Yeah, soulful people knows what it’s all about. And they showed up to ride up Diablo on New Years morning, hangovers be damned. I woke up Saturday morning and checked the weather on top of Diablo at 3,849 feet: whoa, 26ºF. But it was going to be clear and sunny, as bright as your eyes can bear. I couldn’t get a road report, or rather the recorded road report mentioned nothing. So I presumed that meant all the snow that fell earlier in the week was not going to be a problem.
At the start everyone who had registered showed up including one who hadn’t preregistered. Coincidentally I happened to have brought a paper waiver with me, which is technically a no-no since Covid, so all the bases were covered. There were ten of us, which is a big group for the Resolution Ride—why was it popular this year?—Roger and I, Roger S, Mark, Alan, Stephen, Bud, and three non-members, Ofer, Julian, and Robin. Club use of BART still hasn’t recovered: everyone from SF came by car except Stephen and Ofer. Everybody was dressed for the cold with multiple layers, shoe covers, tights, full-fingered gloves, you name it. Several of us had little heater packs shoved into our gloves—they worked perfectly all day! Julian had the awesomest piece of kit: battery heated gloves! But at the summit he said he didn’t need to turn them on, so it proved to be overkill.
I’ve gotten into the bad habit of leading the Resolution Ride the same way—up North Gate, down South Gate—and I probably should mix it up one of these years or else someone else should lead this ride another way. Someone at the start asked me which way was “steeper”. I have no idea although I probably should since I’ve been going up Diablo since most of you were in diapers. They’re both challenging and when you’re doing about 4,000 feet of gross vertical it all comes out the same in the wash: it’s hard.
This morning it was pretty quiet. Hardly anyone was stirring about. I led the group through the side steets of Walnut Creek rather than taking Walnut Ave., which is a dreary arterial, up to the entrance station and then everybody started climbing at their own rate, stopping at times to take pictures or to strip off layers now that we were sweating. A few years ago I was so hot I took off my gloves and rode up barehanded. Not this year—it was just too chilly. The crystal clear air and intensely green grass on Diablo’s slopes made for some acid-like moments you would only appreciate if you stopped pedaling to take it all in.
We regrouped at the junction and there were hardly any other cyclists—now that’s a change! New Years brings out all the local clubs and in all previous years it’s been a mosh pit with hordes converging from South Gate and North Gate. It was as if everyone was taking the year off from riding up. Alas, no rangers with coffee and donuts this year either for the obvious reason. After the obligatory selfie shot, we continued upward. The segment from the junction to the summit is only 4.5 miles but it has over 1,600 feet of unrelenting vertical. Plus, once you pass the junction you’re now exposed to the wind making for a bracing, at times onerous effort. On the one hand you want to go as fast as possible to get out of the cold and the wind; on the other hand you’re getting your ass kicked by the unrelenting grade, the headwind, and the chill. We passed patches of old snow by the side of the road. More cars were appearing and passing us at random despite the double yellow line and the numerous signs not to pass cyclists on blind curves. A couple of times cyclists cursed out the drivers and deservedly so. I was surprised at how abundant car traffic was this year. It must have been everybody’s bright idea to get out on NYD by driving up Diablo.
Cars weren’t the only company we had. There were boatloads of electric mountain bikes riding up…on the road (!). Like WTF, clueless dudes, there’s an awesome trail open to dirt bikes, Summit, that goes to the top! Interestingly I was able to overhaul and pass all of them, which proves either that I’m superbutch or they’re total noobs. (I think I know which is correct.) There were also more hikers than I have ever seen going to the top of Diablo on NYD or any other day. They were all shapes and sizes, lots of families with kids. Awesome.
Roger and I got to the top first. More butch points perhaps but in exchange we had to wait the longest for everyone to show up, enduring the bone-chilling northeast wind. Eventually everyone made it to the top but in the meantime the small parking lot filled up fast. We had just beaten the crowd up the road and now they were swamping us. A cyclist asked the ranger overseeing the parking lot, “Is there water up here?” “Yes”, he responded, “But the faucet is frozen. You’ll have to use the restroom over there.” Everyone was jubilant to have made it to the top despite some being frazzled by the effort and the cold. There were a few wise cyclists who knew the NYD routine: get out the extra cold weather gear you hauled up and put it on! We did exactly that. I had carried up an extra windbreaker, wind chaps (you never know who you might run into…), a fleece neck gaiter, and lobster gloves with heater packs dropped inside.
The descent may be physically easier but mentally it can be harder. A typical New Years Day ascent has the road swarming with delighted cyclists and fewer cars. But this year it was exactly the opposite, lots of cars and fewer cyclists. For the most part cars were patiently waiting behind slow cyclists but every now and then a car would zoom around in the oncoming lane—oh, that would be the lane we were on—much to our aggravation. Dancing with elephants couldn’t be more fun. With the higher number of cars that meant we were often slowed down behind them. A decade ago I would have been irked, but not today: those cars were taking care to descend and so should the cyclists. Did you know the speed limit on Diablo is 20 mph? That’s for cars AND bikes. Given how crowded it was we were pretty much held to that speed limit. This was the first time I can remember where I was not passed by harebrained cyclists going warp speed, crossing the center line and passing cars. Julian led the descent and if he hadn’t been slowed by the cars I don’t think I would have seen him until the bottom.
We all made it down safely without incident, cut through Diablo—which was also eerily quiet—and ended up at Lunardi’s in Danville. I had been dreaming of hot soup on such a cold morning and Lunardi’s deli counter had a choice of several. We had the outside tables all for our little group. It was about ten degrees warmer and nicely sunny. Hot chili stew with a steaming cup of coffee hit the spot. I was reenergized. We were chattering now and it wasn’t because we were cold! Stephen happily opined that this was the only proper way to start the new year: go up Diablo! “Accept no substitutes.” A bag of evil-looking butter cookies from Lunardi’s was passed around. Much grabbing ensued. Roger S. stared at the bag, sighed, and remarked, “Well, there goes that New Year’s resolution!”
The cats were eventually herded to head back to Pleasant Hill. It was a ‘chill’ crowd in both senses. But being preternaturally skinny I get cold easily and so I took off to warm up. Only Ofer followed me. We soon lost the group and waited for them in Walnut Creek. However they had diverted onto the Iron Horse. We saw Stephen pass by heading to BART, which is where Ofer was also going. So I took off to catch the rest of the group, which I only did right at the PH BART station. By now it was about 3:30 and the temp was dropping again. I was glad to get into the van and turn on the heater!
Now, that’s getting the year off on the right foot!
Where people do the sign and take your hands
And dancin’ to the music James Brown band
They’re dancing on the good foot
I got to get on the good foot
Got to do it on the good foot