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After a long and traffic-filled drive east from the Bay Area, Sarah and I arrived in the tiny gold rush era town of Plymouth on Friday evening. We had a little trouble finding exactly where we were supposed to park, but soon after driving around the Amador County Fairgrounds, we found a volunteer who set us on our way. We parked on the lawn and headed over to registration, and were quickly and efficiently processed, and walked away with a bag of goodies. We set up camp next to the car and walked around to try to find somewhere to eat. Our dining choices were a diner or a BBQ joint - Sarah suggested the latter, and I'm glad she did - Incahoots was a fun funky joint with absolutely HUGE portions of meat, meat, and more meat. There were a bunch of "No Casino in Plymouth" signs, which I found ironic, given that Plymouth's original name was "Pokertown" :-) We went to bed early and were disturbed by loud toilets and a very squeaky bathroom door. We woke up at 5:20 to a foggy Saturday morning and went to the registration building to get some pins for Sarah's rider number and to see if there was coffee (there was - yay!). I hit the road at 6:07, while Sarah stayed behind to see if she could find Denise and Ralph, as she was "just" doing the 100km route, and had more time to spare.
It wasn't too cold, so I set out with knee- and arm-warmers and a light vest for extra layers, knowing it would be plenty warm later on. There were a lot of riders on the road as I headed towards Ione on Old Sacramento Rd. at a fast pace, passing many riders. This first section was mostly downhill, so I made excellent time, averaging over 21mph for the first 20 miles. It was foggy, which was great, as it kept the temperatures down, and unlike the coastal fog I'm used to, it wasn't a cold fog either! I flew into Ione on the tail of a tandem and, after a few zigzags, arrived at the Ione rest stop (20.7mi) shortly after it opened. At the rest stop, I realized that I knew the folks on the tandem from the HP Death Ride team. I didn't stay long at this stop, just quickly mixing up a bottle of Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel and removing my vest and armwarmers.
From Ione, I headed northeast on Plymouth Highway and Sutter Ione Rd. into the cute little town of Sutter Creek. After cruising through downtown, it was on towards Volcano on Sutter Creek Volcano Rd. This proved to be a gorgeous road winding through a forest and along gushing, burbling Sutter Creek. The sun started to show itself through the fog as the road gently climbed. I pulled off at a picnic area to switch into my dark lenses, as it was getting a bit bright. There were by far more riders than cars on this road, although there were a few too many clueless riders riding on or over the centerline, I don't know why. It made it unnecessarily difficult and dangerous to pass them, that's for sure! I'd driven this road once before en route to the Black Chasm cavern, but it didn't seem familiar at all until we turned left on Pine Creek Volcano Rd. and pulled into the teeny town of Volcano, the second rest stop (43mi). Volunteers carried trays of snacks so we could eat without having to park and walk over to the food tables - very cool! I had a tasty garlic potato. The town was completely overtaken by cyclists, given that it has perhaps a few dozen residents and there were well over a thousand cyclists passing through! I removed my kneewarmers, did the usual liquid food mixing, and had a V8. As it was warming up, I also started taking Endurolytes at this point. As I prepared to leave, a butterfly landed on my Camelbak, so I had to get a few pictures of it before brushing it off so I could depart.
The first major climb of the day, Rams Horn Grade, began almost immediately after leaving Volcano. It was fairly steep and rather warm, but had excellent views and the lovely sierra smells of mountain misery and pine trees, so the cilmbing passed pretty quickly. At the top of the first ascent there was a water stop with ice-cold water, which I soaked my sweatband in and poured on my head - yeah! There was another steep and exposed, but mercifully short, climb to the top of Rams Horn Grade, then a rolling ascent on Shake Ridge Road, which I did remember from driving in the area late last year. Its a lovely road, and like almost all of them so far, barely trafficed at all. I'd heard its a fun ride into Fiddletown, and I soon got to find out when I turned onto Fiddletown Rd. Fun, indeed! Other than a couple minor rollers, its nearly eleven miles of downhill, some of it rather fast, and all of it absolutely gorgeous! It was major fun, and it actually lasted for a while. Definitely one of the (many) highlights of the ride for me. When I talked to Sarah after the ride, she agreed that it was one hell of a fun descent. All things must end, and eventually I rolled through downtown Fiddletown, such as it is, and pulled into rest stop #3 at a park (60.1mi). There were a lot of people here, probably because this stop was on all 4 routes (50mi, 100k, 100mi, and 200k). I spent a little longer, stretching deeply, taking Endurolytes, mixing my fake food, and munching a little on solid food. Riders' fear of the upcoming Slug Gulch climb was palpable, and was the subject of nearly all conversations. I kept hearing banging popping sounds and thought riders' tires were blowing out, but it was actually some balloons popping from the hot air.
