Rain or ‘serious’ threat of rain cancels…

That phrase is at the very top of our club’s monthly ride schedule. Today’s planned club ride is from Livermore up Mines Road to the Junction, and then possibly up to Mount Hamilton. Looking at the forecast and considering that this ride goes up into some major hills where the odds are it will be colder and wetter than on the valley floor, I’m going to stay home. I certainly think the subject line above describes today’s weather.

Mount Hamilton Last Monday: Not much Better Today

We are enjoying a wonderfully wet and snowy winter in California, with a snow pack well above historical averages. For one year at least we can forget about drought stories in the news. Reservoirs are nearly full and the foothills are green. But several of our club rides have been washed out and our cycling season is off to a slow start. Stoker really does not like cold or wet conditions, so she is in hibernation. My miles are down too. And if I can believe my power meter and heart rate monitor, so is my fitness.

All this wet weather has me reminiscing about the times I have been forced to ride in the rain. I usually try to follow the advice in the subject line, but even so I have been drenched on a number of occasions. There have been some memorable ones: descending the Col des Arivis in 2007 (it was wet in 2018 too, but not as bad). The ‘Waterfall Ride’ though Salt Springs Valley on Hunt Road way back in 2004: It rained so hard that cascading water rolled small stones across the pavement. And last year Stoker and I got soaked riding from Malaucene to Brantes. We even lost our brakes going down a steep and very wet road and I had to drag my foot on the pavement and run the bike onto a soft shoulder to slow us down. No crash and all was well: I’m going to keep lighting those candles and offer a brief prayer for safe cycling every day in France this year.

2007 Drenching in France: Descent to Follow

But I think the most memorable, and potentially dangerous ‘rain event’ was the ‘Ebbets Pass Epic’ back in  late June 2008. The weather forecast for that day was “Chance of a few scattered late afternoon thundershowers NORTH OF I 80. Since Ebbets Pass is well south of that we decided to ride, and the morning weather in Bear Valley was quite warm as we started off. I put a very light wind jacket in my jersey pocket, but I didn’t expect to use it.

Brake Adjustment in Brantes: The Deluge Follows

We rode to Markleville without any trouble, but as we started back up the east side of the pass the wind picked up and the clouds closed in and we got hit by a few drops, but there was nothing major until past Silver Creek Campground (elevation 7,000). Beyond this the rain started, and at about 7700 feet, it started to rain for real. There was thunder and lightning and very gusty winds to contend with. And I still had almost 30 minutes of pedaling to get to the summit!

At the 8000 ft sign, the rain started to sting on my bare arms. It wasn’t hail, since there were no stones on the pavement, but I am pretty sure it was freezing rain or sleet. I had my wind jacket in my jersey pocket, and I wasn’t a bit cold as long as I was climbing, so I left the jacket off, hoping the rain would stop and I could put in on at the top to keep me warm on the descent.

There is a lake at about the 8400 ft level, and here I really started to get scared. It was pouring, it was windy, I was soaked and I could barely see. It was so dark that the cars that passed had their headlights on, and I still had to climb these 6-11% gradients for another 10 minutes or so. Gary Colburn  told me that when he went through here it was so bad he had to stop.

I finally got to the summit at 8700 ft. It was still raining, the wind was whipping around, and it was getting colder. My bike computer said it was 51 degrees and I was soaking wet. BRR! I heard thunder and saw lightning. In front of me were 5 miles of  downhill road averaging 6.6% with steep pitches of over 12%. The pavement was wet and very slick with a glaze of fine sand and grit that I had noticed earlier on the dry climb up Ebbets. I remember thinking that I would have to be careful of that dry sand on the road during the descent, but the wet version was much worse. I was as frightened as I have ever been on a bike.

I could have waited at the top for the weather to clear, but there was no sign of that happening, so I decided to start down before I got hypothermia. It was still raining hard, and windy, and I had to  brake nearly continuously just to  try to keep upright. I made it down to Hermit Valley (eventually) without crashing.  The air was slightly warmer down at 7000 ft.  But when  I stopped at the bench to retrieve the bottle of water I left there earlier, thinking I might need it in the afternoon heat (hah!), I was shivering hard.

The climb up Pacific Grade cured my shivering, and the rain stopped, so I started to think I was going to survive. I was soaking wet and covered in road grit when I finally reached the Bear Valley Store. But safe and grateful for that. This is before I started going to France and lighting prayer candles for safe cycling, but I’m going to give them credit anyway.

So today I stayed home, did a short ride to Linden before any potential afternoon showers, and eliminated any possible rainy ride survival stories. I don’t know if any club members went to Livermore, but I suspect not. The weather really did look like a ‘serious threat’.

 

 

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  • Blog Author

    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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