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 “There 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. PHOTO MONITOR_PASS (CAPTION: 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.

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.

 

The Hills, Revisited

Guest poster Don Blount is back again, this time regarding his never-ending battle with the hills.

BlountOnBikingNo mea culpas from me. No apologies either. I previously have called hills evil and I am not backing down from that statement.

Well, at least not until they apologize for throwing so much hate in my direction.

Hills, and their partner Gravity, worked against me greatly.

They made climbing torture and frequently stripped me of my dignity. You ever tried to look cool pushing a bike up a hill while wearing cycling shoes?

But of late, climbing has become much easier.

I can comfortably do rides that I could not handle a few months ago. I can look at the scenery and even talk to other riders at times. I can do rides I would not have attempted previously.

This is not because of any change in the hills as they have made no concessions. It is because I lost a boatload of weight and improved my fitness.

Now that I can ride in the hills, I have plenty of climbing planned.

On Jan. 2, I was part of a group of six who rode a route that is part of the Amgen Tour of California . We started in Danville , rode to the summit of Mt. Diablo , descended down the other side of the mountain to Walnut Creek for lunch. We then rode back up to a junction a few miles from the summit before returning to our starting point.

In total, the ride was 49.44 miles (79.56 kilometers) with 6,138 feet (about 1,871 meters) of climbing in 3 hours 57 minutes.

Summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park near Danville, Calif.

Summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park near Danville, Calif.

And it was something I would not have attempted a year ago.

But as I do these rides, I keep in mind that Hills and Gravity are tricky. They are just waiting for the right moment to ambush me. It could be on an extended climb or a climb with a steep grade or even a series of rollers. I am not letting my guard down. I plan to continue working at riding and climbing.

And I keep in mind what I was told by Bennie, a member of my bike club. He would know about climbing as much as anyone. A few years ago he climbed a million feet in a year. He consistently tells me: It gets better the more you climb BUT NOT EASIER.

Looking Back to Look Forward

Guest poster Don Blount is gearing up for a banner year.

BlountOnBikingLast year ended up being a big cycling year for me. I rode more than 5,400 miles (8,690 kilometers), climbed 111,960 feet (34,125meters), completed a metric century, full century and lost 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms).

It did not start out as if it would be anything special. The first 3 ½ months of the year, I only rode 995 miles (1,609 kilometers) and I weighed 196 pounds (about 89 kilograms).

It was after an April 15 visit to my doctor, who also rides and climbs like a billy goat, that I became determined to lose weight in order to become a better climber.

During the last 7 ½ months of 2012, I rode 4,500 miles (7,242). I tackled rides that I never would have attempted before. In short, I became an overall better cyclist.

That would be looking back.

Looking forward I have a number of riding challenges ahead. 

Approaching the summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park newar Danville, Calif.

Approaching the summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park newar Danville, Calif.

For organized rides, I have planned, so far, a metric century in February. Next are two full centuries, one in April; the other in May. I will ride one with my sister-in-law from Ohio , who started riding last year. It will be her first century and I am delighted she picked me to ride it with her. We are calling it the “In-law Century.”

I am also registered to do the Tour of the California Alps – Death Ride. It is 129 miles (207.6 kilometers), 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes. It is July 12, the day before my 53rd birthday.

And I am targeting my first double century in October.

My training rides will be used to build toward each event, so I will get in enough mileage, variety, challenges and fun.

Setting a schedule may seem rigid for some but it works for me in helping to plan my riding around my family, work and other obligations. I have never had a riding schedule before. This is a long way from looking at the bike club riding calendar and thinking “maybe I can do this ride.”

It is shaping up to be an interesting and challenging cycling year.

Cycling vs. Domesticity

Guest poster Don Blount has some time management issues, and they’re causing trouble with his family life.

BlountOnBikingIn the history of the world a good conversation never began with the words: “We need to talk.”

But that is essentially what my wife said to me recently.

“And it is about your biking,” she added.

Uh oh. I wondered if I had gotten grease on the carpet.

“I don’t want you to stop riding,” she said. “But you’re spending a lot of time away from home on weekends riding. It’s not the days you have club rides. It’s the days that you don’t have club rides,” she said. “And quite frankly, when the kids ask ‘Where’s Daddy?’ I’m tired of telling them, ‘He’s on his bike.’ “

And of course she was right.