Before tackling Slug Gulch, there were some 17 miles of rollers (some on the large'ish side) to negotiate. I met a nice gal from near Lake Tahoe (lucky her!) on Bridgeport School Road, and chatted with her, which made the miles melt away. The roads were narrow and poorly surfaced, but there continued to be virtually no traffic whatsoever, and the scenery continued to be lovely as we rode through farmland and forest, then up Mt. Aukum Rd. There was a final water stop on Fairplay Rd., 5 miles of moderate climbing/descending on Perry Creek Rd., then the dreaded left turn onto Slug Gulch Rd. Slug Gulch wasted no time, climbing steeply past a vineyard in the warm sun. It was a somewhat frustrating climb, as it didn't look particularly steep at all, but it was, as evidenced by hordes of riders silently grinding up the hill. Happily the grade was inconsistent, so the stretches of 18+% grade were broken up by relatively easy sections. It actually wasn't as difficult of a climb as I was anticipating, but my cadence dropped to the mid-30s as my heart rate climbed to the mid-170s, so it surely wasn't an easy climb by any means! There were several folks stopped in the shade, and I passed a couple of folks walking their bikes (at least I was going fast enough to pass them!). They had signs on the side of the road, but they were far enough apart, and I was going so slowly, that I'd forgotten what the previous sign said by the time I got to the next one! Before too long, I passed a sign saying it was just 2.5mi of easy climbing to the top, and whaddya know, it was! I was pleased that not only did I not have to walk, but I never entertained the thought of stopping either. Any fears I had about missing the 2:00 cutoff for the 200k route were vanquished when I pulled into rest stop #4 at Omo Ranch (83.1mi) at 1:40. I got my "I Tamed Slug Gulch" pin (though at times during the climb, it wasn't at all clear what was taming what!) and picked up the 200k route sheet (the Sacramento Wheelmen had a very effective way of enforcing the cutoff to the 200k route - it wasn't on the route sheet given out at the ride start, and if you weren't at the rest stop by the cutoff, they wouldn't give you the route slip for the 200k route!). I didn't stay long here either, since the cutoff was the departure, not arrival, time.
The 200k route continued climbing on Omo Ranch Rd. through a lovely forest. There were very few riders around on this stretch of road, but I enjoyed riding along peacefully. The next 10 miles were nearly all uphill. Never steep, but quite warm and very tiring. A few riders passed me, and one shadowed me for several miles to a water stop. I was a little worried that I was at the tail end of the ride, but the folks at the water stop said they'd had 140 or so riders come through already, and knew of 40-50 behind me, which was a bit of a relief. It was also a relief when they said that virtually all of the remaining 30 miles was downhill! I filled up a bottle with water to pour over myself and continued on my way. In a mile I came to Hwy 88 and then enjoyed 3 miles of mostly fast downhill before turning on Shake Ridge Rd. On the descent of Shake Ridge, I felt some water on my back, first a few drops, then a torrent - ack! I pulled over to find that the hose had pulled off of my camelbak bladder, and I'd emptied nearly 2 liters of water onto myself! Fortunately I had a little water left, plus a full water bottle, so after reattaching the hose (and making sure it was very secure!), I continued the lovely shady descent to Fiddletown Rd. I normally despise re-using roads on long routes, but it was a pleasure to get to do this wonderful descent into Fiddletown twice! It was again a blast (although the small uphill rollers hurt a whole lot more this time through!), and since I'd ridden the road earlier in the day, I knew what to expect on a couple of super-fun sweeping corners. I took a couple of pictures of "downtown" Fiddletown as I went through to the rest stop at the park again (112.1mi). There were few people here, and I didn't stay long, just topping off my bottles for the final 10 mile ride back into Plymouth.
I rode out with a few other riders, and we soon turned on Ostrom Rd. and endured our last climbing of the day up out of a vineyard-covered valley. It wasn't terribly steep, but the going was slow, as we were all pretty tired by this point, having climbed about 10,000' over the past 112 miles! We eventually rejoined the century route on Shenandoah Rd. and flew down that, then Shenandoah School Rd., then Shenandoah Rd. again into Plymouth. There were quite a few riders on the road here, and it was easy to maintain a 25mph+ pace. Less than 30min after leaving the Fiddletown rest stop, I pulled into the fairgrounds in Plymouth at 4:33. I found Sarah at our tent, had a beer (many thanks to Sarah for getting beer while I was out riding!), washed my face, and we broke camp and headed up to my family's cabin near Arnold to relax.
This was an excellent ride - I'm glad I finally got to do it! Its usually the same weekend as the more-local Sequoia Century, but in the future, given the choice, I'll do the drive for this ride! The support was outstanding, with well-marked roads, abundant foods (including hot-weather and long-ride luxuries like ice water, V8, and boiled potatoes), ample portapotties, and helpful volunteers. It was a pleasure to ride on such low-traffic roads, and all of the quaint little gold rush towns we passed through made for an interesting ride.
|Total Time:||10h 26m|
|On-bike Time:||8h 48m|
|Total Climbing:||~10,000 ft|
|Rating (out of 10):|
|Food:||9 - I rarely eat rest stop food these days, but they had everything|
|Route:||8 - not necessarily picturesque, but wholly beautiful|
08 February, 2011 MST
Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul