3 Peaks in 3 Days

I remember talking about trying the 3 Peaks (Mounts Tam, Diablo, and Hamilton) in 3 Days with Enrique and Rob back in 2015. I was still fairly new to cycling then and not that good of a climber so the idea of doing any of those was still pretty daunting, let alone doing all 3 over the course of 3 consecutive days. It was something that I knew I’d have to train for but wasn’t even sure if I could pull it off. I was relatively fresh off of my Catalina Channel swim and didn’t know anything about Hamilton except that it was in the South Bay.

Then of course I wasn’t riding as much so that challenge got shelved but not too far back. When I started riding again this past April, the idea surfaced again especially when I discovered that I was having an easier time climbing. When I’d done Tam for the first time in years with Baerbel, Kevin, and Ann recently, it seemed like this may be something that I could pull off since I had no problem getting up Tam with plenty of energy to burn the next day.

Mere coincidence presented the opportunity back at the end of July. First I just happened to see an invite from Lorri to join her for her traditional birthday ride up Hamilton. Then Brenda invited me to join her NorCal Velo team to ride Tam the day after Lorri’s birthday ride. A carrot was being dangled in front of me and all I needed was to add Diablo to the day before or after and I’d have all 3 lined up. What’s a girl to do? Clear my schedule as I’ve got some business to attend to in less than 24 hours.

Day #1 – Mount Diablo
I wasn’t sure which sucker I’d get to do Diablo literally the next day with a 6 a.m. start. And with everyone I asked, ironically Baerbel was on Diablo at the exact time I’d texted her. She wasn’t going to be available the next morning though. I posted in my SheSpoke Cycling Club group and thanks to the miracle worker and incredible human being (and our fearless leader) Erika, I got hooked up with Kat Chen. I still can’t believe that Kat was willing to get up at 4:30 a.m. to be picked up by a total stranger at 5:00 a.m. to go ride Diablo at sunrise. She could also have been a mass murderer too that I was letting into my car.


Kat and me at the top of Diablo, 26 July 2018.

We started off at the Peet’s in Danville like I had last time with Kevin and Baerbel as it was easy to find and close to the freeway. Kat had to be home by 10:00 a.m. which is fine since I’d wanted to get back to the West side of the Bay as soon as possible. We both agreed on just a quick stop at the top before heading back down too. We rolled out relatively on time and being before the park opened, we had to carry our bikes over the South Gate. I actually prefer Diablo when it’s closed to car traffic as at least I know that I’m not going to get hit by a car. We cross paths with several cyclists who are already on their descents. Kat’s behind me somewhere but we agreed to meet up at the Ranger Station at the junction.

I end up having an unfortunate chat with a ranger who goes off on me about how he could cite me right there and that it’d be on my permanent record for the rest of my life, blah blah (seriously, does he think I’m a teenager that can be scared by this?) and asks me if I had to lift my bike over the South Gate (duh, yes). I’m the third cyclist he’s talked to already that morning and at least blamed his boss saying that his boss started wanting all cyclists in the park before 8 a.m. (the official opening time) to start getting tickets. I give the obligatory “I’m sorry” and continue on my way. I talk to another guy at the junction waiting for his friend on their descent and he never saw the ranger that day. He rides Diablo twice a week in the early mornings and has never had a ranger stop him before even though he’s seen them frequently. Kat catches up to me and was also stopped. She says that she’s been chewed out way worse by rangers for such things. Okay, Kat’s getting even cooler.

We continue on our way with the next meetup being the obvious top of Diablo. I hate the Wall more than Coleman Valley Road during Levi’s Gran Fondo though (where I’m 65 miles into the ride by the time I hit that horrible climb). I just pray that there’s no stupid ranger in his truck stalking me when I’m on the Wall that morning. Nothing stresses me more on a ride than knowing there’s a car right behind me and I’m holding it up. The engine sound is a huge distraction and I need all my attention on trying to keep my heart from exploding when I’m on the Wall. I have to split it into sets of 30 pedal strokes to try and break it up and at least this morning there’s no hungry ranger truck behind me.

I have the top all to myself except for one other person and wait for Kat. It’s so quiet and peaceful up there and thinking of how many people are still asleep or just getting up. Kat arrives sometime shortly afterwards and we do our quick photos and then start heading back down. We pass by more cyclists who are already well on their way up and obviously didn’t start when the South Gate opened just a few minutes before. We get back to the car and I quickly dress while Kat grabs some coffee at Peet’s. Time to go sit in lovely East Bay traffic but Waze says that I’ll get Kat back to her place right on time.

Okay, I can do this. Just Hamilton tomorrow and then good ol’ Tam the next day. I’ve already did one and I don’t want Kat to have woken up at an unholy hour for her to have been a total waste. Onto Hamilton…..

