It’s late, and we’re getting up early to fly to New York to visit Kate’s family (and see my brother John). So the telling of this tale might be a little truncated. But:
One of my cycling goals this year was to ride three double centuries — 200 miles in a day — because there’s a sort of prize for that feat called the California Triple Crown. I rode my three doubles in April and May — two very tough rides (the Devil Mountain Double and the Central Coast Double, both featuring lots and lots of steepish uphill riding) and one that the cognoscenti have come to sniff at as "easy" (the Davis Double Century, one of the oldest doubles anywhere). I don’t subscribe to the notion that riding 200 miles in a day, no matter what the course, is easy.
A couple weeks ago, I was kicking around riding plans with a friend, Bruce. He suggested doing a local double called Bay in a Day, first run last year. Its unique feature: It circles the whole of San Francisco Bay, which is a neat idea in itself; though it’s a challenge, too, because to keep the ride close to 200 miles and make it all the way around means spending a lot of time in heavily populated areas on heavily traveled roads. Despite the fact the ride’s not yet recognized for Triple Crown credit, Bruce and I signed up — though it developed after we’d paid our non-refundable fees that Bruce had a social engagement he couldn’t break and could only do half the ride.
Then the heat came. By last Friday, the Bay Area and most of California was in the same red zone as the East and Midwest had been earlier in the week. Friday night, the National Weather Service put out a Heat Advisory warning of triple-digit temperatures on Saturday. Among other things, the weather service and local TV weather forecasters warned against outdoor exercise on Saturday. I heard the warning and thought about calling Bruce and bailing on the ride. Then I thought about The Terrible Two, an epic double that starts up in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, and is famous for two things: the combination of brutal climbs (present every year) and brutal heat (present most years, including this one). I know plenty of people, including Bruce, who rode The Terrible Two a few weeks ago, or tried to, and I told myself if they could do it, I could, too.
Saturday morning: We rolled out of Novato, in Marin County, at 5:35 a.m. It was beautiful, clear, and too warm, even for a midsummer morning. The water in San Pablo Bay — the northeasternmost extension of San Francisco Bay — was glassy in the calm. We sped along for the first couple of hours and covered a lot of ground; it wasn’t until about 10 that it started to feel hot; within another hour, the air felt overheated and oppressive. Bruce left the route about 11:30 to catch BART back to Berkeley, and I and a couple of other riders I know kept on to Palo Alto, the lunch stop, at mile 108. By then, the temperature was close to 100 and the heat on the road was more like 105 to 110.
So far, I wasn’t feeling too taxed. I stopped for about 45 minutes at lunch and drank lots — several V8s and a couple of Cokes and plenty of water. I knew things were going to get worse. They did: Heading back into the hills east of the Stanford campus and away from the Bay was like going into an oven. I was carrying two one-liter water bottles and a Camelbak that carries another two liters; the water in the bottles quickly became hot and unpleasant to drink; the water from the Camelbak was better, though water in the tube coming out of the reservoir was also very warm. On downhill stretches, the wind was just a solid, unrefreshing blast of heat.
It was 25 miles from lunch to the next rest stop. Luckily, it never entered my mind to have a timetable for that stretch. Whenever the heat started to feel overwhelming, I stopped — at a store in Woodside, where it was 105 in the shade, at a parking lot alongside a big reservoir, once more at an impromptu water stop set up by the ride organizers. It probably took me a good two and a half hours to cover the 25 miles, but the heat wasn’t quite over. Riding up the Peninsula toward San Francisco, I started to plot where I’d quit. Finally, though, about 5:30 in the afternoon, I felt the first trace of a breeze off the Pacific. The temperature dropped into the low 90s, the high 80s, the mid 70s. I imagined I’d feel better if I could cool off, but I was surprised at how much better I felt. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, I recorded the low temperature for the day — 63. On the north end of the bridge, the temperature rose 25 degrees, but I was through the worst of it and managed to get back to Novato, the starting point, after 10 o’clock. It was a lot later than I figured on finishing, but I’d made it.
