Ride Across California 2009

| June 30, 2009 2:11 pm
Ride Across California 2009

by Richard Hanke

Pre Ride:

One day an email arrived announcing that Brian Chun would lead a ride to Lake Tahoe.  I checked the date and I did not have a conflict so I decided to join.  Since riding across America with Trek Travel last September I wondered what it would be like to do a self supported ride.   On a self supported trip you would have to carry everything with you.  A tour company has water and snacks every 15 miles so you never have to worry.  My biggest fear would be running out of water since one stretch through the Sierras would be sparsely populated and stopping at a store would not be an option.   Brian was going to camp and I did not want to carry a sleeping bag and tent so I opted for the hotel option.  Luckily he was camping near Jackson and I had several hotels to choose from.  In Tahoe, finding a hotel is never a problem.

As the date approached, I kept checking the weather.  It looked like Thunderstorms in Tahoe, but I felt optimistic since it listed it at as only a 40% chance.  I knew I had to carry rain gear anyway since I had heard plenty of stories of riders on the Death Ride getting hypothermia when it would rain in the passes.    I equipped my Trek bike with a rack to carry two bags.  My bike had brackets on the frame to hold a rack so I did not have any problem.  I waited to the day before to put it on and this would cause a problem the morning of the trip.  I did a brief spin the night before but not with the fully packed bags.

Day 1: Saratoga to Jackson, CA

We wanted to get an early start since we planned on covering over 130 miles to Jackson. Brian was starting in Los Gatos and I would meet up with him at 5:45 on DeAnza Blvd. This meant I had to also leave at 5:30. I loaded up the bike; the two bags weighed over 20 lbs.  This additional weight on the rear gave the bike a totally different feel and I had to be careful not to let it tip over since I could not keep it upright by just holding the handle bars.  In the bags were another riding kit, wind jacket, rain jacket, rain pants, booties for the shoes if cold, head cover, one T-shirt, one shorts, one warm-up pants, gym shoes to wear when not riding, recovery powder premeasured into plastic bags for each day, electrolytes mix for each day, 2 extra water bottles for the mountains, alcohol wipes, 3 tubes, tooth brush and 20 cliff bars.  I would use everything on the trip.

I was a couple minutes late in the morning but as soon as I started out the bike began to make a terrible noise. I thought the bags weighed too much and was putting pressure on the one bracket that attached the rack to the brake assemble. Since I was late I kept going and thought I would look at it once I got to the meeting point. Anyway it was still a little dark and could not see since it was overcast.  I arrived at the meeting place a 6 am, a full 10 minutes late. But no Brian was in sight. While waiting I figured out the brake was rubbing against the tire. I was able to straighten it out and the noise went away.  While waiting I checked my email and noticed that Brian had sent one out last night after I had already gone to bed. He wanted to change the route to go through Calaveras instead of Niles canyon.  I decided to go ahead since I thought he would be in front of me.   Turned out he was late also and we did not meet up until Sunol.

In Livermore I had one of the bags fall off when hitting a bump. We then tied the bags together in the hopes they would not come off. They never did but I always had a fear they would it I hit a big enough bump and now that they were tied together they both would.
The ride went smoothly as we made our way through Pleasanton, Livermore, Altamont pass, and then in Tracy I got a flat when going under 205. We stopped at Carl Jr to change it.  This also proved a good spot to eat lunch. Brian had brought a sandwich and sushi.  We refilled out water bottles and we back on our way. Before long we were cutting though the center of Stockton, very depressing city where all the housed had bars on the windows. After Stockton we returned to the scenery of the central valley; vineyards, cherry trees, walnuts orchards.  With 24 miles to go to Jackson, Brian fell back and I just wanted to get the ride over. With 10 miles to go it became very hard. My odometer was already reporting 130 miles and still had 10 to go. I didn’t notice that it was a gradual climb since the landscape looked flat but on the return I sure would notices it. I ran out of water just a few miles from Jackson.  I should have filled up one of my extra bottles before leaving Stockton. Lucky there was a cemetery and I was able to pull in and fill up.

