Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vail Pass Volley -- July 2013

The Vail Pass Volley was ridden by three riders preparing for 1200 km brevets later this year.  Bob Dean is scheduled to ride the Last Chance in September, while John Flanigan and I will both be riding the Taste of Carolina in October.
Paul Foley, John Flanigan, and Bob Dean starting in Frisco.
This was a perfect ride for working on mid-season form as we had very favorable conditions.  The day started with blue skies and cool temperatures that quickly warmed up as we climbed through the shadows of 10 mile canyon to Copper Mountain.  We continued climbing over Vail pass with a light breeze and were thoroughly warmed up upon reaching the top.

John Flanigan conquers Vail Pass with ease.
A nice respite on the west side of Vail Pass.
From the top of Vail Pass to the turn around point in Gypsum is about 53 miles of rolling down hill, dropping from an elevation of 10,563 feet to 6,380 feet.  Although there was a gentle headwind, the descent made for a fast first half of the brevet.  As we descended, the alpine forest gave way to the arid beginnings of the Western Slope, providing a beautiful contrast of scenery.

The red dirt of some mountains would give way to the gray soil further west.
This covered bridge reminded me of riding Boston-Montreal-Boston.
John Flanigan resisted the urge to explore an enticing side canyon just east of Gypsum.
The white cliffs of Gypsum??
Turning around in Gypsum after a light lunch, I feared we would have to pay the piper for all our descending as we began heading back up the Vail Valley.  However, the cycling gods were smiling on us as a gentle tail wind carried us to the top of Vail Pass.  We also happened to be riding on the same day as the Colorado-Eagle River Century ride, which gave us unexpected company to help pace us as far as Avon where that ride ended.

The manicured gardens of Avon contrasted with the arid valley around Gypsum.
The green grass in Vail belied the fact that ski season starts in only 117 days.
John Flanigan heading east towards the Gore range.

A waterfall in east Vail.
A curious marmot watched us climb the west side of Vail Pass.
We finished with a thrilling descent of about 12 miles through Copper Mountain and the 10 mile canyon into Frisco paying close attention to all the other cyclists on the bike path who were enjoying the beautiful Colorado scenery also.  Clouds were gathering in the sky as we concluded our ride, but fortunately we avoided any rain.

John Flanigan and Paul Foley pleased to have finished a beautiful ride.

I look forward to riding the Vail Pass Volley again, as this is an extremely scenic ride, with a good amount of climbing to insure an appropriate effort is paid for the joy of riding in the Colorado mountains!!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gold Rush Randonnée 2013 - Wet and Wild!

In June, I had the pleasure of riding the fourth edition of the Davis Bike Club's Gold Rush Randonnée.  It was wet much of the first 24 hours in a way very unusual to California in summer, but welcome in a sense because it kept down the heat.

It was wild of course because the route takes you into the sparsely-populated high desert bordering Oregon and Nevada.  Plenty of juniper but no palm trees on this ride.
The route starts in Davis, in the Sacramento Valley, and heads NNE to turn around at Davis Creek at Goose Lake.

The GRR claims 26,000 ft. of climbing, very moderate-seeming next to some recent 1200k's ... but 95% is concentrated in the middle 500 miles.

The serene, shady, and extremely bike-friendly college town of Davis calms the nerves and offers a nice chance to relax, eat up, and generally prepare.

Event director Dan Shadoan and his wife Ann Lincoln say they were inspired by riding Paris-Brest-Paris in the '90s to create a West Coast version of that event.  Today it has the highest ridership of any US 1200k.
Dan and Ann kept track of riders and operations from GRR HQ:

Among the great riders on this GRR was our own Tom Knoblauch, looking in good spirits as departure neared.

Tom secretly phoned in an order for pizza for the riders, to get the rando nutrifying off to a good start.

Other luminaries included Lothar Hennighausen, "randonneur and scientist," and Bill Olsen.  Lothar says he'd come to visit his daughter who is studying at UC Davis, and decided he might as well ride a 1200k while he was here, so he rented a bike.  Lothar's jersey reminds us he's founder and president of the Korea Randonneurs, and organizes a 1200k there.
Bill Olsen looked fresh as a daisy after warming up on the Texas Rando Stampede and Shenandoah 1200 already this year. 

Our own, indefatigable Ronaele Foss looked ready for a good ride and full of smiles!

