big ride of the year. Here’s his account of a little(!) training ride.

BlountOnBikingTo prepare for big rides, you have to train for big rides — and often that training is painful. On Saturday, July 12, I am riding the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride. It is 129 miles (207.6 kilometers) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes.

I have done a number of “big” rides to prepare for the Death Ride, including two double metric centuries and two century rides.

But I had never ridden at altitude, so two weeks before the Death Ride I headed up to the mountains to do a few training rides.

I joined my buddy Paul, who is also my doctor, and is experienced riding up in the mountains. He also climbs like a billy goat. The most I would see of him would be his back as he climbed waaaaay ahead of me.

Our plan was to do an 83-mile ride (133.6km) with 11,000 ft (3,353m) of climbing over four of the five mountain passes that are included in the Death Ride – both sides of Ebbetts Pass and both sides of Monitor Pass.

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

We started at 8:55 a.m. from Hermit Valley, Calif. at about 7,100 ft. (2,164m) elevation and we gained just under 1,600 ft. (487.68 km) within the first 5 miles (8km) to the summit of Ebbetts. Riding at altitude was difficult. I felt that no matter how deeply I breathed in that I could never take in enough air. This would be more problematic later in the day.

We headed down the other side of Ebbetts, dropping about 2,800 ft (853km) in 13 miles (21km). The views would be spectacular, the downhill riding fun.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a "There Amigos" pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a “Three Amigos” pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

Monitor Pass was next. These two climbs were difficult. The first gained 2,400 ft (731.52km) in about 9 miles (14.5km), then dropped into a canyon that we had to climb back out. This back side of Monitor Pass was a bear. It would take me nearly two hours to ride just nine miles. But that nine miles included 3,100 ft. (945m) of elevation gain.

I learned or was forced to learn to keep moving; to not stop and lean over the bike but to get off and walk. Mentally this was tough to accept but pushing my bike at two miles (3.2km) per hour was better than standing still; at least I was still moving.

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

After climbing the last side of Monitor we headed into Markleeville, Calif. for lunch.

The final climb, over the other side of Ebbetts, would be the toughest of the day. It was hot and long. Starting from about 5,604 ft. (1,708m) of elevation, we would ride 17 miles (27.3km) and gain 3,000 ft. (914m). It would take me nearly two hours and 22 minutes to summit. Again, I stopped and walked several times. And three times someone stopped and asked if I needed assistance. I declined in part because I wanted to “HTFU.” I also wanted to punish myself by not taking the easy way out. And I did not want the mental image of quitting when I came back on this route for the Death Ride.

I was more than happy to reach the top. Paul was waiting, anxious to escape the mosquitoes that nagged him.

Returning to Hermit Valley and the car was bliss. The ride took about eight hours and 10 minutes. Total time out was just under 10 hours. Click here if you want to see my stats for the day.

The following day we did another ride of about 21 miles (33.8km) with 2,000 ft. (609.6m) of climbing. I actually felt much better this ride. Here are my stats for this “recovery” ride. Over the two days we would ride 104 miles (167.4km) with 13,000 ft. (3962m) of climbing. I left anticipating that the Death Ride would be hard. I guess that would be expected for any ride with “Death” in its name.

Riding a Double Metric Century (Part 2)

Guest poster Don Blount continues his account of his metric double century, a ride he’s using to prepare for his killer “death ride” next month.

BlountOnBikingI was nearly halfway through the Tierra Bella Double Metric Century in Gilroy, Calif. as the voices began getting louder in my head. I had been riding for nearly 4½ hours, which is a long time to spend with your thoughts. When doubt takes a seat in there, strange things happen.

And as I thought about being able to stop if I had a mechanical problem with my bike, an unsettling crunching sound came from my cranks and they jammed.

I got off the bike, looked and tried pedaling them again. Nothing.

The front derailleur had fallen into the big chainring. As I fiddled with it, one rider stopped to help and another. One held the bike, while the other chatted. The talker was local and told me that a bike shop was not far away.

And then the SAG van pulled up. By that time I had gotten the front derailleur into the low chainring. Instead of hopping into the SAG wagon, I pedaled to the bike shop. I was not the only Tierra Bella rider there, several others were also getting repairs. A mechanic there confirmed that my derailleur was broken and that the bike could be ridden within the small chainring without worry.

And now that I had an excuse to quit the ride, I did not want to. I had too much time and effort invested.

I decided to do the last part of the ride in the small chainring. I still had a lot of climbing to do and would spin on the flats.

So I spun. And I spun and spun and spun for the next 25 miles (40km) before reaching the final climb at Hicks Road.

This climb gained 739 feet (225m) in about two miles (3.2km). It would take me about 20 minutes.

On the return trip I missed one turn but traced my steps to get back on course and ended up with a group of riders that I would stay with the rest of the way.

It was good to ride with someone as the afternoon winds in Gilroy picked up.

I rode 127 miles (204km), and my Garmin showed me with 8,632 feet (2,631m) of climbing in 8 hours 54 minutes. That does not include the hour of time I lost while fiddling with my front derailleur.

The Tierra Bella Double Metric Century was a challenging ride that I would do again. I learned how to deal with adversity and work through those negative voices that creep into your head during challenging rides.

I had a long car ride in front of me and just wanted to get home for a hot shower and to unload my gear. I also wanted my quads to stop screaming at me.

