7 Hells … I survived it … sort of

SF Bike Coalition has this traditional ride, aptly named 7 Hells, where they climb 7 of the most notorious hills of San Francisco.  I didn’t realize this till I started doing a google search (http://www.sfbike.org/main/seven-hells-of-san-francisco-ride/).

I met Ramon at Sports Basement at Crissy Fields.  I mis-read his posting, as the plan was to meet at 9:40, then ride over to the start at the panhandle.  We were both running late, so we kind of had a pre-hill warmup, sprinting to get to Golden Gate Park.  I started to get my climbing and breathing skills preparing for the real hills.

We did get to GGP in plenty of time, and was able to rest a good 5-10 minutes before the group came.  And boy, was this a big group.  I don’t have actual numbers, but it had to be in excess of 30-50 people.  This meant a lot of re-groups, which was good and bad … good to be able to rest, bad that there were a little more stops than I would like.

The start of the ride was overcast, and not as hot as I anticipated.  With 90 degree forecast in Santa Clara, I figured it would be pretty sunny here … but thankfully, it was not.  Good way to start 7 Hells.

The first climb was on Warren Street.  The picture does not really show how steep it is.  When you first look at this, you’d think “holy shit!”  But the only way to proceed is just do it.  But I know these are all short climbs, so down to granny gears, and just power up this climb.  Surprisingly, I was able to climb this, with not much difficulty, not worrying how high my heartrate goes (turns out I topped out at 180 bpm … surprisingly, this is not even close to the highest I would do today).  As I was climbing, I noticed one of the guys had a huge cog in the back.  Later, found out he had a 34 tooth cog in the back.  Dang, that’s as large as most compact cranks!

After the summit, we proceed with a screaming downhill, en route to twin peaks.  Normally, I’d think this as one of the major climbs, but apparently, this is not considered one of the hills.  WTF!

Twin peaks gives us a view of San Francisco, but since it was so overcast, there was really much to see here.  It must suck to be a tourist, coming to San Francisco, coming to the famed Twin Peaks, only to see this.  Not much of a view, huh?

Ok, now down the hill, and the next destination is Dalewood.  This is Ramon’s favorite climb of the day, and luckily for me, I’m familiar with this climb, so it’s not such a big surprise to me.  As expected, Ramon is up at the front, but I’m just going to settle in the middle of the pack.  However, during my climb, I had to contend with cars coming up the hill from behind, avoiding cars on the side of the road, and to my surprise, my speed up the climb.  What do I mean by that???  Well, there were some climbers that stopped on the road, and I just could not ride around them (due to cars coming from behind).  Damn, I had to dismount at that point.  I wasn’t tacking this hill either, aiming to just go straight up.  At this point, the hill was most likely at 21%.  It’s really hard to re-mount on a 21% hill.  I lost probably a minute due to this.  Oh well.  Heart rate check … 181 bpm.

Next hell … I mean hill, is 21st Street.  This is a straight up hill.  What do I mean by straight up?  Well, start at the corner of Valencia and 21st Street, and look up towards 21st Street, and all you can see is a hill going just about vertical.  Ok, so it’s a little exaggerated, but you get my point.  It’s like a stair step climb, where it only levels off at an intersection … but it does give a little breather.  This is one of those climbs where I dug deep down, trying to get more power out of me, try to get as much air in, and out as I could.  It’s a bit strange, but during this climb, I wasn’t even thinking about the pain in my legs, but just trying to not stop and keep going.  Made it up to the top, and another hill climb done.  That was tough.  That topped out at ~ 27%.  That’s one of the steepest climbs I’ve ever done.  My HR topped out at 186 bpm … WOW!!!!  I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it up this high.

Ok, 3 down, 4 more to go, but first, a lunch stop.  We head down towards the Embarcadero, and then get food, drinks, and bathroom stop there.  We didn’t really have a good place to store the bikes, so we took turns watching the bike, then heading off for bathroom, water, etc … I didn’t want to eat too much, so I decided just to go with the food I carried with me.  In retrospect, maybe I should have gotten something, as I’ll tell you more about that a little later.

It was a zoo here, but that’s kind of expected.  You have many touring buses coming along here … and we had some ladies there, seeing a group of lycra-clad cyclists, so what happened here?  Well, what do you think … they took a picture with them in a group of cyclists … and I was one of the targets.  I guess they thought I looked hawt?  Okay, so now I’m famous … somewhere.  Who knows, maybe I’ll end up on the Internet.  Oh wait, I already am, to some extent :p

Anyhow, the next climb up was to Telegraph Hill, up to Coit Tower.  On the way over, we had a little optional detour, to do a gratuitous climb up Filbert.  I thought about that for a minute … and …. no.  I’ll skip it.  Of course, Ramon couldn’t pass by this challenge.  He went straight up it.  About half of the riders went for this … pretty good percentage if you ask me.  I here it tops out at 28% .. well, I think I’ll conserve myself for the climbs ahead.

