Once upon a time the Sacramento Wheelmen put on the best Century ride--hands down. Part of the reason it was the best was that it started at the small and picturesque Amador County fairgrounds where the Sac Wheelmen put on great pre ride and post ride spreads--and every rest stop was stocked with enthused volunteers who in some cases would run up to approaching cyclists with fruit platters. The other reason was that the ride went on beautiful rustic backroads that were scenic and nicely paced with little traffic, almost no stop signs, and no traffic lights. Only one little problem, the ride was tough as it featured a steady stream of rollers and a few significant climbs--with its feature climb being the 3 mile Slug Gulch monster at mile 75 which immediately starts off at @16%. The 120 mile ride consisted of 10,000' climbing.
This is where I cut my teeth learning to climb, and by far was my favorite ride of the year. Up to 2002 I had only struggled through the Metric (65 mile) version, so with typical insane logic it seemed like a good idea to skip the 100 mile option in 2003 and go right to the 120 miler. With lots of practice prep rides in the area this became the first Gruppo Pumpkincycle Signature ride.
Alas the ride is no more as El Dorado County, now concerned with anything interfering with their wineries, refused to give out a ride permit in 2006. The Sacto Wheelmen promptly rerouted half of the route which proved to be a disaster as the simultaneous riding up and down Rams Horn Grade caused blocked traffic and pissed off locals. Slug Gulch was removed and a poor substitute, Hale (Hell) Road that isn't fully paved and has a creek at the bottom, pissed off cyclists. Tragically a cyclists hit a tractor and died elsewhere on course. The next year the Wheelemen moved the Sierra century totally out of the county and alas the Amador-Ed Dorado Sierra Century-RIP.
I had done a variation of the self supported metric-backwards ride numerous times, actually planned out by Jo-Jo in 2003 when I wanted to do the Slug Gulch climb before the actual Sierra Century. She came up with doing the ride backwards, so we'd hit Slug Gulch at mile 25 in the cool morning instead of later at mile 75. We then added on the beautiful portion of the 120 mile course that goes through the El Dorado National Forest--continued up past 5,000' to Cooks Station to eat (which wasn't part of the official ride, but the Sacto Wheelmen wouldn't disclose where the bonus miles went) and then continued on the mostly downhill rollers for a 65 mile loop. Since then I had done the ride numerous times, most notably in 2004 when I blew up on Slug Gulch a year after dad died and Mountain Bike Jerry went back with me a week later to try it again. In 2005 I introduced Donna to Slug Gulch before the Sierra Century. Then in early Summer 2007 the Diablo Cyclists went up and we did the "backwards" metric 65 mile loop and most people who weren't used to riding in beautiful country surround by tall pine trees on great roads with little traffic were disappointed when the metric was finished. So this year I hoped to pull off doing a full century.
Well, it was pulled off. Only thing that would have made this ride better is if we did it earlier in the year as it is a great training ride, we'd have another hour of sunlight, and more people would have done it as for many folks the cycling season is winding down. Otherwise a perfect day.
