This summer I spent a few weeks in America. The main purpose was to have a well-earned holiday and catch up with friends and family in Oregon and San Francisco, who we hadn’t seen for three years. While Stateside I also set myself the challenge of trying to defy the laws of physics. I aimed to do this in two ways.
First, I wanted to lose weight while on holiday. I know, crazy. This is never an easy thing and all the more testing when you’re spending time in the US of A, where sugar seems to be added to everything, portions are larger by default and just breathing the air feels calorific. I’d been dieting in the weeks running up to departure and had lost 10lbs. This loss was hard won and I was super keen to avoid supersizing myself.
My second challenge was to ride up Mount Diablo, which is near San Francisco where we’d spend the last three days of our break. Climbing is far from my strong suit and, according to Strava, this would be my biggest climb, eclipsing my ascent of the Puig Major back in 2015. Yeah, I know my limits, so I don’t take on mountains often (or at all) and I considered hauling my ageing, overweight ass up Diablo would be the second way I could break the laws of physics.
The first three weeks of my trip were to be spend with my in-laws in and around Salem in the Willamette Valley. The valley is mainly farmland and pretty darn flat, so little climbing practice was available to me. But I had a plan. I had a series of intensive workouts from my coach, Tim Ramsden, and I had earmarked a couple of reasonable climbs to cut my teeth on – one near Detroit Lake in the Cascades where we were going to camp and another near Waldport on the coast, where we’d spend much of our first week. Alas, on that week it felt like all bets were off as I went down with my second dose of Covid. I did manage four rides before surcumbing, including one up to Orchard Heights, west of Salem, where there are actually some hills and some vineyards. At one view point, I watched the mists rise from the valley.
Aside from the aches and pains of the virus, it was a mega pain to lose a week of training and, once I tested negative, I nursed myself up to speed. I had suffered six weeks of highly disruptive post-viral fatigue when I had my first Covid in Jan 2021, so I was very cautious indeed. On Tim's advice, I was working on heart rate. I started with a couple of Zone 1 rides, then a couple of Zone 2 rides before upping things another notch. I knew from my first encounter with the virus that I should look out for an unusually elevated heart rate, so I worked on HR rather than power to monitor things made a lot of sense. Looking ahead, I still strongly doubted I’d be in any shape to take on my biggest climb when we got to California in a couple of weeks. Darn.
I recovered enough to be riding in our second week while we were camping next to Detroit Lake. The climb I’d found there began three miles away at Idanha and rose 2,100ft over 7 miles. Decent enough for hill repeats? I set out super early, and was greeted by moody looking lake.
However, as WC Fields would say, when I got there, it was closed.
The area around Detroit Lake was subject to one of the worst burns in the autumn 2020 series wild fires that raged up and down the West Coast. A sign proclaimed that there was fire damage on the road – fallen trees and/or “widow makers” to remove. The latter being unsafe trees that might fall – and the road was closed. I managed an out and back towards Breitenbush instead. This was a long and really gentle climb - really a rise - but the ride was limited by another road closed sign 10 miles in. You can see Mt Jefferson and the burn stretching for miles.
This is a clean up job on a vast scale to make the roads and trails safe again. There is an off-road route, the Cascading Rivers Scenic Byway, that runs from Detroit Lake to Estacada, that I was hoping to try. As you’ve guess, this was closed, too.
So, our time in Oregon came to and end. It was great to reconnect with family. Sad, though, to say goodbye and have seen many of our favourite beauty spots badly burnt and to add insult to injury, I’d been badly burnt by Covid. I’d done what I could with my diet, but with no access to scales, all I could do is hope I was still on track.
We still had three days in Berkeley, San Francisco, with our friends the Zapiens. Three years ago I'd tempted Richard to climb Mt Tamalpais with me. The route featured a 10-mile gravel section and some the most beautiful views of the Bay. That ride saw Richard really struggle, but he was so utterly committed that he drove himself to complete it. I “coached him through” by sarcastically (and repeatedly) offering to call him an Uber.
In spite of all that, Richard is still talking to me and has become something of road cyclist in the last three years, riding with the Grizzly Peaks Cyclists and completing a series of century rides. He was up for Mt Diablo and given my Covid and all the climbs he has around Berkeley to practice on, I anticipated having my ass handed to me on a plate.
I hired a decent-looking carbon bike from Sports Basement and we set out early doors towards Mt Diablo so that we could avoid as much of the heat of the day as we could.
We went out through the lush and lovely forests of Tilden Regional State Park and gained 1,000ft, which was nice little warm up. When we got to the far side of the well-to-do towns of Lafayette and Walnut Creek, we entered the Mt Diablo State Park and got down to business. There are two ways to approach the summit, the North Gate and the South Gate. The former is harder and is what we’re doing.
Richard’s wife, Nicolle, had hiked this mountain and warned us repeatedly about rattle snakes. As such, my eyes darted left and right whenever we stopped. I’d seen some benign yellow racers out hiking that week, but really didn’t fancy coming face to face with their venomous relatives.
It was hot now, 90F. I paced myself, I had a 32T cog. I had water. I had more water. I had gels, I had bars, I had more water. I don’t know how long we’d been climbing when we got to a ranger station – much more than an hour. We made use of the restrooms and there was a sobering sign – another 4.5 miles to the summit.
We ploughed on. We got to a campsite with some shade and took another moment. We’d climbed 3,500ft so far and I was working on the basis that this was a 5,000ft climb. Richard said we’re just a few hundred yards from the summit. I’d been working off the wrong figure, in fact Mt Diablo is 3,849ft (and the climb is over 12 miles). Despite knowing the finish was a 17% section, I somewhat excitedly attacked, which I totally regretted as my hamstrings felt like they were going to explode.
Mt Diablo is a lone giant, like Mt Ventoux, so you get long distance views in all directions.
We had some PB&J sandwiches Richard had packed. I bought some choc ices at the visitor center and we chatted to the blissed out people wandering around the summit. One was a young triathlete who ridden up on a time trial bike. That seemed so wrong, but kudos to him.
After we descended, the temperature rose to 95F. Wow. Just in time we reached the Canyon Club Brewery and took in tacos, a chicken sandwich and a couple of their delicious brews. We went from the hell fire of Diablo to being blissed out and chilled out, while being “entertained” by the “country infused vintage rock and roll” of Dave “Ouzo” Land.
I’d been to the mountaintop, but had I lost or gained weight? Back in Blighty I stepped on the bathroom scales and, would you believe, I had actually lost 3lbs. Take that, physics!
Here’s the Diablo route:
© Islington Cycling Club, powered by microcosm.
Report a problem
"You will always be in our hearts and on our roads." - @Giro d'Italia on Michele Scarponi