The clouds have burned off at this point (as you can see in the shot of Filbert).  However, I didn’t stop for a view, as we were all huddled around the tower.  It was crazy crowded here (it was around 1 pm at this point).  We had a lot of tourist looking at us like we were a spectacle or something.  I guess to some tourists, and natives, in fact, we were.  I got a kick out of tourists taking action shots of us, as we were either climbing a hill, or descending a hill.  It felt great!

Anyhow, back down the hill, getting prepared for our next hell destination … Jones.

Jones is another tough one, very similar to 21st Street.  It’s also the same type of climb, where it just goes straight up.  Now switchbacks, just bucker down, get as much power as you can, and just get to the top.  At this point, I started to feel a little queezy in my stomach.  I don’t know what it was … I wasn’t hungry or anything, but I could start feeling like I have indigestion or something … but I figure I’ll charge through this one.

Now, we have completed 4/7, and this is the 5th one.  Fatigue is starting to settle in, but I have enough in the tank for this.

This was just punching me in the face, the more I climb this.  I powered up the first part of it pretty good, and thought I was done with the climb when I got to the stop sign … think again.  I had one more section to do.  I had to keep thinking, don’t stop.  Keep going … I felt like stopping, but I had to go.  I started tacking on this climb, but then I decided to give one final charge, and go straight up.  Pain was settling in, and then, I decided to belt out some primal yells as I am climbing.  This seemed to give me that extra adrenaline, till I finally made it up to the top.  I looked, and this was only 25%!  I guess this was a bit harder than 21st Street, only because of the fatigue factor settling in.

Okay, next climb … California Avenue, right in the heart of downtown SF.  I think this was actually passing by Pete’s old apartments, but not sure.  These are hills Pete affectionately refers to as “ski jump”, but we’re doing it in the reverse direction.  At this point, my stomach was still suffering through this, so I am not putting very much effort into it.  I just got enough mustard to make it through to the top.  We had now completed 6 of the 7 climbs.  The last one was to be the toughest, Divisadero, which is supposed to top out at 38%.  However, with my stomach, I gotta bail on that one.  Lucky for me, Divisadero is very close to Sports Basement where I parked, so it was easy just to make a slight detour to the car, and the bathroom.

Despite the last setback, it was an excellent ride.  One of these days, I’ll have to come back and do Divisadero with the rest of the Wrecking Crew.

Totals:  32.4 miles, 3493 feet of climbing.  Even with all of this, my average heartbeat was still a scant 140 bpm.  Must not be working hard enough, eh?

Here’s the online version of this on Strava … http://www.strava.com/rides/138253

First Century of the Year … Lot Harder Than I Thought it Would Be

At the beginning of the year, I decided that I will go for another Triple Crown this year.  The California Triple Crown is 3 double centuries (200 mile ride) within one year.  I attempted the same thing last year, but I couldn’t finish one of them.  One reason is most likely due to fitness.  So I decided this time around, I’m going to train for long distance rides, so that my fitness level would be up there.

I led a ride, which I figured would be around 100+ miles, if I started from my house.  The ride basically went out Old La Honda, out to San Gregorio, then head southbound, climbing Stage Rd, then head out to Pigeon Point Lighthouse, then come inland via Gazos Creek and Cloverdale, then back on Pescadero Rd back through Alpine, then Page Mill, and then back into Palo Alto.  I figure this shouldn’t be a problem, just a longer ride.  I recall Ramon saying “Looks like a a good route and doable on paper”.  It turned out, for whatever reason, this ride was a lot tougher, not just for me, but for everyone in the group.  Was it because of the off season?  Perhaps.  Was it because we hammered too hard in the beginning?  That is a good possibility.  All I know is, as I am writing this, my legs are as sore as I can remember in recent memory.  This is just another in a line of classic Wrecking Crew rides … you know when you have been through a typical Wrecking Crew ride … your legs feel it.

Ok, on the ride itself, I met up with Ramon and Chris in Los Altos, at Bicycle Outfitters, and we decided to leave early enough, so we wouldn’t have to hammer it, pacelining at a brisk pace, just to get to the start in time.  We took an easy pace and got to Woodside 10 minutes early.  Few of the usuals got there a little late, but that’s okay.  It gave us time to chit chat and fool around.  However, the waiting around made us a bit cold.  According to my Garmin, it was around 44 F.  That’s cold.

From Left to Right, Michael, Donald, Chris, Ruth, and Marco.

When we finally started going, the only thing I can think of was hold ccc-cold it was.  Hmmm … I wasn’t nearly this cold when I got to the start.  Oh well … on we go to start the first climb, Old La Honda.  I didn’t want to time myself on this climb, but I still decided to employ the strategy of starting out in my big chainring, then slowly shift over to middle then small chainring.  I was not long before I got into the middle chainring, and I even got into my small chainring at about halfway point.

