The Sierra Century out of Plymouth was the greatest century ever and 1 of the 3 hardest in Northern California. (Jack swears the Sequoia Century was harder, and I thought Tour of Unknown Coast was compatible.) Greatest as the Sacramento Wheelmen busted their butt at the start/ finish in the mock western town Amador Fairgrounds and every rest stop. Greatest as you rode through some real classic Gold Country Western towns as Ione, Sutter Creek & Volcano. Greatest as you rode through desolate country on good roads with little traffic, including the El Dorado National Forest. Greatest as the 12 miles downhill rollers of the Fiddletown Speedway is an "E Ticket" ride, and we'd do it twice.
But you had to like climbing. Most of the ride features roller after roller. Rams Horn Grade was one attention getting climb, but everyone talked about "THE CLIMB" on the backside of the ride "SLUG GULCH," only 5 miles but the first half had section after section almost as steep as the Diablo ramp. Slug Gulch was so feared that the Sacramento Wheelmen, being such nice guys, provided a Slug Gulch bypass. They also provided a WONDERFUL bonus, if one reached the top of Slug Gulch by a certain time, you could do an additional 20 miles, including continuing to climb 12 miles through the beautiful El Dorado National Forest. The 120 miler came in with 10,000' climbing but though tough it was fun.
The Sierra Century died in 2006. That year rumor has it El Dorado Country wouldn't give out a ride permit at the behest of wineries growing in the area. The Sacramento Wheelmen came up with a bastardized version which excluded Slug Gulch and all the cool "high area" of the ride. Instead Hale Road was thrown in, one of the worst back roads in the area--gravel paved and pothole strewn with a hidden stream bed at the bottom. They also had riders going up and down Rams Horn at the same time, which pissed local motorists to high hell. And a person tragically died trying to pass a farm truck. By the next year the whole ride was moved to a totally different area (also known for crappy roads) and has since moved again. RIP.
My History on the Ride
I did the 60 mile course in 1999-2000, and couldn't imagine doing any climb harder than Ram's Horn, I didn't want anything to do with Slug Gulch that everyone was fearful of. In 2002, after knee surgery I could only do the 60 miler and was envious of people I knew doing the 100 miler--the best climber I knew came back half dead. By 2003 I wanted to do every climbing ride I had avoided in the past, but heck with the 100, I threw myself in for the 120, which then meant lots of Oakland hill training rides--but I still needed to see Slug Gulch. My riding partner knew the area and she devised a course that would get us to Slug Gulch at mile 25 instead of 75. The backwards metric loop was born, and became the basis for many other training rides over Slug Gulch, including my wife's intro to Slug Gulch before she did it on the Sierra Century. That year I did Slug Gulch 3 weekends in a row. I did a few more rides up in the Gold Country with Erma's Diner Club, and learned of a few back roads not on the Sierra Century.
So did the 120 miler in 2003, 2004, 2005--2004 might have been my worst ride ever coming back from my dad's funeral and 2005 my best after hooking up with the Diablo Cyclists, and we were attacking all day. On the 2006 bastardized version I had tire problems and just did 100.
In 2007 I ran the "backwards" Sierra METRIC Century as a club ride, which skips the flatter first part of teh old Century thru Ione and adds the bonus part of the 120 mile route. At the end of the day most folks were disappointed that the ride was over. So in 2008 I made it a full century, adding a run down to Sutter Creek and back; the 12 mile gentle climb from Sutter Creek to Volcano is a real treat. But last year when we were almost done in Fiddletown (mile 91) I took the old flatter metric route in, this year I stayed true to the Old Sierra Century 120 and took us over the Ostrum Climb--Big Mike's favorite (after he destroyed everyone on the downhill roller run in to Fiddletown he'd die on this last climb--justice.)
This Year's Recap
What a great group, we had the right mix of old timers and folks new to the Gold Country so we could enjoy their amazement. We also were able to keep the group together as Joe & Rusty riding with girlfriends Jen & Sarah, so our best climber and most aggressive rider couldn't go far ahead. (If Sarah gets pissed she could kick Rusty's butt.) Our youngest riders, Jason & Tall Tom would shoot off but they couldn't get far ahead as they didn't know the route. This used to be advertised as great training ride for the Death Ride--so was perfect for Christine who will be doing her first DR--Johnna will be doing the DR again this year buy she needs no training--as Phil Liggett would say "she was the man of the match" as she did this ride with a corncob 11x23. Sacto Doug, my fellow Triple Crown Rookie--class of 2005, came down for this ride. Luckily Jack and Ward were along so if I rode in the back with someone lagging, they knew the course and could lead on. Vic rounded out our group, steadily riding temp all day.
After a clusterfuck wait at the Plymouth vintage (Mark Twain musta used them) bathroom which opened late start off on the rollers through the growing Shenandoah Wine Valley, luckily riding through before the wineries open and would return after they closed. Within 5 miles took off vest for good--miss riding with Big Mike and I need him to laugh at me at the beginning for all the clothes I want to take. 1 of 5 pick-em-up trucks would be surly, luckily just passed every few minutes.
(below) --Lion of Flanders shows where the meeting place is.--Rusty finally congratulated on his Fiddletown Sprint victory of last year by a podium girl --Waiting for the Plymouth bathrooms to open --Pelaton on Shenandoah/ Mt Aukum, the "major road" of the day, surrounded by vineyards and no traffic...
Who is this stranger? Rumor has it that this cyclist went up to Sacramento and no one ever saw him again until now.
Rest stop 1 (mile 17)-corner store in Fairplay, overrun by motorcycles so we just went up the road to Pioneer Park, which may be a good alternative in the future. Here we laid out the next section--Slug Gulch, where Jen gave Joe the "what did you get me into" look, but she was a gamer.
-Lunch at Cooks Station (hey Joe, nice photo but Rusty looks better in photos when Sarah is also in it instead of me) --Jason steamed that he didn't get a really BIG sandwich --Tom & Johnna ready for first downhill of the day
Everyone still looked good getting to Sutter Creek, in fact Jen rode hard right in Joe's wheel, but the next uphill would start putting the hurt on people. We'd now do the greatest climb I know, a gentle shaded 1000' over 12 miles to Volcano, with a stream off to the right. Almost always a tailwind, it feels like you are being drawn up by a magnet. With no way to get lost I started riding aggressively and stayed with the youngsters, Tall Tom and Jason. After Jason pulled for awhile and with the last 2 miles of Fabio Hill that kicks up I tried an attack--Jason countered and I got my butt whipped by this mountain bike champ who everyone hated every time he'd say "I'm trying to get back into shape."
below) --Jason leads the charge into Volcano --The Pelaton follows. --Hanging out on the Volcano sidewalk.
Anyway ride ends and I'm estatic. This is the weekend of my dad's death, and to do this ride that brings back so many memories with such great folks is wonderful beyond belief.