The problem was not the time I spent on Saturday club rides, it was the time I spent on solo weekend rides.

But some background first.

At home, I have two daughters, ages 7 and 10. And of course, I work a job that requires more than 40 hours a week.

I ride about four days a week and go to the gym twice a week. During the weekday, I workout or ride before work. On weekends, well that’s where the problem occurs.

Club rides begin at 8 a.m. during this time of the year. Those ride starts are often a good 45-minute drive or longer from my home. So on those days I am out of the house about 7 a.m. And depending on the length of the ride, I am often not home until well after 1 p.m. By the time I get all of my gear put away and myself cleaned up and fed, it could be well past 3 or 4 p.m.

But that’s only two, maybe three times a month if it is a month such as this one with five Saturdays. I usually clear those dates with my wife to ensure they do not conflict with family plans.

However, on weekends when there is no club ride, I still get out to ride. And although I leave from home instead of driving to a starting point I have often been getting out later than 7 a.m. Sometimes I do not get out until after 10 a.m. Three or four hours out during that time of the day when I have been away a long time the previous weekend does not create for good parenting or husbanding.

It is something that empty nesters do not have to contend with but a working man with a wife and kids at home does.

Fortunately, it is a correctable problem. I do not have to stop riding or even cut back my time on the bike. I just have to better manage my time. The easiest solution is to get out earlier on the non-club ride days. I am confident I can do that.

And I am confident that if I do not then I will be sat down for another talk.

The Weight Loss Battle

BlountOnBikingGuest blogger Don Blount is serious about dropping some poundage.

WEIGHT_04-15-13One hundred ninety-six pounds (89 kilograms). That is what the scale showed as my weight on April 15, the morning I went in to see my doctor for a troublesome right shoulder. I mentioned previously that my doctor is also a cyclist. For him, the longer a ride is and the more climbing it has, the better. My doctor, who is in his mid-50s, weighs 136 pounds (62 kilos). I kid him that he is the size of a seventh-grade boy.

And each time I see him we discuss my riding, climbing and eventually my weight. And I always pledge to lose some. And I do. I have lost as much as five pounds. The only problem is I usually to gain it back.

I watch what I eat. I eat no red meat, only poultry and fish. And I don’t snack between meals. But it seemed that no matter how hard I tried I could not lose a significant amount of weight or keep it off. So I was kind of resigned to remaining in that low-to-mid 190 pound (86 kilo) range.

That is until that doctor’s visit. For some reason I left vowing to lose weight and to keep it off. Maybe it was because I was tired of struggling up hills. Maybe it was because I was tired of my little doctor chiding me. I don’t really know.

During the first two weeks I lost four pounds. I was pleased and prepared for the long, hard slog.

Then a friend, a former work colleague, announced that he had lost 74 pounds (33.5 kilos) over two years. When I asked him how he said: “Just what you used to always tell me, diet and exercise. There are no shortcuts.”

And as a throwaway line he mentioned that he also used myfitnesspal, a calorie-counting app. He suggested I check it out.

And I did.

WEIGHT_07-31-13One hundred seventy-eight pounds (81 kilos). That is what my scale showed on July 31. A weight loss thus far of 18 pounds (8.2 kilos).

What did I do differently? In short, I used the calorie-counting app to see exactly what I was eating. Quite frankly, I had no idea of the calorie content of some of the foods I ate. And although I worked out regularly, I often ate more calories than I burned. (Let me know if you want more detail and I will send it to you.)

And although these calorie counts are only estimates, they served as a good guideline for me to follow what I ate. For me, it became a daily goal – Win the day. To burn more calories than I consumed. It later became a guideline. Eat 2,000-2,500 calories a day and be active.

I made sure to consistently go to the gym and to consistently ride my bike.

From April 15 to July 31 I rode 1,802 miles (2,900 kilometers). That is 460 miles (740 kilometers) more than I rode during that same period last year.

I rode 505 miles (813 kilometers) in May, 543 miles (874 kilometers) in June and more than 573 miles (922 kilometers) in July.

Weighing less is better both in everyday life and for biking. I now look forward to rides I would not have considered just a year ago. (And don’t tell the hills but I no longer consider them evil, at least most of them.)

And although I am not yet at my final goal I am already thinking of how to stay at this smaller size.

As my doctor says: What comes off, stays off.

