Sunday, April 27, 2014

Devil Mountain Double 2014 FAIL

DMD 2014 fail dark morning
Rick@OCRR climbs Diablo as the moon watches
The bottom line is that I failed to finish the 2014 edition of the Devil Mountain Double Century. The rest is details, stories and analysis. Read no further if you are hoping for an uplifting tale of triumph over pain and despair.

I was so very ready for this. I'd trained, I'd done intervals, I'd had a fine Solvang Double just a few weeks before. Just two weeks prior I'd hit personal bests on several local climbs. I had my lights set up, my bike in good shape. I had a plan. I'd finished this ride in 2012, and I knew it was hard, but the weather promised to not be hot and I was sure I was good to go.

The day started well. I left with Rick@OCRR and Ron (Spingineer) and sort of rode near them. Despite temperature readings in the low 40s on, the day didn't feel bad. I warmed right up on the first short hill. Though it was only 37 at the top of Mt. Diablo, climbing actually felt pretty good and the cool air didn't feel uncomfortable at all.  In the morning darkness we heard the wild turkeys calling from the valley below and watched the sunrise as the sky gained color and eventually washed out the beautiful crescent moon. The low lands below us were filled with white fog that glowed and burned away in dawn's light.

DMD 2014 fail_fog
Sunrise on the mountain almost made it all worthwhile.

We regrouped at the summit to head down, Rick and I ahead of Ron who I knew would catch us. The painful cold and my stiff descending was a taste of what would become my theme for the day. Tricia had purchased a set of thin waterproof, windproof painters glove for me to put on over my glove liners to keep the wind off my hands. I'm sure they helped, but my hands were still very cold. But what was worse, and what ultimately did me in, is what appears to be a compressed nerve in my back. Though it sometimes bothers me just living life, it hasn't been awful. When I'm riding on the brake hoods I'm fine. But for some annoying reason, when I go to the drops the pain in my left arm, back and neck becomes intense. I've been able to tough it out, but on the long cold ride from the summit to the North Gate it was so painful that, combined with the cold, it made my descending slower and less smooth than the situation required.

DMD 2014 fail Ron on Diablo
Ron nearing the Diablo Summit

It took me to Clayton for my hands and fingers to regain feeling. But the ten-mile climb up Morgan Territory Road felt pretty good. I was being careful not to burn any matches but I still felt like I was moving well.

There is one corner I think of as the "Just &^% me" corner. It's very steep, and in the past just not falling over on it has been a challenge. This time I just rolled through it, no big deal. All that training had paid off. I was feeling pretty swell about myself until I actually got to the "Just &^% me" corner and realized I'd only thought a previous turn was that special turn. Yep, it's still steep.

Again we managed to regroup at the rest stop just after the Morgan Territory summit. We hit "The Plunge" carefully and it was still fast. I've never come down that and not thought I was going to get hurt at some point. From there we headed toward Altamont Pass, home of a famous concert, at warp speed. I'd forgotten this slightly downhill section, and with the kick-ass tail wind it was a delight. The last delight of the day.

Patterson Pass is often windy. That may well be the reason it's covered with windmill farms. Today it was beyond windy. It's a grunt anyway, and with the head wind I averaged about 5 mph to the top, where my only goal in the last 100 yards was to maintain forward motion and not let the wind knock me over. Apparently this wind was impressive even for this often windy area.

DMD 2014 fail sun
This is the sun. I saw so little of it I had to photograph it.

There is a critical cutoff at the Mines Road rest stop. If you don't leave there by 1:30 you are done, off the course, finished. Even with the wind, I made the cutoff and headed up Mines Road. It's not all that steep, but it's a long uphill ride. I stopped to adjust my clothing — I still had on tons, and all I took off was my headgear — and carried on solo. Rick was up the road, and Ron far behind. I stuck my one-ear earbud in, set my phone on airplane mode so it wouldn't use much juice, and listened to an audiobook of my guilty pleasure: Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold. (Think Game of Thrones, but bloodier and less upbeat.)

DMD 2014 fail- tandem
I've been seeing this father daughter tandem team on rides since she was just a little kid.

I made lunch, and the second time cut off, very much on schedule and feeling OK. I  saw Rick briefly , who left just before me. After the Mines Road Junction rest stop/lunch is the prettiest section of the ride, San Antonio Valley Road. It's perfect California, at least until the climbs start. These climbs are rarely mentioned in stories of the DMD, but they are real, sneaky and a pain. Eventually they drop down to a rest stop staffed by my ever-so-cool and wonderful neighbors Thom and Veronica.

 I had a quick bite then started the long, long, long five miles to the top of Hamilton. Though I was climbing and wearing a good amount of clothes, I was often slightly cold. Those five miles take forever, but I eventually arrived at the summit, cold and in the wind. I put on another jacket and made a few adjustments. It's amazing how long it takes to do anything when you are cold, tired, and your pockets are hiding on your back under two jackets and a vest. But, at last I thought, a bit of a break on the upcoming downhill.

DMD 2014 fail last happy moment
San Antonio Valley Road, my last happy moment. 

This is where it all went sideways for me. Coming down wasn't fun. I shivered, and that darn nerve made it impossible to get into the drops. I had to ride the top bar, and even that hurt. Any time I started to get any speed I'd get so cold I'd start to get some oscillation on the bike due to shivering and having my arm and neck hurt. It was a long, slow, painful descent.

