I put in a tough training ride on Saturday, by riding the mountain bike from Martinez to the top of Mt. Diablo by way of Shell Ridge Open Space and the labyrinth of fire roads and trails crossing Mt. Diablo State Park.
Looking up a recently fire blackened slope toward the sun just about to crest over the ridge.
I've ridden this route in all its various segments before, but never put them together into 1 ride.
I'm not sure of the distance. It must be around 40 miles, but since the mountain bike doesn't have a computer – I really don't know. Total elevation gain must be around 5000' – 6000' but again, I could be way off. It's no less than that for sure.
As I was coming into Pleasant Hill on my ride across the valley, I met a gentleman headed to work on a steel framed bike made by a local shop called Rivendell. Having an interest in steel bikes, we chatted about that and commuting by bike in general. Our interaction was brief as he was soon at his destination, but I got the idea he was no stranger to moving about on 2 wheels. I pressed on and made it to Shell Ridge by 7:55 – 5 minutes ahead of my schedule. Sweet.
Just inside the park the long sleeves came off and I began the rolling climb up toward the mountain. Near the Old Borges Ranch trail I paused to remove a bag of Sport Beans (left over from the Death Ride) from my Camelbak and was passed by another cyclist. Half the bag went down the shaft and the other into my pocket and the pursuit was on. I had him by the top of the next climb, and passed him as we swung around the corner and looked into the next valley. Down the valley with him now in pursuit, and then back up a steep narrow section with both of us breathing harder than we had planned. One more down and up, and I was holding the gate for him to follow through into what I consider the start of the Mt. D. State Park area.
We looked at each other grinning and panting for a moment and then bumped fists acknowledging solidarity and comradery in the universal "guy" language. Over the next couple of steep miles we discussed the Tour de France, local trails, and (what I had already noticed) that he was a road cyclist unaccustomed to mountain biking. I gave him a few second hand tips which he immediately put into use to my great pleasure and his benefit. The only problem with having a friend to ride with was the fact that he was only out for 2 hours and notably strong. His pace was killing me, and I wasn't about to get dropped. In a way it was with relief that he called off the ride along the Ridge Trail, and turned back toward Pleasant Hill for his 10:00am appointment.
I slowed my pace a little and settled in for the long climb up the winding trails on the south west side of the mountain.
4 coyotes monitored my advance as I approached the helicopter pad on South Gate Rd. They didn't look like the typical scraggly vermin seen pulling carrion from the roads either. They were rather solidly set with shining coats, and keen eyes. The company frankly made me a little nervous and I decided not to stop for pictures.
Just above the Ranger Station at a small picnic area, I took my first real break, refilled a water bottle and ate some of the nuts, chocolate chips, and raisins mix I had been melting in my pack. 10 minutes later it was back to the trail. The stretch of the Summit Trail above the Ranger Station is in my opinion the hardest of the entire ride. Summit Road, which I'm very familiar with on my road bike, rises relatively steeply as it passes the same picnic spot, and takes nearly 1 3/4 miles to intersect the trail again. The fire trail doesn't wind or meander, but cuts straight across and climbs the same distance in about .7 miles. Add to that the full strength of the sun now unabated by trees or cliffs, and I was more than ready to intersect with the main road and ride the balance of the climb with the "roadies." (The majority of the trails on the south side of the mountain beyond that point are for hikers only. The threat of a $200 ticket keeps most cyclists honest) I did take some measure of satisfaction passing a few road bikes while astride my obscenely heavy and inefficient mountain bike. One that passed me however, was another Rivendell. I've only heard of them before, and now 2 in 1 day. Strange.
The top came just after the cramps in the hamstrings of my right leg. Yow, it's been a long time since I felt that. Slightly different positioning, some long steep stretches, and a little dehydration must have worked together to zap me with a reminder of my mortality. 2 hours 45 minutes from the entrance of Shell Ridge to the top.
At the top.
The ride down is ¾ of the reason we ride up - especially on a mountain bike. And, bombing down the trails is exponentially more fun than the road. It's also exponentially more work. One can relax a little on the sweeping corners of the paved roads, but a moment's relaxation on the trail could mean a night at the hospital and a month of rehab, not to mention the fun trip in the helicopter.
Looking toward the north west at the trails I would soon be screaming down.
Half way down the mountain 2 mountain bikers evidently unfamiliar with the trails I had just come down, pulled off the road and followed me past Rock City and on toward some of the hills descending toward Shell Ridge. In talking to them, I found out that the more aggressive of them had recently raced Downieville. He called over his shoulder that I should let him know if I wanted to pass. I just smiled to myself knowing that anyone willing to race Downieville, was in no danger of being passed by me. My experience with Downieville can be read here. The other in his company was more my speed and we shared the trail for an intense few miles.
Back in Shell Ridge my pace was notably slower than my ride through 4 hours before. The rolling hills are less abrupt on the return trip, but still there nonetheless.
I finished my ride at the park in Pleasant Hill, where I met the girls for a picnic lunch on the grass beneath a huge pine. I rotated the picnic blankets around the base of the tree to keep the Small Noisy One and I sleeping in the shade, while Bec and Ella played on the toys. Another lazy summer Saturday.