During certain parts of last year's ETBT (notably the end of day 1 and the beginning of day 2), I distinctly remember saying something along the lines of "..If I make it through this, I'll never do something this crazy again...". Well...promises often get broken somewhere along the way. My promise started to fracture on the last day of last year's trek. The euphoria had set in...we had actually done it...it was fun...we had a good time...tonight I would sleep in a real bed, etc. Of course, the aforementioned euphoria was also shattered on the last day when it was announced that the 2005 Trek would be moving from the foothills to the Sierras. Things were tough enough in the foothills with elevations ranging from 800 feet to 2,600 feet. What? Cycling at 7,800 feet? I mean really: Neither Sandy or I are Lance Armstrong! Well, there must have been a few lingering endorphins left over from the slog from Coloma up to Apple Hill because, we suddenly started rationalizing: We could train seriously this time. We could start training earlier. Harder. More frequently. Yeah...not only would we conquer the elevation, but we'd do it even faster and stronger than in 2004. And the scary part is...we did.
Despite the rather lengthy ski season this year, we actually managed to start training in late April/early May. We started out on the American River Bike Trail and were struggling to make it around Lake Natoma (12 - 13 miles) in 1 hour and 15 minutes (a time we had cut down to less than an hour by the end of the summer). Then we started adding the loop to Folsom Lake to our evening "hill practice" rides (if you can call them that). Nature was our friend during these early months: The weather was cool and pleasant. Of course, this was to change by July when it seemed like we didn't have a single day under 100 degrees.
Sandy had convinced a friend to ride with us, so we had plenty of company on our training rides. I was almost able to convince a friend at work to join us too. He declined, but came up with a bright idea: Why not try riding to and from work? Sandy and I had accomplished most of the miles under our belt on the Bike Trail. Riding to work would be virgin territory for me. It didn't look too bad on paper: Only 22 miles each way (it is way shorter to drive - only 17 miles, but there was No way I was going to ride my bike on White Rock Road. Nope. No way.) from my house in Orangevale to El Dorado Hills. Of course, there was quite a bit of uphill to do. We decided to go for it. We managed the first trip in 2 hours and 10 minutes (my best time would end up being 1 hour and 30 minutes - the day I started writing this story, in fact). We were tired when we got to work, and even more tired when we realized that we had to ride back home too! That first time almost put me off on the whole thing, but we actually managed several of these rides during the summer.
We also made several trips to Tahoe to practice riding "at elevation". We found some really fun routes up there, including a loop from Truckee to Tahoe City to Kings Beach and back to Truckee over Brockway Summit (which was actually the route of the ETBT). Also fun was climbing the access road from Hwy 89 to Alpine Meadows. The "back" entrance to Alpine Meadows (Ward Valley Road) was also a fun challenge.
The culmination of my personal training came when my buddy from work convinced me to do the Fair Oaks Metric Century . This route essentially was the entire Bike Trail: From Fair Oaks Park to Discovery Park to Folsom Lake and back to the Fair Oaks Park. I hate to tell them this, but it was actually MORE than a metric century (67 miles vs. 62.3). Oh well. We managed to finish after about 4 hours and 45 minutes on the bike, an experience marred only by a flat on my friend's bike about 1/4 of a mile from the finish. At this point, I was ready.
Sandy got a lot more training in the Sierras than I did. I was stuck working out on Long Island in New York for almost a week and a half. Sandy used these weekends to train and camp with her friend.
ETBT Day 1: Cisco Grove to Donner Memorial SP (25 miles)
Just like last year, the weather was the deciding "comfort" factor of the trek. Last year's event in the foothills started with a 105 degree day, which made the 35 mile downhill leg a real challenge. This year, though it was the opposite. Day 1 began at the Cisco Grove Campground just off Interstate 80. We figured it would be pretty good weather for biking. It started out that way, at least. We set off around 11am on our way to the lunch stop at Soda Springs Ski resort. We had planned that Sandy would ride with her friend, and I would forge on ahead and meet them at lunch. The first couple of miles were fairly flat, and a good warm-up. We cycled past Rainbow Lodge on Donner Pass Road and started a gentle, long, slow uphill to the Soda Springs exit. This was actually a very nice section with little traffic. I was able to spin at between 9 and 12 miles per hour. This was followed by a rolling few miles to Soda Springs and the first Rest Stop/Lunch Stop. We had lunch on the deck of the ski resort which seemed to look pretty depressing. It's probably the lack of snow. It's like seeing a boat in the middle of the desert: It just looks so lonely sitting there unable to fulfill its purpose in life. About 45 minutes later, Sandy and her friend arrived. They had their lunch while I set off on the 5 mile loop around Soda Springs. This was merely a way to add a few miles to the first day, but provided some not-often seen views of some nice houses in the area.
