Ride Report: Sierra Century (Long)
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  1. #1
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    Feb 2002

    Ride Report: Sierra Century (Long)

    (Cross-post from RoadBikeReview - General Discussion)

    Warning: If you read this story to the bitter end, your brain may feel as weary as my legs felt at the end of the ride.

    Prologue - Saturday, June 5, 2004

    The day began when the alarm went off at 3:00 am. Not all that painful, actually, since I was keyed up and wide awake for the big day ahead. I loaded up the car, made a quick stop for coffee and donuts, and headed east on Interstate 80 out of Oakland for the Gold Country east of Sacramento. Somewhere out on the highway past Vacaville, I watched the eastern horizon change from a star speckled inky black to a deep indigo to purple to gray to a fiery orange. A few wispy clouds over the far off Sierra peaks were silhouetted against the brightening sky. It was the dawn of what promised to be a warm, sunny day.

    Driving past Sacramento, I exited the interstate and continued on secondary roads through a mix of industrial, farm, and residential land. Suddenly, the need to make a pit stop was imperative. Driving down this straight, flat road with open fields on either side, I spotted a cross street and turned down it. Damn, there were houses lining one side of the street way out here in the middle of BFE! Forced by utter necessity, I am not proud to say that I dropped trou right then and there and leaning against the bumper of my car, left a steaming pile of number two by the side of the road.

    Three minutes later and three pounds lighter, I rejoined the steady flow of cars-with-bikes-on-the-roof and wended my way to the Amador County Fairgrounds in the town of Plymouth. Arriving at 5:45 am, I had planned to meet up with Ted, a friend from work, at the start area at 6:00 am. After registering and picking up my bag of goodies, I searched and found Ted's car, but he and his bike were nowhere to be seen. Can you here me now? Apparently not, because my cell phone wasn't picking up a signal. Damn. I searched the start area in vain, wading through a sea of garish and often hideous jerseys and neon windbreakers. Excitement and anxiousness were buzzing in the cool morning air and I figured Ted had already started so I decided to hit the road and try to catch up to him.

    The Ride - Sierra Double Metric Century - 123 miles - ~10,000' vertical

    It's 6:13 am, the sun's rising to the east, and I'm rolling. This is my first Sierra Century and my first time riding on any of these roads. Woooo hoooo!!! Heading west on a slight downhill on Old Sacramento Rd, both the pace and temperature are brisk. I can see riders strung out along the road ahead of me. Although the grade soon levels out, adrenalin and excitement pushes me to go hard which is tempered by the thought of pacing myself for the long miles ahead.

    A group of racer types blows by and I latch on to the tail end. It feels great to move across level ground at 26 mph, even though I have to suck wheel to do it. These guys are somewhat disorganized, moving down the road in a strung out sorta double paceline. We hit a sharp left turn through an intersection and everyone bunches up, brakes a squealin'. Alarms go off in my head when I see the nimrod in front of me half-wheeling the guy he is following. I jump over to the other paceline but then get dropped as we hit some rollers and the group accelerates away. I let 'em go without a chase because I don't want to take a tumble, blow up, or waste energy so early into the ride. After all, despite the number pinned on my back, this is only a ride, not a race.

    The road meanders lazily over the rolling grass covered hills sprinkled with oaks and rock outcroppings. The sun, still low on the horizon, casts long shadows across the landscape. It's quite beautiful out here in the cool morning air. The route then takes us past the tidy little homes of Ione and onto the first rest stop at mile 20.7. I arrive at 7:18 am, and already there is a long line forming at the porta potties. I roll on about a hundred yards, find a bush with no line, and take care of bidness. I replenish my bottles of water and Gatorade, grab a couple of mouthfuls of fresh strawberries, look around to no avail for my buddy Ted, and hit the road.

    Past the rest stop, the route shortly turns onto Sutter Ione Rd and the first real climbing of the day begins. This is Ted's third Sierra Century and he has ridden portions of the course many times; he dislikes this section of rolling climbs, referring to it as "seven miles of hell". From the start of the climb, I immediately begin to pass other riders, which gives me confidence and boosts my energy. The pitch seems to change constantly, making it difficult to settle into a rhythm, but I find myself really enjoying this climb in the warm morning sunshine.

