Wednesday, October 14, 2015

CycloMonkey's Weekend in the Valley

As a certain monkey makes friends and becomes more popular, it's nice to have a quiet weekend at home. But not this weekend. No. If you look at a map of California, there's a big emptiness between the ocean and the mountains. That's the Central Valley.

Almost Yosemite

With what seems like millions of other people, CycloMonkey, my wife and I hopped in the car and started driving towards that barren wasteland of nothingness that straddles Highway 99. Stop. Go. Stop again. 20mph. Stop. Big trucks. Less and less civilization. Less and less trees or even signs of life. Then uphill. Yes, this would make a nice bike route if there was a shoulder, fewer cars and cooler temperatures. Finally, we arrive at Oakhurst, California, at the intersection of Highway 49 and Highway 41.

Oakhurst is a gold-rush-era town on the southern edge of Yosemite National Park. We are here for two reasons:
1. The Yosemite Half Marathon, which my wife will run.
2. Ride #2 of my Coffeeneuring Challenge

Coffeeneuring features another anthropomorphized friend of mine: Mendo, the rubber ducky. As you might expect, CycloMonkey should avoid caffeine. So he is less than ideal for a partner in this. And with his recent surge in popularity, cannot be counted on to clear his calendar for these sedate little rides to coffee shops.

But he's rather unselfish and was happy to endure the long hours in the car. The first order of business, of course, is the half marathon. And that meant waking up before 4am so that my wife could catch the bus taking the runners up into the mountains for the start.

The upside of waking up well before dawn in a town with clear, mountain air and no smog, is the view of the planets aligned outside our hotel window!
The moon, Jupiter, Mars (faintly), Venus (bright) and Regulus (very faint) - taken with my cell phone!

Many of the establishments here are named Southgate Something due to the proximity of the south gate into Yosemite. And there are bears everywhere! Fortunately, the live bears hide up in the hills, so mostly there are just these carved, wooden bears that seem harmless.

I won't bore you with details of the race, the coffee or the hot, dry ride home. With Saturday in the books, we turned out attention to Sunday. Rest up, because we are heading back to the Central Valley again!

Bike Ride

At 6:30am on Sunday morning, CycloMonkey and I headed out in the cool, crisp air to meet our riding partners for the twelfth of my twelve consecutive monthy 200km randonneur rides. This ride would qualify me for the R-12 award. This would also be CycloMonkey's very first 200km ride - mostly due to my preference to carry food rather than monkeys in my limited number of pockets. But now I have a small bag for my top tube which freed up my middle jersey pocket. It's the perfect size for a limber and compressible monkey.

Since my jersey fabric wicks moisture away from my body, I worried about CycloMonkey absorbing said same moisture. So his "jersey" was a old plastic newspaper bag. One shot of espresso and we were off!

The streets were relatively quiet at 7am. CycloMonkey's view out the back consisted mostly of our familiar riding buddies. Will was there on the day CycloMonkey found us in Santa Cruz. Steven took CycloMonkey to Europe, so they're old friends. Bumha and Kenny would become old friends by the end of this long day.

The 200km "permanent" rides follow a predetermined route with specific control stops. The controls are usually spaced out about 30 miles apart or whenever it is convenient. The trip over the hills and into the Central Valley leave long gaps without much civilization, so the first control stop was about mile 45. By the second, at mile 61, we were almost halfway - time for a soothing creme soda.

Not frozen today.
Halfway would generally be a good time for lunch. But the control at roughly two-thirds is an oasis in the wilderness called The Junction. It is located where three roads meet: Del Puerto Canyon (our route from the Central Valley), San Antonio Valley (south to Mount Hamilton), and Mines Road (back to where we started). The little grill there serves beer and basic lunch food but it tastes awesome after many hours in the saddle. And you just can't there without spending many hours in the saddle. So we opted to skip lunch and head up the canyon.

From our control stop at the Patterson exit off Interstate 5, we headed west into the hottest, driest part of our ride. On my Garmin, I recorded 107 degrees (F). We went for miles and miles with very little shade or vegetation, slowly climbing. The road has huge numbers painted every mile, to aid airplanes in rescuing dehydrated cyclists. My memory has already faded in three days, but I believe around mile 18 or 19 is a natural spring. There is a small spigot of cold water (free!). Apparently, you'll get your daily requirement of magnesium from this water - but it tastes great.

A mile later, the climb got steeper, unrelenting for several more miles. But no bother, The Junction is right over the top! With the proverbial monkey on my back, I crested the summit before my compatriots. And I wanted the first beer. Somehow, I managed to hold off the chasers and arrived at the locked gate first! Wait, locked? Oh no! They are closed! I knew the owner had recently had surgery and was not keeping consistent hours - but how could this be!

Cheers on your accomplishment
Undeterred (because we had no other option), we carried on back to civilization. That meant about 30 more miles, however. Along the way, we hatched a plan to visit Altamont Beer Works in Livermore (thank you, Will).

Some may think that drinking beer during a long bike ride is crazy. I'd say "crazy refreshing!" CycloMonkey is of the opinion that it isn't wise. And he resisted. But as you can tell, there was plenty of cheering for CycloMonkey's first 200k. Well, it was rather hot. And he wasn't driving. And the "brown" was served with nitrogen instead of carbonization if that matters (looked cool, anyway). So he thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps the second was ill-advised.

Back in his newspaper bag and back out into the heat we went. Fortunately, the remaining few miles were flat and the headwind was minimal. Except for Bumha's flat tire, the day was a complete success.
Finally, we arrived back at the Starbuck's where we had started. This was also the finish control. One cookie for me, one cookie for CycloMonkey.

Personally, I'm rather tired. The day would end for me with slightly over 142 miles. But one of those last miles was a detour to drop off CycloMonkey at our friend John's house. Seems that John has a little surprise for which he wouldn't provide any details. Is it some exotic trip? Is it to meet a man in a yellow hat?


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