What Is The Devil Mountain Double Century
Devil Mountain Double Century, often called DMD, is one of those routes that demands respect, whether for its hard mountain climb after hard mountain climb or its tricky descents that many years send at least one rider heading to the hospital via helicopter. It's a 206 mile ride over every climb in the east and south bay totaling around 20,000' ascent for the day.
Eight years ago I casually entered the DMD about 3 months after getting my first road bike because it seemed like a solid challenge. And even though I respect challenges I don’t fear them. I only made it 120 miles before bonking and 150 miles before dropping out completely. This was back before my first century, before my first 100 mile ultra run or a 24hour MTB race so yeah I wasn’t ready for that kind of time in the saddle.
Fast forward to 2016 and many ultra distance races later and I figured I’d do the DMD on the Cruzbike Vendetta V20 because why the hell not. Recumbents were infamous for their terrible ability to climb mountains and the typical rider pool aren’t the type to seek thrills from going way too fast around blind corners on mountain descents.
I love when people tell me something can't be done. Entering the Cruzbike V20 in such an event is a one of a kind challenge which is why I originally did it. So why would I do it again? Well, because during that first time I learned and showed everyone else that maybe these unconventional, über comfortable bikes weren’t limited to crawling up and down the mountains but could instead compete against the best $10,000 standard super bikes. The plan this year was to try and break the current course record which was over 90 mins faster than the time I set in 2016. However, the path to accomplishing something great is rarely a smooth one. My path was about to send me off a (metaphorical) cliff.
The Train Derails
Three weeks before the event, I broke my custom headrest. This is like breaking your favorite saddle on a traditional bike, but since it’s custom it took me a full week of not riding to fabricate a new one. Yes, I was preparing my excuses 3 weeks ahead for the event.
The day after finishing the new headrest I set out to do a 130-mile ride which climbs up and over Big Bear Lake and everything looked to be working perfectly. But my good day quickly came to an end at mile 115. I came across a driver who was upset I existed that morning and took it upon himself to purposefully run me and the bike over.
This left me bloody and bruised but fortunately well enough to hobble away, my precious Vendetta was not so lucky. The frame was bent and cracked, carbon seat in pieces, wheels far from straight and my brand new headrest was ruined.
The only parts that were functional even though they showed signs of being drug across the asphalt was the SRAM drivetrain. Take that all you SRAM haters. As I sat on the side of the road waiting for the police to show up I thought about how I was going to make the race and what bike would I ride. The thought of how to get home hadn't even crossed my mind.
I thought I could use my Trek but I heavily rely on the aero bars to keep my damaged wrists pain free and I was missing so much skin on my left arm that resting in onto an aero bar pad was out of the question, and still is as I type this report.
I think it was while the police were Ubering me back the remaining 15 miles to my house that I sent a text message to Jim and Maria Parker of Cruzbike letting them know what had happened and that I was ok. They asked if I was sure I was ok and shortly after, said they’d have a new frame in the mail Monday.
They were out on vacation and I contacted them because I didn’t want them learning of the incident via social media. Getting a frame in the mail one day later was unexpected. So now there was a dream. What other parts would I need to get the bike ready and where could I beg, borrow or steal them from?
I quickly contacted Greg in Poland who makes the Thor seat I use and asked how long to get a new seat in the mail, to which he responded: a week. That would take too long but I needed one regardless so I asked him to make it anyways while I asked around on the Cruzbike Forum for anyone who may have a size large seat in their garage. Bob Pankratz, aka “Ratz” offered to take the seat off his bike and send it to me for the race. So now I had a seat.
Now for the wheels, I opted to steal the wheels off the Trek which require some specially made end caps to work on the V20 but luckily I had already made them over a year ago for another reason.
The following day I get an email from Greg with a funny selfie stating he pulled an all-nighter and would have my new seat in the mail that morning (Monday) so if it made it through customs in time I’d have Bob’s seat as a backup. Turns out my bad luck wasn’t over, with my Polish seat stuck in customs limbo and my new frame being delayed 3 days due to bad weather.