    I came down with a cold and a severe sore throat on Wednesday and as late as Friday, I wasn't sure that I could make the ride. But a mouthful of over the counter cold remedies and sleeping all day Friday had me feeling good to go. Besides, I didn't want all those months of training to go to waste. Midway up this first climb, I cough up and spit out a huge lump of phlegm that ended up looking like a banana slug laying in the road. It was fairly gross. I had a thought that other riders seeing it would think I coughed up a chunk of lung or something, except that it was custard colored and frothy, not pink and frothy... I tell ya, there's nothing like a stiff climb to really clear the pipes.

    The climb continues onward and upward, occasionally punctuated with a brief downhill, and I manage to middle ring (yes, I'm a triple ring riding weinie) all of it although it saps a good deal of my energy. On a short downhill section, I see a fairly sharp left hander coming up, so I take a quick peak back to make sure the coast is clear, approach wide to the right, dive deep into the turn, notice that it's tighter than expected, smoothly increase my lean angle to compensate while staying off the brakes, and then drift way out to the right side. Whew! That was a bit of unexpected exhilaration. As the road started to climb again a rider came up alongside of me and said, "you hit that turn perfectly, right on the apex!" That was an ego boost, but I would have felt better about the compliment if I actually meant to go that fast and if I wasn't feeling so worn out all of a sudden. Thirty miles ridden, a quarter of the way to the finish and lots of climbing to go. I start feeling a bit anxious; had I really trained enough or was the infamous and dreaded climb up Slug Gulch gonna kick my ass six ways to Sunday???

    The route dips down and zigs and zags through the town of Sutter Creek before resuming its climb alongside a stream called, yup, you guessed it: Sutter Creek. I encounter fewer riders on this stretch of road which lies in a fairly narrow and thickly wooded canyon. This is a good thing, because just about everyone I see now is passing me. Damn, that's a blow to the ego. However, this is one of the more idyllic sections of the ride, with the babbling brook flowing to the right, rays of warm sunshine shooting through the forest canopy, and birds singing and chirping in the trees. The climb is very gentle, almost flat, with no traffic to speak of. Except for the local gentleman sitting in his rust bucket of a pickup on the side of the road who says to me with a tobacco stained grin,"it's almost all downhill from here." He guns the engine and rattles off in a cloud of exhaust. Yeah, right. The grade steepens immediately and continues in this manner for several miles to the town of Volcano and rest stop #2.

    I arrive at rest stop # 2, mile 43.0 at 9:05 am, look around quickly but don't find Ted, refill my bottles, wolf down more strawberries as well as peanut M&M's, and then head out to tackle Rams Horn Grade. This is the first major climb of the day and being fairly exposed to the morning sun, the mercury is definitely on the rise. Roughly three miles in length and comparable to Mt. Diablo in steepness (~5-6%), I grind up the hill in my middle ring, resisting the urge to shift down into the granny gear. On steeper sections of the road I get up out of the saddle and climb standing on the pedals. Curiously, when I do this, I hear a squeeeak, squeeeak, squeeeak with every pedal stroke. I think it's coming from my pedals or shoes but I've never heard this sound before. Weird. It's like stepping on a duck with every stroke of out-of-the-saddle climbing. Who stepped on a duck? Uhh, that would be me. Ultimately, I will have stepped on many thousands of ducks on this day.

    Except for the quacking of my pedals, I continue grinding up the grade in silence, keeping a slow, steady pace with the few other riders sprinkled on the road ahead of and behind me. Finally, the road begins to level off, a water stop appears ahead, and I'm thinking that I've made it to the top. But no, as I roll past the water stop, up ahead is the last steep pitch of Ram's Horn Grade. Oi vey! This is steep! Humiliated, I am forced for the first time today to drop down into the granny gear. The Ram's Horn is now firmly planted in my ass. Ugh. Adding insult to injury, it seems like tons of riders with double chainrings (real road riders) blow by me as they blast off up and away. Stinkin' bastidges.

