I think it was about when we passed the Pink Lady that I realized I was less than two miles into a 40-mile ride, and already redlined and ready to puke.
The East Bay Alleycross started with a climb straight up Tunnel Road, one of the tougher climbs in the Bay Area. Evan started the 70ish riders out with a few words about hitting the checkpoints in order, and a warning about the slipperiness of Pinehurst Road, and then sent us off.
Davin and I, not being familiar with the East Bay roads, were looking for someone to tag along with. Morgan Fletcher graciously offered to lead us around, and we jumped on the chance. Which, unfortunately, led straight uphill.
Tunnel Road is, I understand, pretty tough in the best of circumstances. Following fast riders, at the start of a race, without a warmup, was not the easiest way to learn a new climb. There was a huge scramble at the beginning, and it shook out with Davin, Murphy and me all slotted in with Morgan and a few other folks, with about a half-dozen people ahead.
The pace was high. My legs were cold. It was not the way I planned to start the day.I hung on as long as I could, but eventually I cracked, and let the rest of them get away. Fortunately, it turned out to be about 100 meters from the top, so I caught back up pretty much immediately at the first checkpoint. I was the 14th, I think, person to hit this checkpoint, which would likely be my high position for the day.
The course then took a loop through the Sibley Volcanic Preserve. The opening section was fast, muddy, and slick. Davin ended up going off the trail into a thorn bush. It was at this point that we lost Murphy, Morgan and crew for good. Once Davin got it back together, we rolled onward, joined by (among others) eventual winner Blake VK, one of my nemeses from cross season, and at the first Stamp Point (an unmanned checkpoint, basically), Alex Mouton, another cross compatriot, and apparently SFFixed den mother Adam.
Sibley was pretty rocky, but otherwise really fun, and we hit the Water Tower checkpoint in good order.
We then hit the longest road stretch of the day. Pinehurst Road rolls along the East side of the East Bay Hills, and starts out steep, sharp, and twisty, and then mellows out a little to become a nicely graded, rolling piece. We headed out around a half-dozen strong from the water tower, and picked up a couple more folks on our way. At one point, I went to the front with a guy named Ricardo (who was riding a single speed!). When I looked back, only Davin was behind us. Everybody else had dropped off the back. When we hit Pinehurst gate, though, and took the opportunity to pee and grab a quick bite, most of the rest of them caught up. We headed up the trail for a couple minutes before we realized that we had missed a stamp point. Davin and I doubled back to get our stamp, and ran into Isaias Job, who had just finished struggling up with a broken rear derailleur. He needed a multitool, so I lent him mine, while Davin went ahead. I helped Isaias switch the gear his bike was stuck in, and then he just took off as I was repacking the tool. I headed along the trail, slowly passing a few people. I eventually ran into Matthias from Sycip, who was lollygagging along with a friend, telling some incomprehensible-without-context story about some pro racers.
I saw Isaias a few hundred feet up ahead, and left Matthias and crew to try to catch him. It took me probably a mile to catch up the 250 feet. Finally, I caught him, and we rode the rest of the East Ridge Fire road together.
Davin and Alex were waiting at the end of East Ridge. As was our team mate Sam, who was manning the checkpoint, armed with a pen she was using to write two four-letter words on our knuckles.
I wanted to get "bite me", but realized, even in my haze that that wouldn't work. I settled for "pain bite", which, while not particularly coherent, was at least within the rules.
Alex needed to catch his breath some more, so Davin, Isaias and I left him there,; and headed out West Ridge toward Joaquin Miller Park. shortly after that, we ran across another racer having trouble pumping up his tire. We stopped to let him use Davin's good pump, and Isaias headed on.
This is the point at which things started to go a little pear-shaped. We made the next two turns correctly, but then started to question where we were, and whether we were going the right way. It turned out we were, but we spent almost 5 minutes trying to make sure--Davin even went back to the previous intersection to confirm. Eventually, we figured out we were going the right way, but we'd been passed by quite a few people during that time.
We pushed on, and then made what wasn't actually a mistake, but still would cost us. We dropped down Cinderella trail, a steep, stepped, muddy mess. It got us where we needed to go, but not where the map seemed to say we were going. We ended up riding around for 10 or more minutes until we ran into someone going the other way, who pointed us in the right direction. We eventually found the checkpoint, but had lost significant time doing so. Still, that time was spent riding around on some pretty cool trails, so it was pretty well spent.
The stretch after this checkpoint was the last bit of trail, but had the best views of the race.
We then dropped down through Montclair to the old fire station, which had the last stamp point of the race. Here, we ran into Ricardo again, along with his room mate Jeff, and one other guy.
We milled around in back of the building trying to find the stamp pad, and found it only after several false starts. Davin and I took the chance to pee for one last time while Jeff, Ricardo and friend took off.
As we were leaving, we ran into another racer we knew, Brooks, who'd already missed a few points, and was happy to roll back down to the finish line with us. We dropped back down to Lake Temescal, to find the party already in progress.
Arena was the second woman, and May rolled across the line in third, just as people were starting to wonder where she was.
Murphy was fourth-fastest overall, but by following Morgan the entire way (our original plan!) had missed a couple stamp points. Still, he ended up with a pound of coffee, and like all of us, had a really great time.
This was a great race. It was manageable by mortals, the directions were really good, the riding was pretty spectacular, and there was a great party at the end. Although it was hard, it never became a death march, and every dull uphill stretch was rewarded with some exciting trails, great views, or a combination.
Evan deserves major props for putting this thing on.
(All pictures by Davin, except for the one I took of him).
2 weeks ago