This only gave me 2 days to build the bike which normally would be more than enough time but a RojoRacing edition bike always requires some special work so I’d be cutting it close. After two days of work a quick test ride and some custom decal work thanks to the guys at Frame Up Bikes I had a one of a kind Cruzbike V20 RojoRacing edition AKA the Donut Cart 2.0 as my friends call it. I didn’t make the final adjustment until 11 pm the night before the event, but sleep is overrated.
The morning before the start was uneventful and for once in my life I rolled up to the start line with minutes to spare and even had my gloves on. After some prodding from fellow riders for choosing my non-UCI legal bike, we were off at 5 minutes past 6 a.m.. Now I should state there was also the option to start at 5 a.m., which most riders choose to do each year, but even still our 6 a.m. group was much smaller than the last time I did this event. But as Derek pointed out this year, it wasn't part of the stage race so many of the faster riders weren't there. (Images below courtesy of Bill Bushnell.)
Without a strong peloton of riders to work with and both Derek and I looking at that course record as the goal, there was no reason to hold back and keep the group together. Derek and I quickly inched away from the group with Bill Bushnell in tow on his electric assisted yellow cloth faired recumbent, aka “the banana”. There was a little back and forth as we headed toward Mt. Diablo but it was I who started the climb first with Derek climbing past straight away. (Photo below courtesy of Derek.)
I had kind of forgotten about Bill until he came whizzing passed me and eventually Derek as well (I saw Bill descending the mountain a fair few minutes ahead of Derek). It made me think of all those times random people have asked me if the Cruzbike has a motor as I climb past them on my rides, so now I know I have Bill to thanks for the confusion!
Somewhere halfway up Diablo a couple of riders caught me from behind and we spent the rest of the climb talking about random stuff. At the Summit I didn't stop for water and continued straight down the mountain just after Kenny who was one of those two riders who caught me earlier. I could tell he was unsure of my descending speed on what could be considered one of the most technical mountain descents in California because he kept looking back to see if I had caught him yet. (Photo below courtesy of Bill Bushnell.)
Honestly, he was descending far better than I could have hoped and I felt no rush to make a pass unless a clean opportunity presented it. It wasn't long before I found a nice long sweeping right corner to close the gap and coast on by on the left as we broke into the next left-hand corner, a clean cross pattern for my racing friends. I didn't really pull away now that I was in front which made me think I need to get a camera on Kenny's bike so he can film me descending next time because it's hard finding skilled descenders on the road.
As we got to Juniper corner I slowed for the blind stop sign just in case there was a car turning or a ranger ready to hassle us and that's when Kenny passed me back. Again he was glancing over his shoulder far too often which reminded me why don't more rider have mirrors like every other vehicle on the road. You should always watch for wildlife when descending at breakneck speeds and it was right as Kenny took another glance back at me that a deer jumped up onto the road. Before he even got his head turned back forward I was already yelling, "DEER!!!!!". We both got on the brakes hard and got slowed just enough for the deer to scramble across our lane and hop up the wall to our right. Kenny shook his head, probably scolding himself for not keeping his eyes forward as he waved me passed conceding he had no reason to be trying to hold the wheel on an ex-motorcycle racer. I continued getting my shot of adrenaline for the rest of the descent but this time Kenny quickly faded from my mirror.
