July 9, 2005: Riding the East Bay circuit

Today, Romulus and I reprised this winter's rain-soaked road journey through the Oakland hills (See February 19, 2005: Frog and Toad's wild ride). This time, Mother Nature treated us to sunshine and dry roads, and Romulus freshened up the route. Even if we had ridden the exact same route, it would have seemed new to me because the last time we rolled these roads, I was holding on for dear life trying to keep the rubber side down in the rain.

No terrorists here, no security either for that matter
Starting up the deceptive Claremont climb

From Rom's house south of Army, we busted up Valencia to Market, where we picked up the BART at the Civic Center and tubed on over to West Oakland. There was still a heavy layer of low clouds shrouding the Bay at noon, but the temp was pleasant and the sun was doing its best to poke through. Because we were riding East Bay, I anticipated a hot ride, but the Boy Scout in me also brought four separate layers of upper body clothing. I'd rather be too hot than too cold; I'd rather be sweating than shivering. I ended up using three of the four layers.

There was no water on the roadways, but I was still white-knuckling it through West Oakland and downtown and all the way out to Claremont on Telegraph. Romulus lives in the city and commutes to work on his bike, so urban riding is no problem for him, but it takes a while for my messenger instincts to come back to me. Riding aggressively in urban settings is a lot like riding technical singletrack in that you have to be completely dialed in. Every vehicle, pedestrian, intersection, painted line, curb, and crack in the road spells trouble. Zone out for one minute and they're going to be scraping you off somebody's bumper.

Dropping into Contra Costa County on Pinehurst Road
A typical view in the East Bay hills

Eventually, we pulled through the lowlands to the Claremont Country Club and started the five kilometer climb to the saddle of Grizzly Peak Road and Skyline Road. We know that it was a 5-kilometer climb as opposed to a 3.2-mile climb because we have switched our cyclometer preferences from miles to kilometers. This was Rom's idea. He feels that it is a psychological motivator to look down at the cyclometer and see larger numbers ticking by at a faster pace. I was dubious at first, and more than once today I did a double-take because I couldn't believe I was doing 18 MPH up a steep climb, only to remember that I was doing 18 km/hr. On the other hand, it was very satisfying to hit the 60s on descents and pound out flats in the 20s and 30s. It also took a while to get comfortable doing quick mathematical conversions in my head, but even that became kind of a fun little exercise. Finally, riding kilometers on the road bike gives some context to the distances and speeds we see in Le Tour. For road riding, I'm sold on the kms.

I attacked our first hill of the day with gusto, but it turned out to be a deceptive little bee-atch of a climb. The grade never looked impressively steep, but the hill just kept grinding away at my legs and by the time I got to the saddle, I was barely spinning the pedals and my upper body felt like I had gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson (the current Tyson, not the glory days Tyson). Turning on to Skyline, we realized that we had picked up a tail. Three riders were visible about 150 yards behind us. As we recovered from the Claremont climb, they crept to within 50 yards of us, but Romulus and I were not about to give it up without a fight. We organized ourselves into a counter on the first slight rise we came to and quickly dropped them back to 150 yards. For the next couple of miles we played a cat-and-mouse game with our pursuers as we zipped past the Robert Silbey Volcanic Regional Preserve and over Highway 24, holding them off all the way to Pinehurst Road at the west entrance to Redwood Regional Preserve.

Romulus dances on the pedals up the Col D'Wildcat Canyon

Down Pinehurst we slalomed through rolling straightaways and tight, technical turns, enjoying the warm sunlight and the thrill of speed. After a quick safety meeting in a shaded glade next to a gurgling creek, we continued down through the Redwoods into the city of Moraga. Spinning easily through Moraga, we picked up the pace and did some tempo riding in Orinda on our way to the vaunted Col D'Wildcat Canyon.

The Col D'Wildcat Canyon was great! It is a steady, evenly pitched, lengthy climb with so many twists and turns you forget that you're climbing and you start enjoying the burn of good, honest, hard work. The gradient is steep enough to prevent total hammering, but gentle enough to encourage courage.

Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley
A nice Fat Slice really hits the spot

We didn't just climb Wildcat Canyon, we went all the way up to Inspiration Point in Tilden Park before dropping down to Shasta Road. From Shasta, we absolutely bombed down the super steep Grizzly Peak descent into the UC Berkeley campus. After flitting through campus, we emerged on Telegraph Road where Romulus treated me to a piping hot piece of pizza at Fat Slice. Ahh, that hit the spot.

Our hands greasy on the hoods, we started south towards West Oakland and our trainride home. At Shattuck and Alcatraz, just before we dropped into the 'hood, I heard a "ping" followed by the unmistakable sound of a tire going flat. I'm a streaky flatter. I'll go two years without getting a flat, but when I get one, I usually get several in a very short period of time. Last weekend (See July 3, 2005: A race in the life of), I flatted twice in the Boggs Mountain MTB race, so that's three flats in the last three rides. Needless to say, I'm getting pretty good at fixing flats; we were back on the road in under ten minutes.

The culprit
I'm getting good at this

After some more urban maneuvers through Berkeley to 62nd Street in Oakland, we ripped a Louie on the MLK up to 40th and abandoned our tour for the day at the MacArthur BART station. Unlike February's ride when we abandoned in Orinda due to foul weather and shivered in our soaking wet clothes all the way to the City only to be met with even more rain, today, we were treated to perfect weather. It was sunny and warm, but never hot. The wind was cool and gusty, but never overpowering. The Baylands were cloudy but picturesque.

Lounging on the BART, Romulus and I agreed that we didn't feel completely hammered like we often do at the end of epic rides. We both felt pretty strong, but agreed that in the future, we need to incorporate some sprint intervals into our rides. We have lots of long-term endurance, but we need to build the sprinting ability needed to place well in the races.

Cannonball looks in vain for the team car
The view from the top

Nice and stiff from our relaxing train ride, we hopped off at 24th and Mission and bobbed and weaved our way down Harrison to the base of Bernal Hill. There, upon Romulus's challenge, we tackled Alabama Street, which pretty much runs straight up the face of Bernal Hill -- it's a Beyond Category (HC) bruiser. Still huffing from the brutal last 100 feet of 'Bama, we wound our way around the north face of Bernal Hill and dropped down to Chez Rom.

Of course we suffered in many places, but overall, I didn't feel like I had just ridden 68 kilometers. Next month, we're doing the Marin Century ride, I wish it was tomorrow, I'm ready.


Mileage: 68.47 km (42.5 mi)

Time: 3:26:39 Avg: 19.8 km/hr (12.3 MPH) Max: 64.0 km/hr (39.7 MPH) Weight: 163.5

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