Once arriving in Jackson I took a quick look at their historic down town and set off to find a milkshake. Upon asking at one of the local establishments I was directed towards Mel’s Dinner and sure enough it was one of the best ones I’ve tasted.  Up the road was my hotel, first thing I did was to take a shower.

It had been 141.5 miles of riding with 9 hours 40 minutes in the saddle.  Ouch!

Day 2: Jackson to Lake Tahoe.

92.8 miles 8 hours and 40 minutes.
It was a cool and cloudy morning with the forecast calling for rain. My tire was flat in the morning but I pumped it up and rode to see if it would be OK.  We left by 7am and within a few miles stopped to change the tire. It was not holding the air. Right away from Jackson we started climbing. It was a gradual steady climb.  We soon passed the 2000 ft. elevation sign and then the 3000 ft. sign. We were making about 10 miles per hour progress on the accent. We would have to pass though Carson’s pass which is about 8000 feet.  We stopped at a store about 20 miles outside of Jackson and were told that it would snow at 7000 feet and above starting at noon.  We would have to move fast to make it to Carson’s pass.

At the 5000 ft elevation sign would be the last time I saw Brian as he started to slow at the higher elevation and I was still able to climb at steady pass. Just as forecasted it started to rain at 12 pm but I was not yet at the 7000 ft. sign.  I put on my rain gear to stay dry. I passed the first 8000 ft. sign and started to descend. The rain had now turned to sleet and as my speed increased to over 30 mph my face was getting sand blasted. Soon I was climbing again and cursing the fact that the road would dip and raise. This would happen 3 times before finally getting to Carson’s pass. The worst was when we dipped into Kirkwood because the road widened to add a turn lane but I could not see when the lane would end due to the fog, sleet and water on my sun glasses. (Needed the glasses to protect my eyes from the sleet pelting my face)  I was riding in the middle when a car came by blaring his horn at me.  Carson’s pass had a large turn off to enjoy the view but with visibility at only 20 yards there was no point in stopping. I continued to press ahead.

Carson Pass. 8000 feet

Carson Pass. 8000 feet

It was a long decent to about 5600 ft. and the sun came out. I turned onto HW 89 to Lake Tahoe and started climbing again. This time it would be Luther’s pass at 7500 ft. And just like Carson’s Pass it was covered in clouds and rain. I had to keep reminding myself that I could do it but it’s hard to imagine when you are only climbing at 4 mph and gasping for each breath.  I crested the top and started the decent in a heavy rain. About halfway down a van pulled next to me as I was traveling at 30 mph and asked if I wanted a ride. I told them no way. I had already done the hard part; going downhill was my only reward.  But if he had asked me that when I was only half way up; I would have certainly jumped at the chance. Once I reached Lake Tahoe, I stopped at a Subway and had lunch. I arrived at the hotel by 4pm. I cleaned up and got ready to join a group of ACTC riders for dinner. They had driven up and were staying at a house one of them had here. They picked me up from my hotel and I joined them for dinner. They had prepared a hot pot. That sure tasted good after the 90 mile ride from Jackson. Brian did not arrive until 8:45. He had been riding for over 14 hours.

Day 3: Lake Tahoe ride to Genoa, NV

Steve Ching had listed a ride from Tahoe to Genoa which started with breakfast at Denny’s at 8am.  We set off at 9 after we had a great breakfast. I had Denny’s build it yourself 4 item Grand Slam. I had eggs whites, oatmeal, hash browns and chicken sausage.   It started to drizzle and as we climbed up Kingsbury Grade to Daggett Summit. I reached the top just behind K.L She. We stopped briefly to take a photo and then continued on since we did not want to get cold. The decent was great but could not be fully enjoyed due to the rain but on a sunny day I’m sure you could hit speeds of 50. By the time we reached the bottom the rain had stopped.  We regrouped and rode around Nevada and made our way towards historic Genoa, Nevada’s oldest settlement.  I was riding in front with Au Ly and we missed a turn. It took us a while to realize it and then we tried to pace line back to the group but missed another turn. Eventually we called for directions and found out we were way out. We did make it to lunch in Genoa before the others had finished. After a satisfying sandwich and bowl of soup we were on our way back to Kingsbury grade.  Going up seemed to take forever.  I think when the mountain is bare and you can see all the way to the top, psychologically it seems harder. It didn’t help that it started to rain half way up and by the time we reached the top we were soaked as well.  The decent became a chill fest. Soaked and now cold, I didn’t realize how much until I stopped for coffee at Starbucks and could not stop shaking.  It was only another 2 miles to the hotel. Once in the room I jumped into the shower with my kit still on. It was amazing how much grit and dirt washed away.  Finally I was warm.