The Wheels Come Off
As I get to the bottom of Diablo I think to myself, over these next 10 miles I should be able to make up some time on Derek, who was probably about 10 mins ahead of me; but suddenly my right quad tenses up, and then my left. So both my legs go full blown mile-22-in-a-marathon-run cramps and I'm no stranger to cramps but always on the MTB and never on the Vendetta. I quickly eased up and stopped pedaling but my muscles just kept tying the knot tighter and tighter as I coasted down the road. On the MTB I only cramp when in the saddle so my solution is to stand up and use slightly different muscles at an easier effort till my legs calm down. On the Vendetta I have no option to change positions or muscle groups so as soon as the road flattened out and I could put some power to the pedals I did so and tore the tightening muscles back open. Each time I forced the muscles open they would fiercely retie the knot and I repeated the painful process with each pedal stroke hoping I could outlast the pain. At first, it was the quads but after a minute or two, my inner thighs would follow suit and then eventually the calves as if the quads were calling to arms the other muscles in an attempt to stop me from continuing. For those of you who have never had to force your way through a cramping muscle instead of just standing on the side of the road looking sad, there's a method to the madness. If you force the muscles to keep cycling open eventually they will concede and relax but it will feel like you're tearing ever fiber in the muscle and the pain will feel as such. I'd say each episode would last 3-5 mins and this day I'd have to fight through the pain 7 times in the first 100 miles.
What I couldn't figure out was why it was happening in the first place, because 2 hours into a ride at 55 degrees is far too early and cool for it to be pace or dehydration related. I climbed over Morrigan Territory then as I crossed the flats of Livermore again I couldn't take advantage of the V20's speed because of cramps and it was then that my thoughts of a new course record shifted to, "Will I even be able to finish?"
As I climbed up Patterson Pass a thought popped into my head, I was wearing new shorts. I had forgotten that in the crash two weeks ago my favorite shorts for riding the Vendetta had gotten destroyed and these new ones were tighter around the quads because of how new they were.
Cycling shorts typically fit snug but I have fat legs and no butt so I've had tight shorts cause cramps in the past, but long enough ago that I had forgotten. At this point, the damage to my muscles was done, but if I could stretch the elastic a bit I could at least prevent future cramps and maybe slowly recover.
So I pulled over and tried to stretch the elastic but the brand new shorts were not having it so I tried harder but then RIP, I tore the right side nearly to the crotch and now they were going to be flapping in the wind. A little pissed off I got back on the bike and continued along hoping the next aid station would have scissors I could use to carefully cut open the left side. I will say that freeing up my right leg made a big difference when compared to my now still constricted left leg. I got into the next aid station cut open my shorts to the surprise of everyone there and continued on with my hulk legs free from their restraints.
The Long Slog
So the next section was the long ascent up Mines Road to the top of Mt. Hamilton which is one of my favorite 60 mile stretches of road because of very few cars and lots of corners. I kept my pace in check holding around 180 watts compared to my typical 200-230 which considering what I was going through wasn't a terrible pace at all, hell I was still in second position even if it was a very distant second at this point thanks to the hard charging Derek who was still on record pace.
During this time I thought about turning around and bailing on the ride, thinking there was no way I was not going to have to walk up Hamilton and Sierra road in my fancy dancing shoes.
Then each time that thought became more serious I also thought of how many people pooled together their parts and effort to get me a bike to start the race. How could I not get the bike across the finish line? I wasn't about to fail those who support me.
I got up to the Mines junction station and had a coke and PB&J while topping off my bottles before heading back out. Climbing up Hamilton is always a challenge with its relentlessly consistent steep grade and the heat from the stagnant air. My legs were getting me up the climb but it was at a crawl and at one point I pulled over into the shade for a minute to catch my breath and stretch my neck which for some reason was getting super tight which isn't normal but I pushed the neck discomfort out of my mind.
As I stood there a few riders rode past letting me know the world would keep turning and no matter how long I stood there it wasn't going to get me any closer to the finish, or at least that's what I heard. After my break, I felt much better and caught each of the 3 riders who had passed me. The last of which was Kenny again from early, good to see he hadn't had any run-ins with deer since I last saw him.
Over the top and into the fun stuff I quickly closed in on Kenny who quickly let me by as I enjoyed my next shot of adrenaline. No issues on the descent as I know quite well which of the corners tend to collect gravel from my time racing up and down the mountain on my motorcycle. Overall the weather was about as good as you could expect, not too hot, not terribly cold even if it was a bit windy but it's always windy for this ride. I think it was the perfect weather that made my early legs issues all the more frustrating because this was the perfect day to set a fast time and here I was struggling along. I arrived at the next aid station at mile 150 and was starting to feel a little recovered but then I'd need to be that and more if I was to pedal up the next climb smooth enough to avoid spinning the front wheel and stalling out.