    The road continues in a rolling ascent at a slightly more manageable slope for a few miles and then it's a left turn onto Fiddletown Road for eleven miles of mostly downhill fun. The upper section has some rollers which really kills the momentum, but further on down it's uninterrupted descent which is pretty sweet although a few more and sharper curves would have been nice. I am ambling down the road basically alone, trying to keep the one or two riders ahead of me within my crosshairs when a small group of racer types rudely interrupts my solitude. Though fairly tired, I can't pass up the free ride and accelerate onto the back of the group. With their help, I am now motoring along at about 30 mph. It feels like hitching a ride on the blue and silver Fassa Bartolo train, as they lead out Petacchi for that final sprint to the finish line. With the rush of wind howling in my ears, adrenalin overcomes fatigue and I am having big fun! But in no time at all the train pulls into the station and the fun ends at rest stop #3 in Fiddletown, at mile 60.1. It's 10:17 am and I need a break!

    Still no sign of Ted, but there is food and drink galore. These rest stops are incredibly well stocked and manned with lots of friendly volunteers. I grind on a turkey and cheese sandwich, chug a Coke, refill my bottles, and stuff my pockets with bananas and a fistful of Hammergels. Mileage wise, I'm about 50% done, but the toughest sections still lay ahead of me. Oh joy.

    I leave Fiddletown and am immediately confronted with an exposed, hot, and sunny climb. Although I just had a break, I'm not feeling too rejuvenated and must shift into a slow, grinding, survival mode crawl. After an eternally long few minutes of exposed climbing, the road mercifully settles into a gently rolling gait in the shade of the grand oaks towering above. This is a residential street, but unlike the city or the 'burbs, there is no traffic and there is lots of open space and the houses aren't packed in like sardines. Then it's a left turn onto Bridgeport School Rd. Ted had warned me that this road was rough and the potholes were hard to see in the dappled lighting conditions. On a previous ride, Ted managed to hammer down his seatpost an inch or so while riding through this rough patch. Hmmmm. I'll just assume that his seat binder bolt was a tad loose and leave it at that... I mean, I love my bike, but I don't llluuuuvvve my bike, if you know what I mean. It is true that this stretch of road was a bit rough, but I identify myself as being primarily a mountain biker (Heavens to Mergatroid!!!) so it was no big deal. Maybe I'm just getting loopy at this point, but the area has a backwoods, 'Deliverance' kind of feel to it. I pass a group of kids playing in their yard and it would not have surprised me one bit if that little five year old girl looked at me and said, "Boy, you got a purty mouth." Cue in the sound of plucking banjos and I'm spinning up into a higher gear and galloping away.

    For the next five miles it's bright sunshine on Mt. Aukum Road. Like much of the route already ridden, it's a rolling descent leading into a rolling ascent. Unlike any of the route already ridden, it's surfaced with a kind of gravel that vibrates the bike and rider in a peculiar way. So I'm vibrating my way up a gentle grade in the middle ring when Mr. Hotshot blows by cranking in the big ring. Huh!!! Mr. Not So Hot then settles down about a hundred yards ahead of me and I match that pace until I reach the next water stop at mile 74.1 at 11:33 am.

    I'm tired. It's hot. I refill my bottles with water and lemonade. I inhale a cupful of peanuts, which is good because I need the salt, but it's bad because it takes me a couple of miles to chew the peanuts into a sort of peanut butter and then wash it down with little gulps of water. Blech!!! The Hammergels are nothing but good and I've sucked down five packets in the last eight miles. I'll need all the energy that I can muster for the climb up the taunting Slug Gulch.