60% of the climbing is on the first 38% of the miles to Cooks Station
2.3-R-Shenandoah SCHOOL Road
12.4-S-Mt. Aukum Rd
17.4-<1>-Store @ Mt. Aukum and Fairplay corner,
(alternative Pioneer Park 1/8m up Fairplay)
17.6-L-Perry Creek Road (S-Perry Creek Road if coming out of Pioneer Park)
21.0-L-SLUG GULCH ROAD (gear down)
26.4-R-Omo Ranch Road
26.5-<2>-Regroup at Indian Diggins School on left side of road
26.5-R-Omo Ranch Road (through El Dorado National Forest)
36.0-L-Hwy 88 (uphill)
36.7-<3>-Lunch at Cooks Station, 1/8m after 5000' sign
36.7-L-Hwy 88 (downhill)
40.2-R-Shake Ridge Road (right after Dew Drop Loop)
40.2-<4>-Quick regroup so we don't lose anyone missing turn off of fast downhill
40.2-S-Shake Ridge Road
46.2-METRIC RIDERS-R-Fiddletown Road-(go to 80.3 below)
46.2-CENTURY RIDERS-S-Shake Ridge Road-Century Riders
49.2-R-Shake Rige Road (after Ponderosa Rd) @ Dafodil Hill
59.2-S-Shake Ridge/ Gopher Flats Road (note shortcut option on Pine Gulch Rd)
61.7-L-Old Hwy 49-Sutter Creek
61.9-<5>-Secret bathrooms behind City Aud. Parking lot
61.9-L-Sutter Creek Volcano Road
74.3-R-Consolation which becomes Rams Horn Grade or
S-Charleston Road & R-Shake Ridge Road at the top
77.3-<7>Regroup @ Daffodil Hill where Rams Horn becomes Shake Ridge
90.7-<8>-Park in Fiddletown
96.6-S-Main Street. Plymouth
Ironically, when we started the ride right outside the Amador County Fairgrounds, a cycling couple drove up and unloaded their car at the same time. No they weren't joining us--but they made a pilgrimage to this spot to do the old Sierra Century metric in the traditional direction. The Real Sierra century lives on!!
Ride started out warm, nice difference from last week, and we hit the gentle rollers through the Shenandoah Valley where they have shoe horned in more and more wineries. More wineries on the quick side loop of Steiner, not part of the old Sierra Century but a nice detour learned from the local Erma's Diner Bike Club. Then more rollers that start to get serious, though not approaching the seriousness of the Auburn area where they are so long and steep it is impossible to power over anything. Ward and I agreed that only thing missing from our modified Sierra Century was the nice trip through the Bridgeport School Road Arenberg Forest that used to get us here. Most of us riding at a quick but social pace except for Montana Erik and Joe; glad someone showed up for Joe to play with as they zipped on ahead. Rusty and Stephen, who never met an attack they didn't like, were even on good behavior.
Though only 17 miles had passed definitely needed to load up on drink at store in Pioneer as now we'd be climbing for 20 miles and no assurance that the school halfway up would have running water. Additionally, toxic porta potty was locked so we took a side trip to Pioneer Park which worked out nicely with wonderful real restrooms, a good feature of this ride. Then a straight shot down a side street that quickly turned into a narrow, tree covered (but nicely paved) road that continued with rollers-some attention getting. Stephen commented that he once thought this was the infamous Slug Gulch and I chuckled as in 2004 when I was out of it so did I. Here I was trying to keep my backside on the saddle as I wanted to preserve my legs for the Slug.
Then a quick uphill roller, a longer downhill roller, and SUDDENLY WE ARE THERE. A sudden left turn suddenly appears that Ward and I instantly recognized--oh shitty--GEAR DOWN. The initial part of Slug Gulch is actually the steepest part of the 3-4 mile climb.
As I'm not a pure climber, unlike a steep but steady climb, I like Slug Gulch and even the harder Charleston. Though each has grades approaching 20% both also have flat relief spots that one can recollect themselves. Slug Gulch has 4 tiers of approximately 1/4 mile each, with each tier broken up by a short relief sections, and about half way up Slug turns into a gentle uphill. Luckily the steepest first section was in the shade and though the rest was wide open we were avoiding the hot afternoon sun. Three times I started sprinting uphill--when the quiet of Slug was interrupted by dogs suddenly barking like mad--luckily behind fences. One of the few houses on Slug was blasting the Beatles "Abby Road," nice change from the house blasting country-western music in the middle of nowhere around Auburn last week.
Joe, Montana and Rusty had hammered the Perry Creek run in, and I was sure we'd catch Rusty on Slug, but he managed to stay away. We regrouped at the Indian Diggins Elementary School, which has a beautiful shaded lawn. Apart from us it was dead quiet. We reminisced about when this was a Sierra Century rest stop full of wading kiddie pools to soak feet in, or when Jack wouldn't let Big Mike finish his huge lunch. Today luckily water was available.
