Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Real SIERRA CENTURY (Plymouth-Slug Gulch-Sutter Creek-Volcano-Fiddletown)-2009

(May 23, 2009) The Real SIERRA CENTURY. 104.5 miles, 9,300' climbing, 9:20-@6:20, 15.4 avg. Great group with me (though I b.s.'d Sierra Century memories all day), Ward, Jack, Doug, Johnna, Vic*, Tall Tom*, Jason*, Christine*, Joe/Jen*, Rusty/ Sarah (*first timers to the Gold Country, which brought back memories when I was new to riding in the area and was amazed.) ** Course Rating 266** To PUMPKINCYCLE Home>>> Ward Industries elevation profile.

Ride History
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.
Right away some serious rollers on desolate Perry Creek Road which eventually calm down, then after 4 miles a quick left turn--GEAR DOWN--SLUG GULCH! Slug Gulch out in the open, luckily doing it at 11:00 instead of 2:00, and it seemed as if more home along the way had yapping dogs. But it is a climb I enjoy (except in 2004) as after each long steep tier is a recovery spot, and it gets gentle half way up. After doing Sierra Road this is a piece of cake. When I got to the top I rode back for the trailer but i didn't have to ride far. Everyone did great.

Rest stop 2 (mile 26) at Omo Ranch school which is secluded with a huge tree shaded picnic area, lawn, and then it was on for 12 gentle climbing miles trough the El Dorado National Forest. Today was extremely quiet, no hunters or dirt bikes around. Then the little kick up Highway 88, past the 5,000' sign and Cooks Station, rest stop 3 (mile 37) with a wonderful enclosed patio. I had disparaged it, saying it was one * star better than the Mines Road diner but after most people ordered sandwiches I was told that there was no comparison, it was minimally two ** stars better, and maybe 3 ***. Lunch show was Vic getting stung by an insect and watching his lip puff up.

Also had first of two strange run in with police, a cop told someone in our group that its real busy and we should be riding up here. I never quite got the full story but the little piece I got was odd. (The uphill part of Highway 88 we rode up had light traffic with people getting out of town but it has a good shoulder--when we'd go downhill on Highway 88 for 4 miles it would have almost no traffic--just like the rest of the ride.)

It was now 1:30 and we had done a whole 37 miles and everyone was wondering where the downhill was---we had been on uphill rollers or climbs since the morning. So, fast downhill on Highway 88, then downhill rollers on Shake Ridge Road
All of a sudden we were at mile 50, where Rusty/ Sarah turned off on the Fiddletown Speedway to do the metric route. The rest of us continued on the Shake Ridge downhill rollers to Sutter Creek, (rest stop 4, mile 62)
(below)--Rusty and Sarah make the turn into Fairplay (Shouldn't the UN be located in Fairplay?) --Regroup at Pioneer Park when newbees hear about Slug Gulch. -Pelaton coming through on Perry Creek Road.
Great pictures taken by Joe of the Pelaton riding in the El Dorado National Forest and a shot of it capturing the quietness ahead of Jen. --Making the turn onto Highway 88 from the El Dorado National Forest.

-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."

In Volcano (rest stop 5-mile 74) Jen hurting and Joe planning for them to ride back to Sutter Creek where he'd ride to get the car. Doug, our club 2006 Terrible Two champ but who now works too much, also hurting. Tried to get Jason to go up Charleston, which is MUCH harder than Slug Gulch, but he declines and my back is feeling good so I decline, so NO Charleston riders this year. Ward said he would have slipped the GPS device in my pocket so we could get a reading.

So it up Rams Horn with Johanna pushing the 11x23, Christina doing well, Jason and Tom zipping ahead. Rams Horn not that bad but then a few miles of uphill rollers until the Fiddletown Expressway cutoff. We get there and Doug not with us, Ward and I ride back for him while everyone starts down individually--so no Fiddletown Sprint this year. We get Doug who is low on energy (too many vegetables!!!) and we start down, after the first steep downhill section where I fall off the downhill rollers start and Ward pushed the pace--disappointed that absent Big Mike he had a chance for the Fiddletown sprint if the group would have stayed together.

(above) --Pelaton entering Sutter Creek --Secret bathroom water break.
below) --Jason leads the charge into Volcano --The Pelaton follows. --Hanging out on the Volcano sidewalk.

Fiddletown (mile 91, rest stop 6) Johanna says that when she was coming down a car behind her and a cop pulled up and said she was impeding traffic and has to pull over when that happens--which is incredibly incorrect. Sorry we weren't all around to talk with the cop--though it might have led to a heated argument so better that Ward not locked up in the Fiddletown jail.
** **
Leaving Fiddletown some in the group were talking about taking the flatter, shorter way back so I quickly jumped to the front and circled onto Ostrom Road, not a bad climb but now it is mile 91 and the grade creeps steadily up. Once on the road no complaints--in fact everyone looked happy as Ward yelled "take some photos as the light is perfect."
Before starting the downhill rollers to Plymouth have to ride on the "main road" and we get close to our left turn and I don't yell "left turn" I yell "slow--cow on the road." On the opposite side is a cow walking down the main road with a car slowly following. (Damn-missed the photo) Where is the cop now to tell the cattleman he is "impeding traffic?."

(below) --More vineyards near the end of the ride--everyone still looks happy--but no one is happier than me.

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.

Fiddletown Expressway
(2004) Big Mike 2x; (2005) Big Mike (2x); (2006) Big Mike; (2007) Big Mike; (2008) Rusty (2009) NONE but Jason takes Volcano sprint
Charleston Climb
(2006) Jay, Big Mike; (2007) NONE; (2008) Jay, Joe; (2009) NONE

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The CHP at Cook Station story:

Just after we sat down at the Cook Station patio, a local cop and a CHP pulled into the parking lot. As they exited their vehicles and saw our bikes parked outside the CHP said something along the lines of, "Oh God!, bicycles."

To my ears, his tone was a combination of disgust and resignation. The patio seating is not in clear sight (separated by a wood fence) form the parking area so I don't think he saw us when making the comment.

When I went inside to buy food both cops were there. The local guy was chatting with the cashier (they seemed about the same age and she was telling him that she was going to Sac State in the fall). The CHP guy asked what direction we were heading. He told me that there were a lot of nuts on the road and that we needed to be careful; then he wandered off.

I asked the local guy "how's business" and he gave a little shake of the head indicating that it business had been "good" which is not really a good thing. That's about it really. The one thing that really stuck in my mind was the original comment by / attitude of the CHP.