Monday, September 27, 2010

Knoxville Double Century 2010

Executive summary:
202.15 mile
13,968 feet of climbing (Garmin 305, Ascent software)
16:12 rolling time
18:22 hours on the course

Knoxville Double dawn
Trying to sleep the night before a double century is just plain hard. A strange bed, and the excitement of a kid the night before Christmas just does not make for a deep, relaxing sleep.

We'd planned to start the 2010 Knoxville Double Century at 4am, but Ron (spingineer) and Dan (Mr. LanceOldStrong), like me, were excited enough that we arrived at the start early and managed to roll out 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 3:45.

ron-2We were among the first on the route, and overtook the two earlier riders about 10 miles in. We'd gone 35 before the sun started to lighten the sky and a group of riders passed us. They turned into the first rest stop, which we ignored, so for a bit we were out in front. It's not a race, so it really didn't matter, and it wasn't a bother that we were passed a lot more as the day went on.

Sometime around dawn I could smell breakfast being cooked. The smell of bacon and coffee mixed with the morning air is a memory stirring aroma. Later, as the sun was going down, I'd find myself on the opposite end of the day, enjoying the smell of wood smoke and the fragrance of ham being prepared for dinner.

Knoxville Double dawn 1At mile 45 I got my first kiss of direct sunlight. It felt good after the coolish morning temperatures. It had been downright warm at our Holiday Inn in Vacaville at 3am, but once we hit the road away from the city I was glad I was wearing a light windbreaker. We knew the coolness wouldn't last, and indeed it didn't seem like long until we were baking. Dan's Garmin registered over 100 more than once before the ride was over.

Riding this long gives one time to be bizarrely philosophical. I found myself thinking about how a double century is a lesson about life. Whatever the conditions are, they'll change. Temperatures change, winds shift, when you can't go on somehow you do and have a burst of energy later. Uphills end and become downhills, Cool becomes warm becomes hot becomes cool becomes cold. Light becomes dark, and on and on.

By the first climb of the day it was already hot in the sun. We'd been warned about the poor road quality on the Howell Mountain decent, so I took it slowly, thinking I'd see giant holes in the road. Instead the road was a delight, with no problem sections and I wasted a perfectly good downhill hammering my brakes to go carefully. Oh well.

Knoxville Double guy who started triple crownBerryessa Road was pleasant, but eventually it turns mean as it starts uphill. But before it got ugly I had a chance to ride along side Chuck Bramwell, the Executive Director of the California Triple Crown. Yep, the guy whose fault all my double riding can be blamed on. If it hadn't been for his neat-o jersey I'd never have been out there doing this ride.

Knoxville Double tunnelBerryessa Road, once it starts uphill, is exposed to the sun, and somewhat relentless. The only relief is the all-to-brief tunnel and then the water stop shortly thereafter. I wanted to camp out in the tunnel, it was so cool, but we didn't. Seeing Princess Zippy and husband Thom at the water stop was encouraging. It's so good to see a friendly face as you are facing heat, hills, and the dreaded Loch Loman climb.Knoxville Double curtis w- princess zippy

After a quick stop at the lunch area we started up toward Loch Loman. I'd been dreading it the whole ride. I'd attempted to save every drop on energy I had, hoping it would be enough. Two weeks earlier I'd had to stop twice while climbing it and lay my head on my bars, drip like an exploded radiator, and pray for my heart rate to drop. This time I just rode it. I even beat my group up to the top, no small feat as they are both stronger riders than I am. At the top I phoned home and while I waited for Dan, I noticed I had a flat. I got it fixed just as Ron rolled in.

Knoxville Double vinesAt this point I'd achieved my major goal and thought the ride might as well be over. My other goal, however, -- finishing -- was still a long way away.

After a shortish climb up Cobb we all enjoyed a long, long, screaming decent at 11% plus into Middletown. What a blast.

Knoxville Double fast danAfter our decent we hit a long, straight flat road where Dan, for inexplicable reasons, decided to crank it up to 19+ and pull a long line of cyclists for miles. I managed to hang onto his wheel because he was careful not to accelerate too quickly, but we eventually rode everyone else off the back. I was relieved when we hit the rest stop and I got to grab a quick fist full of rest and fill up on ice.