(I wrote a little report for the ride organizers, which I’ll post as a continuation if you’re curious).
Chuck Bramwell from the California Triple Crown sought comments from BIAD riders who have also done the CTC. Here’s what I
submitted (BTW, the course ratings are on a scale of 1-10).
Ratings & comments:
Course Comments: The course, nearly unavoidably,
features The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Bay Area
roads and bike paths. Since the ambition is to circle
the bay in a reasonable day’s ride, some compromises
are inevitable: Highway 37, to start the ride;
high-speed and/or high-traffic areas in Castro Valley,
Hayward, Fremont, the northern San Francisco peninsula
and (briefly) near Tiburon; and some unlovely miles
amid the South Bay landfills. On the other hand, much
of the course featured routes local cyclists know
pretty well, especially in the section from Pinole to
Castro Valley and from Palo Alto to Hillsborough.
Route segments that need special consideration:
–Route marking: Overall, well done. Maybe I missed it
at the start, but it would have been good to see and
example of what we ought to look for at the start.
Also, it would be good for organizers to develop some
sort of standard for how to mark the route — from
what I understand, the local bike club volunteers were
left on their own to decide how far in advance turns
needed to be marked, how often to mark the route on
long, straight segments, etc. All that having been
said, I never got lost.
Route sheet: Felix Wong
has commented at length on the route-sheet format. It
could be improved by a more condensed physical
presentation, though much of the route detail is
helpful and ought to be retained. I liked the idea
they printed it on card stock rather than simple copy
–Highway 37: This section is serviceable, though just
marginally safe even with the low level of traffic one
might expect at dawn or before on a Saturday morning.
The fact is that this is a two-lane, divided freeway
for most of its length. The rumble strip does offer a
bit of added safety for shoulder-riding cyclists, but
it’s also a potential hazard for unwary or unalert
riders. The rumble strip also doesn’t address another
safety and convenience issue for riders: The constant
presence of shattered glass and a variety of wood and
metal debris. In fact, we encountered two riders whose
tires had suffered serious damage along this stretch
and heard of several others who had problems, too.
Most of these riders seem to have started well before
dawn and thus were riding 37 in the dark. It seems to
me that if BIAD wants to continue using this segment
— and there’s really no workable alternative that
also lets you circle the bay — the organizers might
consider an official start window — 5:15 to 5:45, say
— that would guarantee that riders hit 37 when
there’s enough light to see by and also before traffic
volume increases. Just thinking out loud here, but it
would also be worth investigating how much it would
cost to get Caltrans to do a sweep of the shoulder in
the week before the ride.
G Street (Vallejo): Somewhere along the Mare Island
stretch, a railroad track merged onto the road at a
hazardous oblique angle. Rumor has it that several
cyclists fell trying to cross the tracks. The Mare
Island portion of the ride was nice, but the
organizers ought to offer both a written (route sheet)
and oral (pre-race announcement) of the hazard.
Rest Stop #3: Exit is onto a busy thoroughfare (A
Street) with no margin of safety along the curb for
cyclists. It would be good to have one of the stop
volunteers to do some sort of traffic control —
stopping riders from entering the street unless motor
vehicle traffic is clear
Ranch Road: This is a bike path at mile 92.4. Route
sheet notes "POOR SURFACE." Workers at previous rest
stop should be instructed to orally remind riders of
conditions and offer specific information (in this
case, that the path was partially overgrown and
featured much broken asphalt, sand and gravel; it was
acceptably safe, but you needed to stay alert during
Rest Stop #6: I’m sure I wasn’t the only rider
disheartened to find the route off Skyline to the
Cuernavaca Park rest stop featured first a big (but
short) downhill, then a big (but short) climb, then
another short, sharp descent. Maybe it was just the
heat, but you wonder if a better, directly
on-the-route location might be found (on the other
hand, the rest-stop excursion provided an absolutely
awesome view of the Bay and the SFO runways). Last:
I’m pretty sure that the route arrow at the first
corner after leaving the stop (Alcazar and Hunt) was
pointing the wrong way (left instead of right).