There are two annoying uphill sections on the Hamilton decent everyone hates. I loved them. I could get warm, and my arm wouldn't hurt. My power meter said I was still putting out the wattage I needed, and I felt pretty good. Then I'd get the hellish downhills again.

I arrived at the next rest stop very, very cold.  The wonderful volunteers brought me a bowl of hot soup that went down well and made me feel just a bit less cold. It was dark now, and I was behind where I expected to be by quite a bit. I had the ├╝ber-Sierra Road coming up, but what worried me was the long downhill to Calaveras Road afterwards.  Between feeling wobbly, having that darn nerve thing happening, and being frozen I called it a day, and reported that rider #35 would take a DNF and was looking for a ride back.

Ron rolled in while I was deciding my fate. As I sat in the SAG van with the heater on trying to get warm, I saw him roll out. Ron made it 9 miles farther, and sagged in from Sierra Road. I don't know how Rick@OCRR made out (*see end note), but will append this report when I hear. As always, the Quack cyclists support was top notch. They took good care of me and drove me back. When I joked that I thought I should skip the dinner and slink off to my room in embarrassment, they insisted that not only should I have some lasagna, but that my sweet bride was invited to join in as well.

I know bailing out was the smart thing to do. I keep telling myself that as embarrassing as this is, riding off the road or getting injured would be more so. I know that 150 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing isn't bad, but it still looks and tastes like fail when I'd started out to do 200 and finish. This is my first DNF. I've done DMD before, as well as Davis, Knoxville, Hemet and Solvang. This hurts.

This also puts an end to my attempt to get a third Triple Crown this year.

My new goal, significantly more modest, is to make a doctor's appointment and see if anything can be done with this nerve thing.

If there is any positive news in all this, it's that sweet Tricia met me at the end with a hug and still let me drink that beer she's bought to celebrate my return. I guess I did return, just in a van and not by bike.

Curtis and Ron crop
Curtis offers the international "Loser" sign. Ron wishes that you live long and prosper

Damage report:
Arms and neck pretty worn and sore, Legs OK, about what'd I'd expect. Buns and feet, just fine. The bike is perfect.
Lost items: One headwarmer/Buff, along with all personal pride.

Rick@OCRR (aka Rick Burneson) managed to finish! He took 22 hours, finishing at 3am. A huge tip of the cap to him.

JUST IN: I finished this ride, but two weeks late, read my followup here


  1. Anonymous4:10 PM

    It does really suck to not do as well as you wanted to, and as you worked so hard to do. (I know the feeling well from all my competitive bowling.) But as I recall, you were wondering whether you should even go on this ride at all. So you faced the challenge and went. That took a lot of guts. I believe you would have made it the whole way had it not been for the wind and the cold. Although the experience may be a big black cloud of doom, there is plenty of silver lining. The trail doesn't have to win if you don't let it. It is something to be proud of, what you did accomplish. :)

  2. I do not consider this as fail, rather you simply "did not finish". This is what DNF stands for, after all. Like my friend Lynn says, think of DNF on a double as a training ride for your next double.

  3. DNF >>>>>>>>> DNS

  4. Midland7:54 PM

    Please don't be too hard on yourself Curtis. 150 & 15,000 ft. In those conditions is a pretty Herculean effort.

  5. Great job Curtis. Brings to mind the last Davis I did when I failed mentally and just couldn't get through it until sitting in that Sag van ready to go at Resurrection I saw you pull up to the water stop fresh as a daisy! I just told myself "Just follow Curtis". That I did and ended up completing that Double. Anyway, I think you made the right decision and would have been wrong to push yourself into a dangerous situation.

  6. Midland5:25 PM

    Curtis I am congratulating you again! Even attempting the DMD is beyond noteworthy. In my mind you didn't "fail", you went as far as is safe, and being smart and safe is a "win". Remember the DMD is one of the toughest DC's that exist. Look forward to riding with you soon.

  7. Disappointing, but so NOT "loser"

  8. Anonymous2:18 AM

    Enjoyed reading your post! - in case you haven't already tried a bike fitting I recommend it.

  9. I did the DMD this last Saturday as well. My first time, and it was most definitely the most difficult double I have ever done. ~19 hours. The cold really got to me as well, with cramping in the left leg from Morgan Territory Road all the way to the finish. I am with everyone else, you did the safe and right thing not pushing - those down hill portions really sucked... I too looked forward to the climbing to just warm up. I'm signed up for the Davis Double as well, I hope you feel up to making it.

    BTW, anyone else notice the ice on the way down Diablo out the south gate? At first I thought I was just out of it from the cold, but there was definitely ice on the road.

  10. Anonymous11:58 AM

    Curtis, It's a win just getting to the start of a Double when the temps are so brutal. I don't ever remember anyone doing a double as tough as DMD and stopping to take photos. That you did that for your blog is legend.
    Thanks for sharing the pain with us on Bikeforums and your blog entries. They are inspiring to say the least.
    Remember you did ride 150 miles and who knows how many K's of climbing that day. I tip my cap!

  11. Great effort curtis. Very sorry your body wasn't cooperating. I can't imagine how much the cold contributed to worsening the effects. Prayers you'll resolve the nerve thing in your back. Stay safe and keep your head up.


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