I started out my morning by getting up at 4:45am, gobbling a waffle, putting on my kit, loading my backpack, and rolling out to the 24th and Mission BART station to catch the 5:45 Dublin/Pleasanton train. Beckett joined me at 16th sporting a rather interesting coffee container.
...and check that classy Two Buck Chuck cork to contain spillage!
We discussed how awful it is to be up this early in the morning until Brooks joined us at the Embarcadero station, at which time the conversation turned to Brooks' weekend adventure riding in the Sierras. Well, as much conversation as one can have on BART, anyway... damn, those trains are loud.
After disembarking at Castro Valley, we popped into the Peet's on Redwood Rd. to throw back some espresso and then hit the road. The short climb out of Castro Valley is pleasant and a nice warm-up. Not too much traffic at the time we were there, and we made our way to Dublin Canyon. If you've ever driven on I-580 between Castro Valley and Livermore, you've gone through Dublin Canyon. This time of year it's really pretty -- lush green hills on either side. Dublin Canyon Rd. runs parallel to I-580, but you don't really notice the freeway because the scenery is so nice. The road itself is about 5 miles, the first half being a gentle climb (2.7% average grade), the second half being a gentle, but deceptively fast, descent down to Pleasanton.
Once reaching Pleasanton, we turned south onto Foothill Rd. This is a fun stretch of road that takes you past a high school, some swanky suburban housing developments, vineyards, horse ranches, and small farms. It ends at Sunol, not far from the Sunol Water Temple. From here, there is an annoying wiggle amongst CA-84 traffic, but eventually we make our way to Calaveras Rd. and head for the first real climb of the day.
I really like the main Calaveras climb. It's 2.6 miles long with an average grade of just 4%, so it's not terribly difficult, and you feel like you can go pretty fast. At the end of the main climb, there is a flat spot surrounded by cattle pasture (the cows love cyclists), followed by a series of rollers over another 6 miles that result in another 320 feet of net elevation gain before the descent. The scenery here is great; you're riding above the Calaveras Reservoir, beyond which are green (this time of year, anyway) grassy hills.
After riding the rollers is a descent down the west side. Normally, this is wicked fast all the way down to Milpitas. But today we only descended about half way before turning our sights on the second climb of the day and the main attraction: Felter Rd.
If you watched the Amgen Tour of California this year, you're probably aware that stage 4 ended with a hilltop finish at the top of Sierra Rd. in San Jose. Well, Felter Rd. is basically the back-side of Sierra Rd. It starts at Calaveras Rd. and winds its way south-east up the hills until it intersects with Sierra Rd. near the summit.
Not done climbing yet!
Let me just state for the record right now that Felter Rd. was hard. Much harder than I expected. From the beginning of Felter to the summit of Sierra is 6.2 miles, gaining 1,162 ft of elevation, average grade 3.6%. But that doesn't tell the whole story, not by a long shot. There is plenty of that road that sits around 7-8%, and pitches up as high as 13% or more. Right before the junction, there is some stair-step road, and as I got out of the saddle to attack it, my legs decided they'd had enough: cramps in both quadriceps. I tried my best to pedal through it, but I was forced to stop, unclip, and massage out the cramps for about a minute or so, before finishing the last half mile to the junction.
Once you reach the junction, you're not finished climbing yet; You still have 2 miles until the summit, and there are some rollers, though thankfully nothing too difficult.
What makes all of this suffering worth it, of course, is the epic view. We stopped for photos about half a mile from the summit. Seriously, the photos don't do it justice; you really just need to get your ass up there and see for yourself.
San Jose off in the distance...
The descent of Sierra Rd. is entertaining. It's not terribly technical, and the pavement is pretty good, but it is steep, especially so in a few select places. Having never descended it before, I decided to take it easy and still averaged 29.0 mph, despite being on the brakes most of the way. A few times I glanced down at the Garmin while braking pretty hard only to see that I was still exceeding 34 mph. Definitely put some noticeable wear on my fairly new Dura Ace brake pads (enough to warrant backing out the barrel adjuster a fair bit before the next ride).
Rain was in the forecast, and we got some (though thankfully after descending Sierra). From Milpitas through Cisco-land, we pretty much got soaked, and as I turned onto the San Thomas Aquino Creek trail after bidding farewell to Brooks and Beckett, I had to ride into a nasty headwind.
Got to work, legs completely trashed, wanting to eat a horse (a scone had to suffice until lunch), excited to do it again. But next time, with a 12-27 cassette!