I actually met Sandy on the way back from the loop...she was just starting and I was just finishing. Next up was a surprisingly up and down route over towards Sugar Bowl. The wind had started to pick up at this point...no surprise, since we were approaching Donner Summit. I breezed (no pun intended) past the last entrance to Sugar Bowl to the top of Donner Summit to begin the long, curvy descent along old Hwy 40 down to Donner Lake. What a view. Words fail to describe the scene. After about a 10 minute (with stops for photos along the way) descent during which time I could swear I had seen smoke coming from my brake pads, I found myself at the bottom of the hill with a nice flat 5 mile cruise along Donner Lake ahead of me. I did my best to carry some of the speed from the descent into the flats. This worked well until a pickup truck pulled out in front of me. After a couple of frantic hand signals (something along the lines of, "Go faster you idiot....don't you realize that I am actually going faster than you are?"), he sped up just in time to avoid me becoming a permanent addition to his rear bumper.
The cruise along Donner Lake was fast, but scenic. I arrived at the Donner Memorial State Park campground in relatively good time. I'd estimate that only 30% of the peloton...er...pack of riders had made it at that point. Being the excellent husband that I am, I proceeded to pickup our luggage (tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 mattress pads, and 2 duffel bags) and pick out a suitable spot for our temporary home in the space reserved for our team. I grabbed Sandy's friend's stuff too (ironically, a lot more than the both of us had together). By the time Sandy and her friend arrived, I had our tent completely erected and our stuff stashed safely inside. We then immediately headed off to schedule a massage. Sandy scheduled one for Day 1 and Day 2. I decided to let Day 1 go without a back kneading (I mean, geez....it was only 25 miles), instead opting for an appointment at 5:30pm on Day 2. This necessary business out of the way, we proceeded to the bar! The Lung folks do a really great job of making sure that the necessary conveniences are available for the riders. This included a snack bar complete with Nachos, various trail mixes, and a no-host bar, of which Sandy and I availed ourselves; for her, a margarita, and for me a Steelhead beer.
Donner Lake SP was a great location for a base camp, but a logistical nightmare for the caterers: They set up shop up at Boreal (no facilities at Donner Memorial) and trucked the cooked food into camp. The sun had started to go down and the wind had picked up, leading to what could best be described as "brisk" conditions (I won't even begin to describe what the cold, windy weather did to the cheese on the aforementioned nachos). Folks who had been wearing bike shorts and jerseys earlier in the day now were appearing at dinner in jeans, sweatshirts and even wool hats. After dinner at the "campfire center" there was a slideshow presentation of photos that had been taken during the day. They had managed to take about 4 shots of me! At this point we were ready for bed and the challenge of Day 2.
ETBT Day 2: Donner Lake - Tahoe City - Kings Beach - Truckee (44 miles)
We woke on Saturday morning first to the sound of rain on the tent which was quickly followed by hail. The day had dawned cloudy and windy with an expected high temperature of about 55 degrees. We made a quick check of the calendar: This was September, wasn't it? This seemed to be at odds with the thermometer keychain that I kept attached to my Camelback which registered a chilly 36 degrees. After scrambling out of the tent, lots of coffee, hot chocolate and breakfast quickly followed. Then it was back over to the campfire center for our team photo. We had piled on just about every piece of clothing we had brought: Thermal shirt, jersey, vest, bike shorts, long thermal tights, etc. Well...we figured we'd warm up a bit once we got out on the road.