Nicknames

Guest poster Don Blount has been musing about the names cyclists call each other.

BlountOnBikingIt seems that my bike club is full of nicknames.

They are so numerous that I cannot remember many, but here are a few:

You could start with Fearless Frank, FF for short. He rides down hill like a man without fear. His epitaph should be: He never touched his brakes.

Then there is Ex Trez, the former club treasurer. This guy is 70 years old but rides like he is 40 years younger.

CB or Cherry Boy, a retired farmer, whose family grew or grows cherries.

Leadbutt for obvious reasons, I think.

Lonerider, who often puts in megamiles on his own. He also disappears from club rides as he goes off to do his own thing.

Grasshoppa – I am not sure about this one.

The Good Dr. Carl, not to be confused with the Evil Dr. Carl.

The Anti-Gravity Girls, two strong women riders whose name says it all about their climbing abilities.

Rocket. I have been told that he was fairly fast back in the day. He claims that he still is, even at 206 pounds.

And Capt. Hawk, sometimes shortened to just Hawk. He is a former Navy and airlines pilot. He said he was given his nickname during his Naval days when while flying a mission looking for enemy ships that a crewmember remarked that he looked like a hawk looking for prey.

That nickname stuck. He said the only people who called him by his given name “David” were his wife, always a sign of trouble, and people who did not know him real well.

That’s the thing about these nicknames — everyone who has one, likes it.

One of the funniest conversations I have heard  while out on a group ride happened when we met someone who followed our Yahoo group conversation.

One rider proudly introduced himself: “I’m Cherry boy,” he said. “Hi, I’m Leadbutt,” said the other. I was just flummoxed.

And if you are wondering, I am occasionally referred to as “The Editor. That is after all, what I do in my day job, but that has not really stuck — nor am I hankering for a nickname that would stick.

Hawk said that to have a nickname, you have to do something really memorable or boneheaded. I usually manage to avoid both (knock on wood).

What about your club? Is it full of nicknames too?

Keep It Simple, Newbie!

Guest poster Don Blount has a new biker in the family, and he’s learned that sometimes, “Keep it simple” is the best tip he can give.

BlountOnBikingMy sister-in-law Gina, who lives in Ohio, recently took up road bike riding. She bought a Giant Avail 1, a slick aluminum frame bike designed for women.

She has already managed to get out for a few solo rides and was planning to join in on a group ride soon.

We have talked and texted a lot about biking since.

Our conversations have reminded me a lot of when I purchased my bike in August 2008. I wanted to know anything and everything I could about cycling. And yet, it seemed that I repeatedly received the same answer from more experienced riders: “Just ride and enjoy it.”

And although Gina and I have discussed quite a few things I now find myself saying to her: “Just ride and enjoy it.”

I see now that it is easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of cycling whether it be cycling cadence, breathing, what to carry in your jersey pockets or saddlebag. Particularly when you are as inquisitive as Gina, and I guess I would fall into that category as well. But many things about cycling you learn in time.

The most important thing is to just enjoy your time on the bike no matter what type of riding you do.

There are plenty of things that will be learned in time.

Don Blount's sister-inlaw, Gina, practices fixing a flat tire. The supervisor at right was no help but would not move out of the photo.

Don Blount’s sister-inlaw, Gina, practices fixing a flat tire. The supervisor at right was no help but would not move out of the photo.

I did share a few things with her during her recent visit to Stockton. I told her to carry a spare tube, an inflator whether it be a C02 cartridge or pump (I carry both). And I also recommended she to learn how to change a flat on the road. To that end I had her practice by changing the tube on my bike’s rear wheel.

Finally, I suggested she wipe down and inspect her tires after each ride and to wipe down the chain too. By inspecting the tires you can see the wear and remove any objects embedded in the tires before they have a chance to penetrate the tube and cause a flat. Wiping down the chain removes dirt and grime the chain picks up while on the road. Removing it helps the drivetrain run more smoothly and helps reduce wear on those parts.

For that matter, our flat-fixing lesson came in handy. Less than a week later as Gina prepared to go out for a ride, she discovered that she had a flat front tire. “Let’s just say it took a little longer than when I did it with you,” she said in a text. Unfortunately, by the time she had the tire repaired it was too dark to ride.

She said the lesson she learned was to check the bike well before it is time to ride.