Mt. Diablo with “The Crazies”

Map of Mt. Diablo State Park

An eventful day today! I rode up Mt. Diablo and almost made it to the summit. I was about 2 1/2 miles from the top, was not feeling like I had the energy to pedal the rest of the way, so I turned around and sped down the mountain to my car. This ride really wasn’t planned. Rather, it was a “surprise” ride with the Alamo Crazies – a group of riders, hikers, and runners who plan weekly activities. I was asked to join them on a weekend ride, and thought it might be fun.

When I finally met up with them, they said “We’re riding up Diablo today.” I was feeling a bit worried because I had never gone up the mountain that far before (a year ago, I went up the Northgate side and almost made it to the junction before turning around). But I figured since I’m in reasonably good shape, I should be able to do it. So up I went. The Crazies were riding in a pack ahead of me, and very soon it became clear that they were in better shape than I was. As their pack pulled ahead and went up the mountain (seemingly without any effort), I slowed waaaaaaaay down to about 6-7 mph and just tried to keep a comfortable pace. I had to stop a couple of times to rest for a few minutes, but after recovering, I was able to get going without any problems. I was still going slow, mind you, but I was making progress.

Part of the problem of riding up a route like that is that I had no idea how far it was to certain landmarks (i.e., the first ranger station, Rock City, the junction and the like). That took a psychological toll on the old brain because I didn’t know when I could climb faster or conserve my energy. So, I chose to conserve my energy all the way up — which meant I was moving at a snail’s pace (relative to other cyclists going up the hill).

I was beating myself up after I got to the junction (that connects the north and Southgate roads) many many minutes behind my riding companions. I saw two of them riding down while I was muscling my way up the hill, and I thought they had already reached the summit and were heading back down. Only later, after one of the riders called me at home, did I find out one had turned back early and the other couldn’t ride all the way to the top because of a prior commitment. That made me feel a bit better. I took a breather at the junction, filled one of my water bottles, ate some GU Chomps for energy, and then set off to see if I could ride to the top.

About 5 minutes into the ride, the wind started up something fierce. Gusts were 20-25 mph and it was very difficult to peddle against that kind of force – but I soldiered on. Finally, after about 2 miles more of climbing, I stopped to figure out where I was in relation to the summit. I pulled out my iPhone, called up Google maps, and looked at my location. “Well,” I thought, “I’m not too far from the top, but I’m not all that close, either. What to do? What. To. Do.” I decided to go a little more ’til I felt my legs just couldn’t take it anymore. Well, that point came very soon. I stopped, looked up at the radio towers at the summit and said “Aw screw it, I’m heading down.” And off I went — averaging about 20-35 mph down the mountain. I did get to practice my cornering, braking, and all the other techniques used in descents, and I felt much more confident about controlling the bike going down a curvy road without using my brakes too much. So that was one benefit of the ride.

I got to the car, sucked down a bottle of electrolyte-infused water, looked at myself in the reflection of the my car window and wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I make it to the top? Why, after all this time of riding, did my legs not want to go all the way? Why did I feel like I could have walked faster up the mountain than the pace I was riding. Well, after beating myself up for a few minutes, I drove home, ate some food, and felt better. It was only after plotting my ride on MapMyRide did I see that I rode 10 miles and climbed almost 2700 feet. After that, I felt a sense of accomplishment and stopped beating myself up.

So while the Crazies did kick my butt on the climb, I’m glad I went with them because it helped me meet part of a goal I’ve had for a while: climb Diablo to the junction.

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