Sprinkles and light showers graced the run-up to the event.  It's thanks to dedicated volunteers that those crucial drop bags get to the overnights.

Dan gives his last-minute orientation, surrounded by rain-garmented riders, a contrast to the brilliant sun and toasty temps typical of the 6pm start.

This next picture is from about 7am the next day, a peaceful and still moist scene in the upper Feather River Canyon.
What happened in the (photoless) interim?
Davis to Oroville: We had some damp roads, some sprinkles, a few light showers in the flat Sacramento valley on the way to Oroville.  Temps were great for riding.  Hydration not an issue.  And generally southerly tailwinds made for pleasant miles!  Groups formed and dissolved, but I rode most of the way with our friend (and RUSA Treasurer for many years) Tim Sullivan from San Diego.
Feather River Canyon: The climb up to Jarbo Gap went fine, but the summit bode thick, blowing mist that accompanied us down into the canyon.  Chilly, not great visibility, and enough moisture to quench one of my taillights ... but so refreshing for the skin!
After traversing the three tunnels, the stop at the Tobin Resort control was cheerful and restorative.  Folks started to get sleepy even climbing the remainder of the canyon, as daybreak took the form of grey, drizzly haze and mist.
Ok, now we're back to the approach to Greenville ... and time to pause for a photo:

Greenville was the first of two information control.  I caught up with a Japanese cyclist riding a mountain bike with knobbies.
We were looking at an historic building now home to a cafe.  Mighty inviting at this soggy moment!

The next photo-hiatus spans Taylorsville to Antelope Lake, Boulder Creek, and the Top of the GRR.  (You'll see photos of these, and of the prior lacunae, on the way back.)
The hamlet of Taylorsville lies in a pastoral valley with meadows and agriculture, very different from the canyon and forest land we've come through to get here (or what we'll see later on).
At the Taylorsville control, volunteers of all ages, down to about toddler level, plied us with sumptuous food.  From then it was a gradual climb through Genesee (a general store open every week or so, according to the sign) and the stiff grades to Antelope Lake.
This climb can seem even stiffer in normal, toasty conditions with the sun beating down.  But this year, it was cool, in the 60's, with sprinkles and a fierce tailwind!
Peter Noris, erstwhile Florida RBA, manned the Boulder Creek control from his RV, as in times past, and always a welcome face to see.
The Janesville Grade descent was uneventful but I hear other riders had to deal with showers and wet brakes.  The descent is certainly thought provoking, knowing in little over a day, you'll be climbing this stiffest grade on the GRR.
You peek out on the valley in which Susanville lies, before descending to a much warmer elevation!
The Susanville control is in the town's armory - plenty of space, and plenty of great food, too.
Deb Ford from the Bay Area served as GRR photographer and course monitor, perhaps the most familiar face on the course to GRR riders - here I turn the tables, photo-wise.

Have a look at Deb's great start (, during-the-ride (, and post-ride ( photos!
You climb out of Susanville over three successive ridges, the first, Antelope Summit, being the highest.  Just after cresting that one, yet another blustery shower blew through, and on went the rain shell, yet again.  Fortunately that was about it for the showery pot shots, at least for me.

At the Grasshopper  firefighting outpost 30 miles on, familiar faces greet me and tell me I look so much better than last time.  In 2009, this was as far as I got, as allergy issues got the better of my breathing and next stop was Urgent Care.  "You looked like crap!" opined the volunteers, and I was pleased to have bettered that appearance this time.  Every mile was now a new and successful mile!
Scudding clouds across the high desert lent an atmospheric tone ...
... compounded by the sparse surroundings and absence of habitation.

Thanks to the continued tailwind, I reach the Adin overnight stop an hour or two ahead of schedule, around 7:30.  It buoys up the spirits, but you just have to wonder how the winds will be coming back.
At Adin, at a community center, the local 4-H boys and girls are dishing out plenty of hot food for us, including tasty lasagne!
After a so-so sleep experience (but indoors and horizontal, both good aspects), I climb and descend Adin Pass - about the same elevation as Antelope Summit - in the dark, accompanied by some telltale sprinkles.  First light shows a picturesque creek winding down towards Alturus.

And this is the last of the skyborn moisture for our ride:

It's a beautiful morning on quiet roads, up at 4,500 ft. in this high-desert landscape.