Chris was gung ho on wanting to check out his timing on OLH.  I didn’t want to find out what it was on the spot.  As it turned out, poor Chris got a flat almost after leaving the designated start of the climb (where everyone usually starts the timer).  In the end, my time wasn’t all that great … 29 minutes.  I was surprised that Chris didn’t catch up and pass me up, but I guess it took him a lot longer to change the flat than I thought.  The tandem even got to the top before he did.

We were all waiting for Ben, who was riding from home in Los Gatos, to meet us at the top of OLH.  He started out a little late, and he did catch up with Chris, and they both arrived at the same time.  This ride is starting to turn into a hot, cold, hot ride … warm up, get cold, warm up, get cold.

Off we descent to San Gregorio via 84.  I was having a hard time getting my speed up, and fell way behind.  Then, suddenly I see Donald and Ben off to the side.  We suffered another mechanical.  This time, it wasn’t a flat, but Ben’s rear freewheel had some issues.  The lock ring was a bit loose, and it prevented the wheel from moving.  The rear axle halves were loose too.  We were able to get it back in, and we were crossing our fingers it would stay put.  There wasn’t a bike shop close by … either climb back the way we came, for about 10-15 miles or so, or just keep on going.

Well, we kept going.  We got into a pretty good paceline, each taking turns pulling the lead, and that made the descent more enjoyable.  What I hate is going down that long stretch, all by yourself, and time trialing it all the way to the coast.  That gets demoralizing and you expend a lot more energy.

We caught up with the gang at the General Store in San Gregorio, then headed on to Stage.  I think my climbing legs were kicking in, as I was hanging in with Ramon, Donald, and Michael.  We normally take Stage Rd in the other direction, so this would be a little different.  The tandem was having problems at this point.  They hadn’t been riding very much lately, but we weren’t in a real hurry … since we were resting up at the store in Pescadero.  Wow, I’m not the last one on the regroups on this ride.  That’s a different feeling!

We continued on Hwy 1, and the pace was a real killer.  I hung in with the tandem for a little while, but the front pack started distancing themselves from us.

I passed the tandem to try to close in on the gap, but I didn’t want to kill myself.  I also want to help pull the tandem a little bit, but they just didn’t have the energy, which is shocking.  I guess that’s what happens when you have that much time off the bike.  Anyhow, I went on ahead, but I was out there solo.  But at least I got to see the waves crashing against the shore.

This is not the first time we’ve been out to Pigeon Point Lighthouse, but in the past, we always whip past it, without stopping by.  This time, we made it our stopping point, so we definitely we take a view of it.

We continued on Hwy 1, for about another 2 miles, before heading inland via Gazos Creek.  We had a few climbs here, and I took the lead up here (I figured I should, since this is my route, and I didn’t want to feel that I am freeloading off of everyone).  I felt like I was close to the same level as everyone on this ride.  The climbs were not terribly long, and they were gradual enough to keep everyone within reach.  In fact, we got into a bit of a paceline, climbing up the shallower section of Pescadero before reaching the steeper section of Haskins Hill.  When we did get to the steeper section, I did fall off the back.  However, for the first time, I was able to pass up Ben, and again, not the last one up the hill.  I’ve gotta tell you though, this is the first ride for Ben since coming back from his vacation of 3 weeks … that’s 3 weeks off the bike!

It started to get late, so Ben decided to go on ahead.  Chris and Donald went a little later, going on Hwy 84 then back home.  While we were waiting for Marco and Ruth, we were debating which way to head home.  Alpine would really suck at this point, as we were all very tired, and with no energy at all.  When Marco and Ruth showed up, they were absolutely not going to make it up Alpine, and preferred to go on 84.  In the back of my mind, I was hoping everyone else would do the same, and we did … yippee!!!  Alpine is one tough hill, especially after riding for 90 miles.

We eventually made it back, just before dark.  It’s a good thing I had my front blinkers on (I needed it, as I started at 6:45 am, and it was dark and foggy at that point).  However, even by the time I got home, it wasn’t dark enough for the lights to take effect.

I don’t know what it was about this ride.  As Ramon stated, on paper, it didn’t look that bad, but this really did in everyone.  After getting home, I was so tired, just simply walking around the house became a chore.  I thought maybe we all took a really fast pace, but it wasn’t all that much faster in my opinion … or maybe it’s because I am in better shape than before.  This “better shape” does not account for why everyone was feeling tired and weak by the time we reached the top of Haskins Hill.  Maybe we all needed solid food.  Perhaps we should have taken a short detour to Pescadero for solid food before going up Haskins Hill?  Maybe next time.

Photos posted at http://spingineer.smugmug.com/Cycling/Pigeon-Point/10907587_6wimS#761542467_8kax5