We continued on Omo Ranch Road that runs through the El Dorado National Forest-- a mostly gentle uphill. In the past off road motorcycles sometimes broke the quiet, but today this area surrounded by huge Pine Trees was almost silent (apart from us,) with at most a half dozen vehicles seen in 12 miles. One truck pulled over and asked us if we had seen any deer. Later we found out it was the start of the hunting season but didn't hear any gunshots like I repeatedly heard in Auburn last weekend. On a ride with many beautiful portions this may be the most beautiful part of the ride.Ward-o-crazy took tons of photos on this ride. Most can be seen on the next post. On this post you can see the elevation profile, our motley crew at the rustic Indian Diggins school (with modern playyard) and the Diablo Cyclist pelaton going up Omo Ranch Road through the El Dorado National Forest.
Rusty, who didn't read the route sheet, was ready to turn right for his favorite portion, the screaming downhill on Hwy 88, and didn't believe me when I told him to turn left--as there is really not much around the uphill to the East until you get to Kirkwood Ski Resort-30 miles away. But here we went about a 1/4" mile past the 5,000' sign to Cook Station, a little store, cafe with nothing really great but a beautiful backyard deck-patio to eat at. We had taken hours to get here and were only at mile 37--but had been climbing all day. Now 60% of the climbing was done.
After our first really long break we took off on the screaming downhill on Highway 88. There is not much traffic on Highway 88 and it has a wide shoulder in most places but the downhill is still treacherous as it is easy to miss the cutoff after 4 miles--and if missed you keep going fast downhill towards Pioneer and beyond--so we all regrouped at Shake Ridge Road cutoff and yelled to our compatriots not to miss the "exit."
We quickly started down Shake Ridge, where being one of the worst descenders I quickly lost the group, and then appreciated the 2-3 "Italian" (aka "Auburn," aka "Serious") rollers that let me come back to the group. This part of Shake Ridge is at 3,000'--possible winter snow level--but now this rustic street lined with basic houses on multi acre lots (possible retirement area?) was perfect to speed down. Once the rollers shrunk in size Rusty sped off. Montana Erik who had been hammering with Joe all day slowed down as he had to get back and he joined Stephen and June on the "E-ticket" Fiddletown cutoff for a 65 mile ride.
The rest of us continued on where Shake Ridge makes an abrupt right turn and becomes totally rustic again with no houses. If anyone accidentally continued straight they'd be going down Rams Horn Grade. Shake Ridge is the one of two roads down to Sutter Creek and the better one to take. The alternatiove we'd be coming back on, Sutter Creek Volcano Road, has a tall shoulder and the downhill lane seems to collect many falling rocks. Overall Shake Ridge was downhill but many portions were interrupted by uphill sections. We passed the top of Charleston Grade which Joe was considering doing, and Hale Road--the alternative rout to Fiddletown/ Plymouth if one liked unpaved undulating roads that had a running stream in the bottom. Unbelievable that the last Sierra Century had been routed on this disaster.
In any event we picked up speed towards Sutter Creek--again Rusty disappearing ahead. Sutter Creek the quintessential gold rush town--looks like a movie set, and I was blown away the first time I ever rode through it years ago. We didn't play tourist as we were going to regroup for awhile in Volcano, so now we just hit the secret public bathrooms, while being serenaded to "Barney type" music from a neighboring park. We noted that if the presidential election was held in Auburn County, based on house signs, McCain would win 25x over Obama. As we couldn't play "the find Rusty" game today, we decided bonus points for spotting another Obama sign. With that we quickly started up Sutter Creek-Volcano Road.
The road up to Volcano is a gentle climb of 1000' for 12 miles, which kicks up near the end. It is also beautiful--a few houses but more undeveloped nature with a stream running alongside. Usually I come through here in the early morning and it is real shady, but now we were on it during the heat of the day and Rusty was not happy. I rode with him as Jack-Joe and Ward went on ahead.