Day #2 – Mount Hamilton
A lot of people know that I’d been whining about never having done Hamilton for a few years now. This was the one ride that’s eluded me for one reason or another all this time. “Strong hints” didn’t seem to get picked up by friends who had done it before or were doing it to invite me to join them there. Luckily that finally changed with Lorri’s birthday this year! I consider it fate since I miss about 99.9% of posts on Facebook but just happened to see her post asking for Hamilton birthday ride buddies for later that week. I jumped on the chance to not only get Hamilton finally done but also get to see Lorri!

Lorri is the founder of Savvy Bikes and Velo Girls. I met her in March 2015 after I’d been riding for 5 months at a basic skills workshop she did for SheSpoke. I’d also taken her climbing/descending course and joined along for some North Bay ride she lead for Rapha Cycling Club which I only remember beating her to Four Corners because she made a wrong turn somewhere. I still hear her voice in my head during my descents as she helped me work through my crash trauma (still an ongoing process). I hadn’t seen Lorri in a few years but I recognized her car and bike immediately when she was still driving down the road.

I met Lorri and her friends Ken and Adrienne (?) at Berryessa Community Center. I still hadn’t looked at the ride profile so wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Luckily Lorri believes in warming up also so we had a nice long flat and a bit of a bump over Alum Rock before heading to Hamilton. The roads were pretty clear and I was still feeling pretty good after Diablo the day before. I quickly learned too that Ken has to be the more unusual climber and cyclist I’ve ever met. The saddle hurts him so he does most of his riding out of the saddle. New definition for “quads of steel.”

We turn onto the start of the road that leads up Hamilton. I get to catch up with Lorri about our life and relationship philosophies. We meet up with Ken and Adrienne who had gone ahead as Adrienne needed to refill her water bottles already. Not a bad idea to top off especially when I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get to the summit.

Our little pod of 4 turns into 2 pods of 2 as Adrienne and Lorri are gabbing like it’s a Sunday afternoon. Ken’s pretty easy to talk to and talks a lot so I have a feeling this is going to be a good and entertaining ride. He tells me that he’s stashed some birthday signs for Lorri along the route so has us slow down so Lorri gets to see them first. What a sweet surprise!! Lorri squeels when she sees them and says that she’ll have to drive back with her car later to collect them.

Ken keeps me company most of the way up talking about our respective major surgeries, how we got into riding, and an incredible annual ride he and his friends do once a year of 600 kilometers. He says that a double century is nothing for him which I believe! He only missed the last 600 KM ride because he was recovering from heart surgery. He rides Hamilton a lot so could go a lot faster and I appreciate him hanging back with me as I slog my sorry butt up it.

I do get a little excited when I first see the Lick Observatory even though it seems like a million miles away. Ken told me that it’s a bit of a mindf*** though since you’ll see it for a long time but the road up there is so windy that it’s slow progress to actually get there. I decide to take it just like Tam and Diablo of “one turn at a time” and try to ignore how much further I possibly have. It’s hard though since the road is fairly exposed to the sun and it’s getting really warm quickly. I keep checking the distance on my watch to see how much further I have after seeing the sign that the observatory is 5 miles away. Ken’s encouraging me to keep going as it’s “only a little bit further.” I’m fighting the urge to just turn around and head back down BUT I’m also wanting to finish this 3 peaks thing and I’m over halfway there now. After all, I’d already posted something about it on Facebook. 😉

Ken and I get to the summit and even though I was born and raised in the Bay Area, I’d never been up here. He tells me that there’s one last little steep climb to get to the very top although it’s not that bad or steep IMO. I swear you can hear my back creak as I finally sit up for the first time in a few hours. I’m a bit in awe that I’ve finally completed Hamilton after having it on the To Do list for the last 3.5 years! I’m looking forward to the descent too since it’s all downhill from here literally. 🙂

We wait for Lorri and Adrienne to arrive. Ken has to get to work so he takes off back down after a few minutes. Lorri, the coffee addict, is of course trying to get some Starbucks Frappucino thing or something out of the vending machine that isn’t cooperating with her. Adrienne brought up an entire pack of cookies and natural energy bites that she had stashed in her jersey somewhere. We enjoy the well deserved break and then it’s time to head back down. We take a group photo sans Ken at the mirror (standard Lorri on Hamilton photo) before heading back down. I stay behind Lorri all the way down and enjoy watching how she descends. You can tell her thought process as she picks her lines and I find it educational. Good to know too that even cyclists as skilled as she is aren’t flawless either. 🙂


Reflections in the mirror at the top of Mt Hamilton, 27 July 2018.