Skyline Drive (not Boulevard), Pacifica: A steep
little hill that I was ready to find pointless. But
when I reached the top, I discovered a stunning view
north along the San Francisco beaches to the Marin
Headlands. Nice piece of routing.
Great Highway: Very, very crowded with car traffic and
pedestrians, given the weather. Still an OK ride, but
there needs to be an advisory about how tricky the
curbside riding space is.
2nd Street/3rd Street (San Rafael): Route sheet
incorrectly advises riders that "2nd St. … becomes
Pt. San Pedro Road …." In fact, 2nd merges into 3rd,
which becomes Point San Pedro Road. This is the one
place I had any uncertainty about where I was going on
Food and Water Rating: 6
Food and Water Comments: The food offerings were
mostly fine, and I’d rate them a little higher but for
the lack of variety from place to place. I think the
Warm Springs stop had fresh pineapple, which was
wonderful. Lunch was on the spartan side but
serviceable. Plenty of Clif energy drinks and gels on
hand all day. (And for comparison: On your scale, I’d
rate the Grizzly Peak Century a 10, Devil Mountain an
8.5, Davis an 8, and Central Coast a 4 (except for the
CCD lunch stop, which would get an 8).
I’d say the best-looking, best-stocked and
best-organized stop was the one on A Street in
Hayward, run by the Cherry City Cyclists.
I think the water support on the dangerously hot
section from Warm Springs up to rest stop 6 was just
adequate. When we got to Warm Springs, one of the
volunteers asked whether she should put ice in the
water coolers (Yes! Though on the other hand, there
was a nice spray-mister and garden hose set up at the
lunch stop for quick cool-offs.) The heat from lunch
to rest stop 6 was extreme — from 103 to 105 (highest
I observed) in the very infrequent shade and up to 118
or higher on the road. Given that, the fixed water
stop locations probably should have been supplemented
by a roving patrol just to make sure that no one was
lying in a smoldering heap on the roadside.
Support Comments: Don’t get me wrong — the folks at
the rest stops were uniformly great. But here are the
issues of concern:
–There seemed to be very little communication among
rest stops; for instance, workers had to rely on rider
hearsay about what was happening along the road and
how many riders might still be coming. Also, the final
rest stop closed despite the fact there were still
half a dozen or more riders fairly close by (anywhere
from 10 minutes to an hour out); workers at the
finish, who undoubtedly had been on duty for a long
time, had just about shut their facility down by the
time the last few riders came in (believe me, I’m not
saying anyone should stay open forever, but I do think
the organizers have some sort of duty to actively keep
track of riders and let them know what’s going on as
they get past closing times).
–All day, I recall seeing only one marked SAG
vehicle driving the course. As noted above, I don’t
think that’s adequate, given the conditions.
–The on-the-road support seemed decidedly impromptu;
we saw one cyclist stopped just at the end of the
Highway 37 segment at the beginning of the ride. He
had suffered a blowout and had been able to summon SAG
help by phone, apparently; but when it got there, he
discovered the driver didn’t have any tires.
Restroom comment: Most of the stops were located in
schools and fire stations, so there were facilities of
some sort on site. In some locations, there were
portable toilets nearby (as at the San Francisco
stop). In general, though, the facilities were
adequate only for a modest number of riders).
Overall Rating: 6
Overall Comments: Bay in a Day is a unique opportunity
to circumnavigate one of the world’s most beautiful
and best-known waterscapes (someone should pay me for
this stuff). Naturally, as the region is home to 6
million-plus people, cyclists who take on the
challenge will have to contend with traffic and other
less-than-ideal or -idyllic conditions. Still, I found
it a challenging and worthwhile undertaking, and I
hope it continues.
However, the event needs improved planning and
organization; it could probably benefit from both
studying similar events and tapping clubs in the
region for their expertise in putting on long rides.
At the very least, SAG and communications on the
course must improve.
That’s it — more than you want to know by a long