Volcano is a little, sleepy 2 block town with a faux Greek theatre, and a general store with a porch--so we all sat around like we do in Sunol. The heat had gotten to everyone and we all looked beat as we downed cold drink while Ward kept snapping potentially embarrassing photos of 3 zoned out cyclists. To get out of town we had two choices--Ram Horns Grade which was the hard climb on the old Sierra Century Metric, or Charleston Road, the hardest climb I know of. It is like Slug Gulch but with +3% added on to every steep section. Joe, our club's best climber, didn't look enthused at doing Charleston and said he'd do it if I did it. What the hell--I said I'd join him and we'd regroup with Ward, Jack, Rusty at Daffodil Hill. Think I downed another bottle of something on the spot as I knew I'd be sweating it out.
Jack, Ward and Rusty went right to Rams Horn Grade and Joe and I went straight where the road immediately kicked up--but we were on the portion the Big Mike once proclaimed "was not that bad." Yep, "not that bad" for about 1/4 mile then suddenly--"HOLY CRAP," the road then goes up like a wall. If the scary top of Diablo is 18% for .1 mile, the first section of Charleston is minimally 20% for .25 mile. Luckily this first part was in the shade.
Joe took one side of the lane and I took the other side but the grade is so severe we involuntarily started weaving back and forth and almost hit each other so we change to front and back formation. Wisely I didn't stand early after my back went out "over torquing" last week on Iowa Hill (1.7 13.5%), but at a certain point I had no choice but to stand. My back went out but though sections of this were steeper I like Charleston better than Iowa Hill which has a relentless grade with no recovery points; here it would get flat so my back could recover. But on this section we saw the top--no--I forgot about the false flat so I yelled out to Joe that we'd have a recovery point--eventually.
The road finally flattened out and I got to stretch. After about a flat 1/8" mile the climb kicked up again--this time about 18% for .25 mile. This portion was a "piece of cake" compared to the first part. Around a curve which featured a few homes and then a nice 1/4" mile downhill. Couldn't rejoice yet as another 18% for a shorter .12 miles. Then we got to the final uphill rollers--the 5% now seemed very very flat. Joe and I congratulated each other as we cycled back to Daffodil Hill where Ward and Jack had been waiting for 5-10 minutes and later said Rams Horn was a piece of cake. (Rusty had taken off ahead)
Now some annoying uphill rollers which used to be a real pain during the Sierra Century--and I now tried to push the pace--now that the specter of Charleston wasn't looming any longer there was no reason to hold back. We soon arrived at Disneyland--I mean Fiddletown, regrouped and started the "E-ticket" ride. (minors-ask your parents about this.) This was always the Big Mike portion of the ride--made for someone who can speed downhill and power over small rollers.
The Fiddletown Expressway is 10 rustic miles--it starts off as a steep, curvy downhill where I quickly got sawed off, but soon had roller after roller which are easy to fly over and I got back to the group. There was some chicanery-attacks but Ward-Joe and I rode mostly cooperatively until we saw Rusty ahead on the road. I thought as he was dead on Volcano Road we'd blow by him but he had recovered and quickly jumped on our paceline. I expected Rusty to eventually attack as this becomes the perfect road for him as the rollers are increasingly descending in nature and they eventually stop and the road just goes downhill, and Rusty is a fearless downhiller. I tried to get rid of Rusty on the rollers but to his credit he hung on tight, and then at the end took off and won the ride into Fiddletown.
Fiddletown has a few "ghost town buildings" and a big park with bathrooms/ tennis courts which used to be the central Sierra Century rest stop. Our time here was cut short when a pit bull appeared and we decided to s..l..o..w..l..y roll out--luckily the pit bull was bored with us. Now only 7 miles of slightly downhill miles to Plymouth which is punctuated by a serious roller--one you need to climb over instead of powering over. I knew Ludo--I mean Rusty, would again attack when the road straightened out so I went hard over the climb and time trialed to Plymouth, unfortunately having to slow when our road yields into another and after not seeing many cars all day two cars were traveling at the intersection. Joe and Ward joined me in the "Rusty keep away" as we sped into Plymouth.
Great-great ride. A few of us headed off to find something to eat in Plymouth, which was tough as most places already locked up. Finally found a pizzeria and had a good tri-tip salad. Good food at the end of this version of the Sierra Century. I already can't wait to do it again next year.