We skip Alum Rock and make a beeline for where our cars are parked since this ride took longer than Lorri had quoted. The 3 of us stick together pretty much all the way back which is good since I have no idea where we’re going. There’s an ice cream truck in the parking lot so Lorri channels her inner child and gets 3 ice cream sandwiches (it is her birthday after all!). She gives me one saying she doesn’t know if I’m vegan or anything like that (I’m not!). I haven’t had an ice cream sandwich is years and it tastes exactly how I remember it. I quickly throw my bike in my car, say my goodbyes, and head off to my dad’s for lunch with him as he lives in San Jose.

Two peaks done and my ol’ favorite left to go….

Day #3 – Mount Tamalpais
Tam has always had a special place in my heart since it was the first peak that I’d ridden up back on 25 December 2014. I woke up with my legs feeling a bit tired and considered for a second on just staying in bed. My BFF Maurice texted me asking how I was feeling as I crawled out of bed. As addicted to riding as I was when I first started, I’d never done 3 rides of any intensity 3 days in a row. I keep telling myself that this will be over in a handful of hours and I’ll have completed my goal. I’ve come this far so no sense in quitting now! I actually got a new (better) drivetrain for my bike too the night before that my mechanic was kind enough to install immediately since he had all the parts already.

Brenda had told me that they were meeting at the Java Hut at 8:00 a.m. with a 8:30 a.m. rollout. I’m running a little behind with an ETA of 8:15 a.m. so message Brenda that I’m on my way. She replies that she totally forgot to tell me that she was bailing on the ride as she had too work to do at home. She’d invited a couple of other people too and remembered to tell them but forgot about me. She contacts Jeff to let him know that I was coming as I could still ride with her team NorCal Velo.

I get to the meeting point and no one is there! I panic that they’ve left without me and contemplated on what to do. I was already there and had just done Tam from that spot (via Alpine Dam and Seven Sisters) so pretty sure I still knew the route so was preparing myself to do it solo if need be. Brenda texts me that everyone is actually running late. The rest of the guys get there a few minutes later. I like them instantly as they’re all giving Brenda s*** by introducing me as “Brenda’s former friend Kelley” and it’s no secret that she bailed and forgot to tell me. 😉

We roll out towards Alpine Dam. I’m in the back with Clint and Jeff which is fine with me as I’m just glad that I’m getting to do this ride with them instead of by myself. Jeff isn’t feeling well so turns around at Alpine Dam while the rest of us continue on. A few of them are waiting for me at the Ridgecrest Boulevard junction which I don’t need to stop so we all just continue going. I haven’t actually counted the Seven Sisters and tend to forget while I’m on it to count. I just know that when it’s over, I’m only a few miles from Tam’s East Peak.

Our mighty pack continues onto the East Peak which I think I spent most of that time talking to Clint who is relatively close behind me. We talk about our respective major surgeries as he’s just getting back into cycling from back surgery. There are a considerable amount of people at the East Peak as this is also the latest I’ve ever been on Tam (except for the first time on a Christmas morning when it was empty!). The fog is still heavy in the area below so there is no real view to speak of.


Top of Mt Tam with NorCal Velo, 28 July 2018.

It’s kind of surreal that I’ve successfully completed the third peak now even though it doesn’t feel like such a big deal since I’m not really sore anywhere. I am happy though that we’re done with any real climbing the rest of this ride since we’re not doing the Tour de Buckholtz of going to Salinas and doing that miserable climb back out of there again. We’re dropping all the way down towards Mill Valley to then loop back around to Fairfax on the flats. 🙂 We get momentarily disoriented a few times with one hilarious semi-illegal (okay pretty illegal) u-turning at the Blithedale intersection which Nancy is just glad that she’s not wearing her NorCal Velo kit (although some of the other guys are). Once in Faifax, we do the customary stop at Gestalt Haus for a few beers and socializing before scattering. I like these guys a lot as they seem to have a healthy sense of humor and all get along on personal levels. I’m looking forward to riding with them again and the Santa Rosa area is a cycling territory that I’m not that familiar with outside of some organized rides like Levi’s Gran Fondo that I’ve done.

Afterthoughts
I’m glad that I took the opportunity to do all 3 peaks in 3 days when it presented itself. A few years ago, I didn’t know if I could do it and felt like it was something that I’d have to train for and no idea how to go about it. Having done Diablo and Tam recently with Kevin and Baerbel helped me have the confidence that I could do at least those two peaks, with Tam being part of a longer and harder ride with them. It was a bit weird though as it was easier than I’d built it into my head to be. Would I do it again? Of course.


The first and last time that I’d have climbed more than Pat in a single week.

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