With the detour, I recorded 77 miles.

Day 4: Lake Tahoe to Jackson

I checked out of the hotel and went to Denny’s for breakfast.  I wanted to order that Gland Slam again since it would be a long 90 miles to Jackson. I was a little fearful that the ride would be a repeat of yesterdays ride with the passes in rain or worst snow. The trip to Jackson would have 4 passes all at 7700 feet or more.

I met up with Brian at Steve’s house and we were off by 7:30.  Yesterday Howard had told us that there was an alternative to HW 89/Luther Pass. The Old Truckee Road ran parallel to it , would have no traffic compared to HW89 and would take us almost all the way to the top before reconnecting to HW 89. It was a great alternative and winded through the woods which allowed lots of time to take in the scenery.  Unfortunately once we started climbing it was the last I saw of Brian as he was having trouble adjusting to the altitude and had yet to find his climbing legs.  The threat of rain never materialized and soon the sun was out shining making for a great morning of riding.  Later a few dark clouds showed up but I never got wet.

The scenery was just great. I was retracing our route from Friday in the rain but this time all the views were available and the morning sun just lit up Carson’s valley. The climbing was not bad and I was making good time. By noon I had reached the last pass and from there it was all downhill to Jackson.  I pulled into Jackson by 2:30 and headed directly to Mel’s for another of their great milkshakes.   It felt good to be done early and have a chance to recover.

Day 5: Jackson to Saratoga

We left at 6 since it would be a long day. I was not looking forward to going back through the Altimont pass. They did not build all those wind farms there because it never blows.   There was a lot of traffic on the road out of Jackson as people went to work in either Stockton or Sacramento.  It was a steady stream of cars but the shoulder was wide. We were making good time and I now realized why the last 10 miles into Jackson had been so hard.  It was a steady decline that allowed us to easily do 20 mph.  We made it to Stockton is just over 2 hours and stopped at a Starbucks to refill the water bottles. I also had a coffee and coffee cake.

We decided to head another way out of town instead of taking HW 4 since that had a very small shoulder and was busy with trucks.  Heading out on California St and El Dorado St. was a much better choice and less hectic.  But once we turn west on Mathews Road the wind began to blow. The further west we went the stronger it became. We took turns pace lining but we were slowed to 11 mph.  We got a break for a while once we turned south to Tracy but once we started west on Grant Line we to slowed to under 10 MPH.  We finished crossing the central valley but now we’re faced with the Altimont pass. The winds must have been 25 mhp or more and we laughed at the fact that some of the windmills were not spinning since they must think it was not windy enough. We say a local bicycle club ride go the other way at speeds that must have been greater than 30 mph. We were struggling at going 4 mph and the slope was not even that great.  This would be the last time I would see Brian as I slowly pulled away.  I didn’t wait once I got to Livermore as I was now solely focused on getting home as quickly as possible and I still had 60 miles to go.

I was thankful the wind was not as strong and was able to achieve speeds of 15 mph.  This meant that I could be home by 3pm. I stopped in Pleasanton to refill the water bottles before hitting the Calaveras pass into San Jose.  I have ridden Calaveras before but today it seemed to go on forever. I think the fact that I had already had gone over 100 miles had something to do with it. I finally made into San Jose and onto San Thomas which would take me to Saratoga. By now I looked like just another bike commuter with my bags. No one would suspect that I had ridden from Lake Tahoe.  I felt good as a passed a couple bike commuters, even though my legs we by now feeling like toast.  This euphoria would not last long as the pain from sitting in the saddle for over 9 hours started to become unbearable. Finally at 4:30 I turned into the driveway. I was home. I had done it, 547 miles in 5 days.

See Photos

No Responses to “Ride Across California 2009”

Care to comment?