Sierra Road Climb and The Final Miles
Three years ago I was worried that I would have to walk up this climb due to limited traction with the Vendetta's front wheel drive system, but I tackled it with ease after holding back all day in preparation for that one climb. Today I was equally unsure of my chances due to completely different circumstances. Sierra Road doesn't lull you in with false hope, it looks you straight in the face and punches you right in the nose from the bell with the first 1/2 mile being perfectly straight but kicking straight up to like 12-13% so it looks like you're riding into a wall.
It was in this first part I could see Kenny turn onto the road and slowly start reeling me back in, Kenny and I are still in 2nd and 3rd positions overall. After you clear the first 1/2 mile you get to look forward to 3 more miles of winding road at an overall average of 9% grade. Somehow I had recovered enough to put down the power I needed in the steeper areas to keep traction but I was tensing up my neck while doing it. I had been tensing my neck subconsciously all day on the climbs and it had finally occurred to me why after 155 miles.
So with he new bike build and reusing my damaged headrest, my head was tipped back about 25 degrees more than normal, doesn't seem like a big deal right? Well that's what I thought and opted to just look down my nose a bit more, hell we look through the tops of our sunglasses on a regular bike all the time so what's the difference. Well, what I discovered is by looking down my nose that extra 25 degrees more I can't help but subconsciously tense up my neck muscles to try and bring my head forward off the headrest. If I force myself to relax it's fine but it has to be a constant conscious effort so as soon as I lose focus I tense up again. Now if I relax my eyes and look forward into the sky I can relax my neck but I can't maintain my balance nearly as well when using my bottom peripheral vision to sight the road. So tense the neck and climb straight or relax the neck and wobble all over the place were my two choices.
Normally I climb straight as an arrow and in complete comfort but it takes more than a day to dial in the Vendetta for those levels of comfort. I eventually made it to the top without even putting a foot down and congratulated Kenny on making it into the home stretch. The final 45 miles are mostly downhill with two more climbs but when compared to what you've already done by that point they feel more like inconvenient bumps in the road instead of noteworthy climbs.
I finished out the day in second place and improved my time from 3 years ago by 13 mins which ain't bad considering how not good of a day it was for me. Listen to me complain about setting a new PR and finishing second, talk about "pro" :).
Afterthoughts and Thanks
Thinking back the things I would have changed going into the day would be:
- Not getting run over by some asshole in a car two weeks before the event
- Not get stressed out about getting bike parts together and riding only 1 time in the two weeks before the event.
- Relaxing with my family the day before the event instead of rushing around for parts to build a bike.
I can't thank my friends and family enough for getting me to the start line and across the finish. This was the teamy-ist of solo race efforts since-- ever.
I have to hand it to Jim and Maria Parker, as well as everyone else at Cruzbike HQ for getting a new frameset in the mail the day after I told them what had happened to the old Vendetta.
Bob Pankratz, aka Ratz, for tearing off the seat from his own Vendetta and mailing it to me to make the race.
Gregor Antonovitch from Poland for pulling an all-nighter to try and get me a new seat before the race which would have made it if USPS didn't hold it in customs for an extra week.
Tom, Chris and Jenner of Frame Up Bikes aka FU Bikes for the awesome decal work making the bike looking faster than stock.
All the Cruzbike forum members who offered to let me borrow parts to get me into the race if I needed, the thought of your support got me through my dark time in the middle of the race.
TruckerCo.com for the best brake pads and tubeless sealant on the market so I can enjoy descending recklessly with confidence.
Last but not least my Mom, Dad and Sister for always supporting me behind the scenes through my whole career of doing crazy stuff.