Lassen County and Modoc County are volcanic, Mt. Lassen being an example, and as this hill might suggest.

I'm on quiet Centerville Road, a break from the highway, and the site of large cracks in the pavement, about which the cue sheet warned us.  But ... they have filled in the cracks to the point where they're not bad at all!  Another stroke of good luck.
The Alturus control is in an historic 19th-century building, now an Elks hall.  It's great to see San Francisco RBA Rob Hawks and friend and veteran rando Bruce Berg staffing the control.  Bruce had also been a pulmonary victim on the GRR'09, so we can relate.
The wind is now stiffly pushing us the 20 miles to the turnaround at Davis Creek.  As I wave to the oncoming riders heading back, I know that it will be my turn in a few minutes to brace against this wind, and dig in. Even so, I do manage to enjoy the open, woods-spotted scenery.
The rustic Davis Creek Store beckons at the turnaround.  We're too early for the BBQ.  By then we should all be finished ... hopefully!

The Green De Rosa takes a break before heading into the wind.

Getting back to Alturus turned out not to be as grueling as expected - just a bit of focused pedaling.  I leave Alturus loosely in the company of some other riders, including Richard Stum (Salt Lake City RBA) and Buzz Sher from Alaska.
Here's Buzz at the top of Adin Pass, enjoying the view and sensing the merest hint of a bit of heat.

On the approach to Adin, we pass fellow rider Don Jagar lying on the shoulder.  He's rescued a kitten from the roadway and waits for it to be taken care of.
At Adin, time to inhale some sandwiches and peel off some layers, as it becomes balmier.  Richard and Buzz discuss cuisine or some other topic.  The British tandem couple confer in the background.

The Modoc National Forest provides some nice shade climbing from Adin to Grasshopper.  This is the type of forest you see in Colorado, spaced trees rather than a thicket, so it's kind of a nice and familiar note to me.

There's also, however, this unusual bright green moss, which I haven't seen elsewhere:
After fighting some stiff SW winds on the plateau, it's nice to sail into the tranquility of Grasshopper again, as volunteers await the sporadic stream of riders.

It's a cheerful, sunny scene climbing up from BLM Eagle Lake as the sun begins to sink:

The wooded climb to Antelope Summit seems like a breeze now, at this wonderful time of day.
Descending to Susanville at sunset, a nice valley prospect:

And the final sunlight on the peaks near the summit:
What a great time of day to roll into Susanville!  After some hearty food and a cold shower (the armory's water heater has gone on the blink), a nice cot, and I don't even mind that I'm staring right up into overhead lighting - nothing that a suitably-draped armwarmer won't fix.
Janesville Grade - Starting off in the dark, the idea was to reach the base of Janesville Grade right about dawn.  The temps nice and cool, with pleasant light for the climb and the views.  The grade has 12% pitches and maxes out at 19%, so definitely something focusing riders' thoughts well in advance.

It's true I did pause a couple of time for the scenic shots ...

... and the ascent towards the Top of the GRR:

For some reason, this is a very sandy geology, with some stoneslides thrown in for good measure.

At the top of the Janesville Grade climb proper, time for Green de Rosa to rest against a pine, while I put on some layers.  It seems like there is a lot of shady descending to get to the Top of the GRR, and it's quite chilly up here.

But there it is, Top of the GRR, and some warming, brilliant sunlight.

The moon gazes down on the Antelope fire aftermath:

It's a nice time of day highlighting some sage and other high-country vegetation:

The approach to Boulder Creek now showcases plenty of boulders:

After a brief stop at the control, featuring treats including boiled eggs, we're passing Antelope Lake, where at least one angler is already out and about.  Can you spot him?

And now for more fun!  The twisting, rolling descent to Genesee and Taylorsville.
The creek below is lush and green with fern-like growth.

After Taylorsville and a tasty omelette served up by the local volunteers, three layers come off and it's down to short sleeves in prep for balmy temps in the Feather River Canyon.
The road to Hwy. 89 passes through serene pastureland, and the initial miles of canyon are close and forested, but soon open up to the canyon proper on Hwy. 70, with broad slopes and vistas:

A Union Pacific freight train rumbles down-valley.  Lower down, where the curves are tighter, the passing trains screached and wailed in the dark during our climb the day before last ... and kept us awake!

It is a brilliant, warm, sunny day - quite a contrast to our moist ascent.
The aquatic cooling scene of a dam mid-canyon.