Again, I set out ahead of Sandy and her friend, having first made arrangements to give her a call on the cell phone once I reached the first rest stop in Tahoe City (about 15 miles into the day). With this plan established, I really dug deep for the slightly up hill (and against the wind, to boot) run from Truckee to Tahoe City along Hwy 89. I was intimately familiar with this stretch, having trained on it several times during the summer. A little less than an hour later when I arrived a the rest stop on Common's Beach in Tahoe City, I realized the flaw in our plan: I had forgotten my cell phone. I was keen to be off after enjoying the "Survivor" theme of the rest stop (complete with a Rupert look alike), but worried about my wife. Necessity being the mother of ingenuity, I managed to find a payphone at the local Albertsons and used my calling card to let her know that I was continuing on. I arranged to meet them at the lunch stop in Truckee later that afternoon.
With the phone call out of the way, it was time to head up Hwy 28 to Kings Beach. This is a fairly flat section of road that runs along the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe. I made good time into Kings beach, at which point I turned left on Hwy 267 and began the near 1,000 foot climb over about 3 miles to Brockway Summit. My philosophy on climbing hills (albeit not as fast as some) is to just set a steady slow pace. The legs just simply do their thing with little direction, while I concentrate on keeping my breathing even. There was very little wind to slow me down (or cool me down, since at that point, I had begun to get a little warm). About 40 minutes later, I was at the top. Talk about your big payoffs: I was able to coast nearly 5 miles down the road past Northstar and into the Martis Valley. I would have probably been able to go further, but the winds had shifted since earlier that morning and they were now headwinds. A short flat ride later brought me to the Truckee Regional Park.
After a blustery day of riding (the downhill from Brockway Summit was exhilarating but chilly), I was more than happy to wait for Sandy and her friend. I got a little worried, though, when two hours later they still hadn't arrived. I spoke to the excellent SAG folks and asked if there were more folks coming. They went up the pass for a look and arrived back about 10 minutes later. No sign of them (I had given them Sandy's bike number). About 10 minutes later they finally arrived. I decided to wait for them to finish lunch and then we all headed out for the remaining 5 miles through Truckee back to camp.
Day 2 was a nice little workout, and I thoroughly enjoyed my post-shower massage. Saturday night was also proving to be much colder than the previous night. I was shivering half way through my massage. After our mandatory beer and snacks, we bundled up appropriately for dinner. After dinner, we hung around to hear the results of the poker run that we'd participated in during the day. Everyone was given a playing card at the start, at each of the rest stops and at the end of the day. I wound up with four 5's. This was good enough for me to win a prize, which turned out to be a nice leather-bound thermos. Despite having expended more energy on Day 2 than on Day 1, we found that we just weren't all that tired, so we hung with fellow members of the Coast Riders (our team, which was composed mainly of folks from Sandy's office) around a roaring fire at the campsite for a while before turning in.
ETBT Day 3: Donner Memorial Park to Cisco Grove Campground (20 miles)
This was the day a lot of folks had been dreading: The 3 and 1/2 mile slog over Donner Pass on Hwy 40. But we had some other issues to deal with before that. We woke up freezing. Literally. When we looked above our heads at the top of the tent, we saw that the heat from our bodies had generated condensation which had subsequently frozen to the ceiling of our tent. Stepping outside (after first piling on LOTS of clothes), I noticed that my helmet had not been spared the freezing effects of the night either (see picture). Luckily, though, the cold was short-lived. The sun was out, and there was no wind so the day began to warm very nicely. After breakfast and tear-down we headed out. The 5 miles along Donner Lake proved to be a nice warm-up for the big climb of the day. Sandy had decided to ride with me today, and we tackled Donner Summit exactly the same way as I had climbed Brockway Summit the day before: Slow and steady. Almost near the top was a rest stop where we endured a few team photos and the mandatory replenishing of sports drinks and energy bars. About 1/4 a mile later we were at the top and able to enjoy the nearly 12 mile downhill stretch.
Reversing the route we had traveled on Friday was pure joy. In retrospect, I don't even remember pedaling after cresting Donner Summit. We arrived back in Cisco Grove before they even had the BBQ laid out. We grabbed our gear from the gear truck and squirreled it away in the back of the car, then joined Sandy's friend to gorge ourselves at the BBQ. Sandy and her friend got a little carried away at the chocolate fountain by coating marshmallows and assorted items in fresh chocolate.