Monday, November 12, 2018

Golden Hills Metric Century

Last May, I rode the "The Art of Survival" with my Modesto Roadmen buddy, Roger. During that event, Roger shared with me his ambition to ride a metric century (100 kilometers or 62 miles) once a month. It sounded like a great plan to me, within my capabilities while still being a challenge that encouraged me to go for a little excitement in my cycling. The plan was that, since Roger invited me to "The Art of Survival", it was my turn to come up with a ride near where I live, in the San Francisco Bay area. Well, stuff happened (doesn't it always) which kept me busy, so I kept not getting around to a second metric century, but I never gave up. Finally we managed to arrange something in October, a metric century near Modesto, the city where Roger and I met. The Event was the "Golden Hills Century", which in addition to its eponymous century (100 mile) ride, featured additional shorter rides including the metric century that we rode. The ride started and finished in the tiny, unincorporated town of Knight's Ferry. Knight's Ferry is a bit of a tourist destination both for it's recreational rafting as well as for its scenic, historic covered bridge:

...featuring its own historic plaque:

Knight's Ferry is also a popular cycling destination for rides starting in Modesto, and in fact the two rides I did with Paul, another of my Modesto Roadmen buddies, did just that. The nearest incorporated area, the City of Oakdale, also has a charm of its own. It claims to be the "Cowboy Capital of the World" (a claim some of my former neighbors in Texas might dispute) and is also a cycling hub. The ride was sponsored by the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club and benefited the Second Harvest Food Bank of Modesto. (Modesto, Oakdale, and Knight's Ferry are all within Stanislaus County, thus the name of the club.) Roger and I both drove to Oakdale the night before so we had dinner together, and then met again in the parking lot designated for the ride, got signed in, and at 8 am, started the ride. Here is a picture of Roger with some of the other riders just before the start:

The route went through the rich, agricultural landscape of the San Joaquin Valley and featured almond orchards, vineyards, and cattle ranches. But why is it called the Golden Hills century? The ride went along the edge of the San Joaquin Valley which meant it was in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and thus featured rolling Hills; there was about 2,000 feet of climbing in the ride (and my legs felt every foot of that.) The golden part is a bit of a euphemism. California is actually a fairly dry state, and its Central Valley is technically a desert, it's agricultural richness comes entirely from irrigation. Thus, most of the year the hills are covered with dry grass which, if you have the right attitude, are Golden:

One of the best part of the ride for me was the memories it brought back of my high school days cycling with the Modesto Roadmen. A lot has changed in the fifty years since then, traffic has gotten much heavier for one thing, and the land is much more developed for another, but enough stayed the same, like road names, that I was in close to a perpetual state of nostalgia. My family was brought to Modesto by the phone company who moved my dad there in 1961 and we lived there a total of six years before the phone company moved us along. In contrast, Roger has deep family roots in the area - some of his family were among its first settlers. As a result, he lived there much longer than I did and had even more memories.

Roger was a much stronger rider than me last May, and the same was true for this ride. (Given my current understanding of my fitness, that is unlikely to ever change.) Thus, I spent the ride desperately trying to say with him, often glued to his back wheel, or more often, failing to do so and riding off the back. Roger was very kind and always waited for me (though I assured him he didn't need to) but as a result I didn't take as many pictures as I would have liked, as I was too busy chasing. However, towards the beginning of the ride when I wasn't quite so tired, we came across the Robert's Ferry covered Bridge, and I couldn't resist. Unlike the Knight's Ferry bridge, this is not a carefully preserved historic landmark, but a fully functional working bridge that the farmer's in the area drive through every day, and yet it is charming nonetheless:

The ride was well organized. There was snacks available at signup if you hadn't had a chance to grab breakfast, the 65 miles featured four rest stops, three which provided bathrooms, water, and snacks, and the fourth which provided all that plus "lunch." The lunch was plentiful and excellent (I pigged out on the wonderful seasonal strawberries) and is in quotes only because a second, hot lunch was provided at the end; one ride, two lunches! The map was good, there were arrows on the road throughout the route, flagmen were present at all busy intersections, both the volunteers and riders were friendly, and the whole thing had a wonderfully comfortable vibe. I would most definitely participate in this ride this again despite the horrific traffic I had to drive through to get there, and would recommend it without reservation. Here is a map of the ride:

How about my preparation and fitness? Something I have talked about a little bit on this blog, that I hope to cover in more detail in the future, is that I feel like my body can tolerate very little training these days. Even just the 300 minutes of riding my doctor insists I do for my health leaves me pretty tired, so I felt that resting for this ride was as important as preparing for it. I made two change to my schedule to get ready. Two weeks before this ride, I replaced one of my 23 mile rides with a 39 mile ride. The week after, I reduced both the intensity and the volume of my riding to allow for recovery. My thought was that I was trading off between fitness and exhaustion, and that given that, this schedule was probably the best I could do. There is no way to be sure if my thinking was correct, but given the totality of my experiences over the last year and then over the last ten years, my best guess is that it would have been hard for me to do much better. At the start of the ride, I felt as good as I have for a long time. At about the 40 mile point, my legs got quite sore and I had a lot less "push"; if Roger pulled ahead of me on a hill, there is nothing I could do about it, no matter how hard I tried. By the end of the ride, my legs were completely exhausted. After a two hour drive home, I fell into bed almost immediately for a long, deep sleep. That said, there was never any doubt I would finish, and I enjoyed the ride immensely, even at the end. How best to prepare for challenging, fun rides, and what my limits are in that regard is something I think about constantly. Preparation for this ride represents my best guess for how to do so at present, stay tuned to see how my thinking evolves.