Finally, the first weekend in June. And Ben had planned a “last” really big climbing ride before we start to taper off: a Triple Diablo. And what greets us on Saturday morning, but a steady rain with gusty winds. A good size low is parked off the coast spinning bands of rain through. So Sherie and I just take what comes, and do Pilates, weights, and walk up Albany Hill with heavy packs.
And Sunday it is supposed to rain more, but it dawns overcast and humid. Not cold, not rainy. And Ben had been considering a ride that stayed near home, so if the rains came it would only be a quick downhill back and hopefully he wouldn’t get as chilled as last week. He had been considering sometime doing the Berkeley Hills Death Ride, a route up the steepest baddest-ass climbs above home. And it seemed to fit the bill for close to home and a killer workout.
Sherie was sensible and decided to watch the French Open Men’s Final (she loves Rafa Nadal) and ride later on her own. So Ben took out the commute bike, his steel-framed mountain bike, because he wanted the really low gears for the climbs. It was nice to strip the panniers and “go light” compared to the average day on the way to the office. So here we go, up and up some more…
Marin Ave goes straight up from Arlington Circle. It is the only road in the Berkeley Hills that does not attempt to traverse, switchback, etc. It goes straight up. And there are at least five blocks out of about fifteen total that are over 20% grade. Ben’s cycle computer quoted 25% max grade on this. Ben did have to turn off Marin four or five times onto the traversing side streets to move his heart down out of his throat and back into his chest cavity. (Thanks Sherie for doing so many intervals this year, Ben actually did recover his heart rate in a minute or two to go up the next block.) The last block to Grizzly Peak Blvd is certainly the hardest climb Ben can ever remember doing. I’m standing up, pulling up on the bars, trying to keep the legs moving, and notice a spider walking uphill on the road below my bike. I was so relieved to note that I was (barely) able to climb faster than the spider!
Then its left down GP, right on Wildcat Canyon Rd into Tilden, and then right up South Park Dr. South Park is the easiest of the climbs today, but still tough. It does “step up” however, and there are places to recover. Max was probably only about 13%. It was great to come out on top of the ridge and see the big view to the bay, for a fast descent down GP to Shasta, then left into Berkeley North Side and to the football stadium.
For you Bears fans, the stadium now looks so surreal. The surrounding wall of concrete, with the arches, that used to contain the bowl of bleachers is all that is standing! For months trucks have been moving material in and out, but to Ben’s eye it is still just a big shell. It would be a good time to hike up to Tightwad Hill and peer down to see the construction details.
Anyway, now it is time to climb Centennial. Ben and Sherie ride the lower half of this road weekly, and it starts mildly then gets up to about 12% to the gate where Sherie turns into LBL to go to work. Ben then usually turns around and goes down to his office. But today Ben kept climbing. It does steepen, and the long hill and turn are near 15% for several hundred meters, before a couple steps for the Lab and Lawrence Hall of Science. Then it was across GP and down Golf Course Dr, and Ben stopped at Island Picnic site for a bathroom and water break.
On the way to Orinda, Ben got to chase some high school mountain bikers down past Inspiration Point. They turned onto El Toyanal, but Ben stayed on Wildcat, then right on SP Dam Rd into Orinda to climb El Toyanal from the bottom. Most of El Toy is actually just steady, with a few ramps of steeps. Ben actually was able to relax on this after leaving the pool and its associated traffic behind. After a mile or two, you have to follow your nose uphill a few blocks from El Toyonal to get onto Lomas Contadas. LC gets right to work climbing the last of the subdivisions of Orinda past the stables and into Tilden Park. And it sure is steep and steady, long stretches well over 15% with ramps of 18%. Ben sure had a sweat going at the top, and was happy to stop again at Steam Trains to fill bottles and add layers.
Only one long hill to go, but it is the longest. After going south on GP and then down Tunnel Road, the route climbs Claremont, then left up GP and then to the fire roads for the summit of the Berkeley Hills: Vollmer Peak. Claremont starts reasonably at about 7%, but just steepens as you go until the last half mile or so you are at 13% and more to cllimb some switchbacks to the ridge. Ben had some road biker company here, going a similar pace, so there was conversation and distraction from the pain of the fifth killer hill of the morning. After the turn, the stretch on Grizzly Peak is so familiar, as Ben has climbed this many times on the way home. Then past Steam Trains to the fireroad, and the last two killer 25% steps to get on the plateau peak of Volmer.
Ben had been sharing text messages with Sherie, and knew she had ridden the bay trail to Pt. Richmond. And suspected that Rafa had won in four sets. And had lead in his legs and a song in his head as he swooped downhill back to the homestead in Albany.
73.49 KM 45.66 Miles
1890 vert M 6201 ver ft
4:16 ride time
17.20 KPH ave 10.7 MPH
7% ave grade
25% max grade
8 stops to add/shed layers
And amazing, at home after shower, lunch, a 30 minute nap and 60 minutes of sports on TV, Ben could walk to REI to buy brake pads. With new brake pads and a new tire (new on front, old front moved to back), Ben’s bike is ready for Italy.