Riding a Double Metric Century (Part 1)

Guest poster Don Blount is gearing up for a big, big ride — and he’s using what a lot of us would consider a big ride to prep for it. Here’s his account.

BlountOnBikingMy big midyear ride is The Tour of the California Alps, Death Ride on July 12. It covers 129 miles (208 km) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes.

I have other things planned after that ride but my preparation has been geared toward the Death Ride.

Intensity, climbing and saddle time are all components of my training. And yes, I used to hate hills but a 30-pound weight loss (13.61 kilograms) and improved fitness changed my attitude toward them. I can proudly say that I am a decent climber.

Through mid-May I have ridden about 2,800 miles (4,506 kilometers) with 71,000 feet (21,641 meters) of climbing in about 164 hours.

As part of my training, I took on the Tierra Bella Double Metric Century in Gilroy, Calif. in April. The 200K was listed as having 9,600 feet (2,926m) of climbing.

Gilroy is about 1 hr 45 mins from my home in Stockton, Calif. The early start required an overnight stay in Gilroy, which bills itself as the garlic capital of the world. The Ramada Limited was not five-star but it was fine for a night. I spent less than 12 hours in the room.

I rolled out from the Gavilan College starting point at 6:51 a.m. It was cool and I started out wearing a vest and arm warmers. I thought about wearing a long-sleeved jersey and for the first three hours of the ride I wished I had, but one thing about long rides in the spring is that the temperature can fluctuate by 30 degrees (16 degrees Celsius) or more and that is what the forecast called for. In a few hours I would be grateful for the short sleeves.

I rode at a comfortable pace, speaking with a few people along the way. Yet I was still thinking of the climbing that waited ahead.

By the time I reached the first rest stop at Gilroy Hot Springs, I was still cold but felt good. My goal was to finish in less than nine hours.

 

It was cool early in the double metro century as Don Blount arrived at the first rest stop.

It was cool early in the double metric century as Don Blount arrived at the first rest stop.

I had never ridden in this area before this day. However, I noticed how many areas reminded me of routes where I ride regularly. I felt fortunate to live in a good biking area and felt confident about being able to handle what waited ahead.

The real climbing began at about mile 38 (61 km) on the way to Henry W. Coe State Park headquarters. Over the next 11 miles (18 km) we would gain nearly 2,300 feet (701m). It would take me 1 hour 16 minutes to complete the climb.

The big climb is completed. Arriving at the Henry W. Coe State Park rest stop in Morgan Hill, California.

The big climb is completed. Arriving at the Henry W. Coe State Park rest stop in Morgan Hill, California.

I was spent by the time I reached the rest stop. I lingered as I waited to recover. A friend had told me about eating some chicken soup at a rest stop when he was not feeling well during a ride. Son of a gun, there was some Cup Noodles soup. I never eat this stuff but I did this time. It was hot, salty and won’t be a regular on my menu anytime soon. But it helped.

 

Despite the smile, Don Blount was not feeling that great.

Despite the smile, Don Blount was not feeling that great.

Eventually, I started the descent. I exited the park and thought about the remaining 62 miles. I specifically had two thoughts: 1) If a SAG van came by right now, I would be tempted to get in. 2) If I had a mechanical, I could quit now and blame the bike.

I would soon be reminded to be careful what I wished for.

In his next post, Don recaps both the mechanical and mental challenges of the ride.

A Look Back at January

Guest poster Don Blount is back (he’s been blogging here more often than I have lately) with a look at his January biking miles, and how they’re helping him build for the coming year.

BlountOnBikingI finished January with 606 miles (975 kilometers), my highest monthly total ever.

My previous high was set in July; I rode 573 miles (922 km) that month.

Winter is when we get the bulk of our rain in Northern California. However, this winter has been dry. So dry, in fact, that we went more than 50 days without any rain and when it finally rained to break that streak, it was a fairly insignificant amount.

However, those dry days provided plenty of opportunities to ride outdoors.

And I took advantage of that.

For the past nine months I have been riding about four to five days a week. I continued that in January while also adding quite a few longer rides, of about 50 miles (80 km) a week.

To put this in perspective here are my previous January mileage totals: 2013 – 260 miles (418 km); 2012 – 291 (468); 2011 – 313 (503); 2010 – 220 (354).

Another change I have made these past few months is riding for time instead of distance. Instead of planning a 40-mile ride (64 km), I will plan a 2 ½-hour ride with the distance dependent on the pace.

And also, I have changed how I use my bike. I ride for fitness and performance. It is part of my cardio activity for staying healthy but I also ride to become a stronger rider. That change may be just semantics or attitude. But it has worked for me.

A bike mechanic once told me that it was more important to focus on the time you spent in the saddle instead of the distance. Distance will build as you put in the time he said (and no, he did not look like the Ancient Mariner).

I did not understand what he meant then but I do now as I go about preparing for rides I have planned for later this year. The only way to prepare for longer rides is to spend time in the saddle. Some of those rides I am targeting will require about 12 hours of saddle time. The longest ride I have done was a full century that took 6 hours 39 minutes.

I feel comfortable and confident spending time in the saddle, I just need to continue building.

In January, my long rides were three to four hours. They will be getting longer this month. I already have planned a ride that I am told will take six hours, it is 87 miles (140 km) with 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) of and a metric century too.

I do not expect to ride 600 miles (965 km) every month, but I take satisfaction in getting off to a good start in building a strong foundation for the year.