Train and cars cross paths ...

Back at the Tobin Resort, smiling faces greet us with just the food and beverages we're keen on, including soup which I fortify with "sodium supplement" (salt from the salt shaker on the table).
Bobbi Foliart and her husband Tom Russell are core volunteers once again at Tobin.  I first met them here in 2009, and Bobbi became control chief extraordinaire at the Last Chance 1200k Byers control the year Tom was riding.
It's a restful, shadowy venue for folks to chill out before heading down to the toastier domains.

Ken Knutson, multi-1200k veteran rando and chairperson for the RUSA American Explorer award, has a friendly greeting. His 1200k to ride will be next month, in July.

Why is this rider tilted?  Leaning up-canyon??

After a pretty serene climb up Jarbo Gap, it's the final descent to Oroville, where I'm passed (on the double-lane stretch with ample shoulder) by what I recall are the only loaded logging trucks (a convoy of four) I've encountered on this GRR.  Remarkably quiet Feather River Canyon this time 'round!
The bridge over the Sacramento gives an excuse to pause and wonder at the lines of houseboats parked midstream ...

... and document in daylight the fearsome expansion grates with metal overlay on the fog line that the cue sheet cued us in to.  On the night ascent, you can believe I was keeping an eagle eye.

 A helpful stop in Oroville to re-hydrate and pre-hydrate.  It's upper 90's here vs. lower 40's not that many hours and miles ago at Top of the Grr: a 55-degree difference!
Some of the quiet, shady country lanes leaving Oroville offer us some comfortable pedaling!

By the time the Sutter Buttes come into view, we're gazing at them across lush irrigated crops such as this rice field, which add humidity into the heat equation.

Another view of the Sutter Buttes, two distinctly different landscapes.  I stop at the intermediate Union-76 gas station control, and a local asks if I'm riding around the buttes, something he's thought of doing.  Seems pretty attractive.

I also see local cyclists pedaling out on a club ride on this flat-flat-flat terrain for all they're worth.  In some ways, Janesville Grade and Antelope Lake sound more appealing.
The valley is criss-crossed by irrigation canals such as this, which we would call "ditches" in Colorado. I missed taking a photo of climbing past one up onto a levee road, but you can visualize it.  I was happy for the climb, and it was a scenic spot.

These Great Egrets are enjoying the wet agriculture.  I thought they might be Cattle Egrets, but was corrected by my wife.

Sun is setting over a sunflower field, as I stop to clear my eyeglasses from salt builtup because of the sultry conditions ... but I'm enjoying this!

At the penultimate control, Kirksville Ranch, I'm offered a sandwich, a Coke, and mosquito spray, all of it appreciated.  Dusk is falling, and the control official is looking comfy registering my passage.

We have gotten rumors and reports from Oroville and before of a course change because of a sinkhole!  This sinkhole opened up on a highway that we'd headed out on, because a water pipe broke in the meantime.  The damage slowly widened to block one lane and then two, and now the entire highway is closed.  (Imagine the fun this provided for our organizer - no rest for the weary!)
So we've been rerouted onto Cranmore Road, the levee road along the Sacramento.  It's about a half mile longer, but delightfully curvy in a way that most of the road here aren't.  I immediately see a hoot owl flying past, and a couple more (or maybe the same one, sizing me up) along the way.  Also more bugs, and a few dirt sections, but that's what randonneuring's all about!

Don Jagar and I finish together on a balmy, tranquil evening.  I ride the two  miles back into Davis proper, where it is not so tranquil - the night club and party atmosphere near the university seems a festive way to finish up.

Friends such the ultra-experienced Chris Hanson elect to nap through the hottest part of the day, and finish after dawn.  It's all smiles, though, whatever time you rolled in.

As with any 1200k, finishing the GRR meant a lot to me.  I loved the terrain (for the most part), and it was great to see friends and make new ones.  My heartfelt thanks to Dan Shadoan and his volunteers for putting on a great and rewarding event!
P.S. You may think I took a lot of photos, but there are some I missed - e.g., RUSA founding member Bill Bryant at bike inspection, Tim Sullivan on the road, San Francisco RBA Rob Hawks at Alturus, Tim, Chris Hanson, Deb Ford and I working on Tatyana Maslova's derailleur on Centreville Road, and many others ...