Knoxville Double making photoHeading toward Lake Henessey and one of the last rest stops is just a blur to me. I was losing my thinking ability at this point. I remember climbing, and climbing, and I remember a wonderful decent on a smooth road toward the rest stop. The rest stop featured, of all things, hot dogs. That's about the last thing I'd want to see on a ride like this, but for many, including my riding partner Dan, it was just the thing they needed. We were checked for proper lights. I switched out my dark lenses to yellow and we were on our way after being promised it was easy from here back. They lied.

We had several climb and decents. Perhaps they would have been easier if we hadn't already ridden 180 miles, but we had. And it was dark. And getting later.

There's something magical about riding in the middle of nowhere in the dark. With no light other than your LED headlight and the spill of other cyclists lights for miles it's hypnotic. You can't see where you've been, where you're going or off to the sides. Your whole world becomes that 50 feet in front of you. Maybe it'll go up, maybe down. You just pedal. Occasionally there's a road sign. During one climb I was sure that I'd had a major and important life changing epiphany when I realized that the most beautiful sign there could possibly be is "Trucks, use low gears."

At our last rest stop we were promised we had only 13 easy miles to go. I'd been sanity and health checked by several folks and had to convince them all I was good to go. I don't think they really believed me. I was deep inside my own head and just wanted to roll, not rest.

The last 13 was a pain that seemed like it would never end. It was too dark to see my bike computer so I couldn't take refuge in the readout that would confirm I was still moving. I was sure at one point we would never really finish. Eventually we made the last turn and were just a few hundred yards from the end. I felt like a cycling god. An old, tired cycling god, but a god none the less.

Dan, who had been a flawless navigator for 201.9 miles called the last turn wrong and sent me down a driveway costing me at least 20 feet of extra riding, but I got turned around and rolled in with Dan and Ron, exactly together as we had started.

Knoxville Double endTricia greeted me as I just stood over my bike, unsure about what to do, or how to get off. Eventually I managed to dismount and Tricia hugged me and gave me the best beer I've ever tasted.

That night I was without a clue. The next morning I was still clueless, but added hungry beyond description. IIHOP was, at that point, an amazing culinary experience. Bacon, eggs and pancakes never tasted so good.

Monday I'm still a little loopy, but feeling better and able to speak in complete sentences most of the time.

Let me add this note: Quack Cyclists rock! They had the best support I've ever seen. Great stuff at rest stops, massive amounts of Hammer products, smiling volunteers that know what you're going through and SAG cars everywhere. At one point a guy ran from his car and tossed an ice sock on Dan's shoulders without Dan didn't even slowing down. They were great!

Now I just have to recover enough for the Bass lake double in two weeks….

Injuries: Not too bad. Slightly tired neck, tight Achilles tendons and a weird skin pull from the gripper elastic where my bibs meet my legs. Must have been from all the heat. Oh, and really bad helmet hair.

Knoxville Double helmet hair


  1. Curtis, great report and well done! Do you bring along a voice recorder to keep track of stuff? I'd never remember all that, especially after all that saddle time!

  2. Joel, no recorder. I did that with Davis a few years back and edited into a feature. It's on this blog somewhere. I think I forgot lots. And who knows how much of this is wrong....

  3. A very find piece of writing. Very fine indeed.
    You managed to capture the essence of the mental, emotional and physical challenges that a doubles rider must endure.

    Well done. That took a lot of work to write this so well. Thank you.

  4. gpelpel9:29 PM

    Great read. The photos are fantastic too. Now I know why you chose red for the jersey.

    The tunnel image should be titled: "Heat at the end of the tunnel"

  5. Anonymous6:36 AM

    Thanks for a great write up and photos! You certainly took the right approach to this ride under such heat. Congratulations on finishing under such brutal conditions! The Quackcyclists do rock. I rode the Devil Mountain this year, and but for the enthusiastic and thoughtful support, could have easily DNFd.

  6. Great report and wonderful photos. I am amazed that you can pause long enough to take them in the midst of that effort. I especially like the moire pattern in the tunnel. Congrats!

  7. Great job Curtis! I really enjoyed reading your ride report.

  8. Anonymous5:45 PM

    That was a great description, Curtis. I never realized what a talent you have a talent for writing. Congratulations for finishing!

    from Adrienne

  9. Beaker9:46 PM

    Great write up, Curtis. Your thoughtful commentary never disappoints. And, lest I forget, kudos to you, Dan and Ron for completing a tough ride under gruelling conditions..



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