    From the water stop, it's a tough 3.4 miles on Perry Creek Rd to the bottom of Slug Gulch. Perry Creek Rd, surprise, surprise, rolls up and down like much of the previous route, but it is distinguished by some pretty tough pitches that are steeeep, starting right from the get go with the climb out following the bridge. Ugh. I downshift and go into a super slow granny gear survival mode crawl. I'm too damn tired to look at my HRM or my cyclometer, but I figure I'm doing maybe 3 or 4 mph in my easiest gear (30-25). Just fast enough to keep from plopping over. From studying the route sheet, I know Slug Gulch is just around the corner at mile 77.7. On the flatter spots of Perry Creek Rd I watch my cyclometer ever so slowly tick off the hundredths of a mile. Tick..... tick..... tick. Like slow motion Chinese water torture, it becomes agonizing. On the steeper sections, I go into a trancelike state while reverting to the now all too familiar super slow granny gear survival mode crawl. My mind starts to go through a neurotic schizo stage; one moment I feel a pang of anxiety (Will I make it to end? Will I make it to the top?? Will I make it up the next pitch??? Will the Beastie Boys throw down at BFD????) The next moment I feel resolve (C'mon, settle down and just get it done.) And then it's annoyance (Why is this damn odometer ticking off the hundredths of a mile so damn slowly?!?) Like it's the odometer's fault. And then I look up and see the sign indicating that Slug Gulch has arrived...

    Between Ted's descriptions of the climb and from what I've read on the 'net, I had a fair idea of what to expect. Slug Gulch is roughly five miles long, but it's only the first half that's tough. This hard section is a two and a half mile stepped climb, averaging 14%, with the steepest sections approaching 18%. There are three major pitches. It's not as steep as many of the hills I trained on in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills, but I start this climb after having already ridden 77.7 miles. Psychologically, this climb has been kicking my ass all day long. And so the test of mettle begins.

    I turn left onto Slug Gulch Rd and the grade steepens immediately. There are no other riders in sight. Climbing past a vineyard, the road soon levels and I get a breather. Well that wasn't so bad. As an added bonus, a couple of kids wait patiently by the side of the road and with my permission, spray me down with a garden hose. Whoa! That felt good. And then its onward and upward. With the sun beating down, I go into a hypnotic state and turn, turn, turn. I see one rider up ahead weaving his way back and forth across the road, struggling to climb the hill. Other riders come up from behind and zip up the hill. I notice that most of these guys have only double chainrings, but they seem to climb with little effort and lots of speed. This ain't no gol dang Tour de France fer crissakes! It seems to me that they are attached to cables that pull them up the hill. Where's my cable??? I want a cable, dammit!!! But alas, I receive no cable, so I continue on shamefully in my usual super slow granny gear survival mode crawl. That one rider that was weaving up the hill is now off his bike, disgusted, slowly walking (slipping and sliding on his cleats, really) up the hill. That poor SOB was the only person I passed on all of Slug Gulch.

    Continuing on in the blazing sunshine, I finish off a steep pitch, catch a breather on the following 'flat' section, and then look ahead in dejected silence and dread at the next steep pitch. Mommy, make it go away. The racer types continue to zip past as the grade eases off and I grind away and finally make it past the tough section. I think fifty or sixty riders passed me on Slug Gulch, but I'm just too damn hot and tired to give a s**t, I'm still alive and pedaling and that's all that matters. I limp into the Omo Ranch rest stop at mile 83.1 at 12:45 pm.

    It's as if a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm sooo relieved to have made it past Slug Gulch! Up to this point, I was fairly sure that I could complete the ride, but there was some inkling of doubt. Now there was none. Yessss!!!

    I grabbed a turkey sandwich, a Dr Pepper, and some fresh cut fruit, and plopped down on the grass for a much needed break. I whipped out the cell phone and dialed Ted's number.

    ssshhh ... hello? ssshhh who is this? ssshhh

    It's me, Gary, I'm at Omo Ranch! I just finished Slug Gulch! Where are you?

    ssshhh ...I've... ssshhh ...five miles...ssshhh ...to get to ...ssshhh...Slug Gulch

    What the...??? Turns out Ted got a late start waiting on some other friends and I had been ahead of him for the whole ride. I was going to wait but he said not to since it would have taken at least an hour for him to catch up. So I refilled my bottles and hit the road.

    I was now riding the 'Bonus Miles' which extends beyond the regular 104 mile route and becomes the 123 mile 'challenge' route. From the rest stop, it was 9.5 miles of comparatively easy climbing to Hwy 88 which at a hair under 5,000' is the highest elevation of today's ride. Although I start off fairly tired, I feel completely relaxed having just completed the toughest part of the ride. Again, there is almost no traffic on the road as it meanders through an alpine forest of pines and evergreens of many varieties. The sunshine is bright but the temps are pleasant at this elevation and this quickly becomes one of my favorite sections of the ride. Through a break in the trees, I can see the snow capped peaks miles away. It's absolutely beautiful up here. Just before Hwy 88 is a water stop and I pull in for a rest and a chat with the volunteers manning the station. I attack a tray of sliced oranges as one of the volunteers tells me that seventy five riders have passed so far, and six of them were women. Man, those sweet oranges were the mack daddy.

    Feeling completely rejuvenated, I head out and turn onto Hwy 88 for the start of thirty miles of mostly downhill riding to the finish. I speed down 88 in loose formation with a handful of other riders as the traffic whizzes past on my left. Then it's a quick right onto Shake Ridge Rd for more fast, rolling but mostly downhill fun. The traffic has disappeared and for me and a couple of other riders, we have the road all to ourselves. With the afternoon sunshine glinting off our spokes, we speed on down the mountain in fluid motion and in tune to the flow of the road. It's magical. We turn onto Fiddletown Rd for the second time today and the descent continues on and on. I am actually feeling stronger now than when I rode this same section fifty miles and four and a half hours earlier! Sweeettttt!!!

    I pull into the Fiddletown rest stop at 2:55 pm with 112 miles down and only eleven more to go. The place is deserted compared to earlier in the day. It's also hot and stuffy down here, especially compared to the last stop which was high up in the mountains. I nibble on some watermelon and sip on a Coke. I can't really eat or drink, my stomach is starting to get a little weird, but nothing major. So I hop back on the bike for the final leg which starts on Ostrom Rd.

    F**king Ostrom Rd. is exposed, hot, and steep. I'm back in a super slow granny gear survival mode crawl. Ughhhhh. Well, I signed on for a challenge, and Ostrom Rd is challenging me in a way that makes me really wish I was at home lounging on the couch with a beer in one hand and a remote in the other. Ostrom Rd is laughing at me. Ostrom Rd is a big a**hole. Just ignore the miserable pudknocker, dude, and climb, climb, climb... Hah!!! I finally make it to the top and now it's time to go down, down, down. But wait, the descent levels off and, gulp, begins to climb again! Steeply and in the hot sun, no less. This is bulls**t, man. Ostrom Rd is absolute and utter f**kin' bulls**t. Ostrom Rd is impervious to my ranting and raving. Ostrom Rd. smirks as I once again revert to a super slow granny gear survival mode crawl. Can you tell that I'm a bit put off at this point? Crawl, crawl, crawl... Someone please shoot me. Actually, I take that back, the grade is easing up and is starting to descend again. F**kin' A, Bubba!!!

    Up ahead is the intersection with Shenandoah Rd and on that road are riders coming in from the 104 mile route. In short order I join the flow and head through the vineyards down a gentle descent into Plymouth. There is a bit of a headwind, but aided by the descent, I sustain 20+ mph for the last few miles back to the Fairgrounds. And at 3:50 pm, with absolutely no fanfare, I am back at the starting point, extremely and thoroughly satisfied that I did what I set out to do.



    Cyclometer Stats:
    Total Miles: 124.4
    Ride Time: 8 hrs 41 min
    Avg Speed: 14.3 mph
    Vertical: 10,000+

    HRM Stats:
    Total Time: 9 hrs 37 min
    Avg HR: 149 (includes rest periods)
    Est KCAL: 6,627
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Who stepped on a duck?

  2. #2
    steel road, fixie, & MTB
    Reputation: TrailNut's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004

    thanks for the ride report!

    now i want to do that ride
    Viner Pro Team Dedacciai EOM 16.5 light steel Campy 2x10.
    "The state that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting by fools." - Thucydides.

  3. #3
    Ya, what ATP said...!
    Reputation: Fogdweller's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004

    Thanks much!!

    Enjoyed your recap of the Sierra. I have another friend who raved about the course and the support, I'll have it on my list for next summer. I'm across the bay from you, in Marin. Gearing up for Markleeville on the 10th and the Tam Double a month later. Your recap was an inspiration.


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