Learning from my previous meltdown on the slopes of Mt. Diablo, I decided to have a great warm up before the ride, have a water bottle filled with sugared water (Trader Joe’s Dixie Peach), and pace myself better in the beginning of the ride. The lack of a bike computer wasn’t going to be a problem, as Highway 9 has ample distance markers from its base in Downtown Saratoga to the top at Skyline Boulevard.
I was really happy to see Rae join Jorge and me on the climb! I’ve been trying to get her to come with me on a big Bay Area hill climb, and this was her best opportunity, as Highway 9 isn’t as steep as Old La Honda nor Montebello, nor is it as long and arduous as Mt. Diablo. We all rode leisurely from our house to the start location along Saratoga Avenue. We arrived about 25 minutes before the start, which gave up ample time to stretch out our legs and talk to new friends we’ve made over the past 4 weeks, including JT, Neil, Stephanie, Eric, Stephen, and Kwan.
When the bell sounded to start, the riders up front began — no surprise here — another punishing pace. Hey, isn’t this supposed to be low-key? Though I reminded myself that I might be able to keep up with them with supreme practice and conditioning, I also told myself that within the Low-Key series, there are many races to be won. I knew that there was one I had within my grasp: the Endurance Award. This award is given out to the rider who has spent the most time on the saddle. And now with Highway 9, I had my ace in the hole.
I learned from Top Gun that you’re not supposed to leave your wingman. What better wingman could I have than my own wife? I knew Rae was going to be the turtle of the race, slow and steady. She didn’t care if all the rabbits passed her; she would just survive for the day. Knowing this, I decided to stay with her the entire climb up Highway 9. Of course, the fact that I love my wife and didn’t want her to suffer all by herself played some part in my decision!
We finished the climb in 68:27, a good 36 minutes slower than the fastest rider. Earlier, I estimated that the finishing time would be around 30-32 minutes, and my guess proved correct. The actual climb was less steep than any of the previous climbs, and I think I would have enjoyed hammering up Highway 9. Next year, I hope the Low-Key series takes up back up here; I’ll be ready to hammer up!
With my fourth ride under my belt, I am now the current leader of the Endurance Award (a.ka. the Red Lantern) category at 238:13! I have to watch out for Kwan, my closest competitor at 210:01. I’m keeping an eye out for you, your yellow bike, and your cool catlike helmet, Kwan!
The descent back down to Saratoga was out of this world. I really enjoyed flying down the hill at 30-40 miles an hour. Compared to the other descents I’ve done here in the Bay Area, Highway 9 is the best so far. The turns are wide and generous, with very few hairpin turns. The only danger would be in wintertime when the road is slick from rain. You wouldn’t want to wipe out at 40mph!
Next week is the Queen Stage of the Low-Key Hillclimb Series: Bohlman-On Orbit. I have read horror stories of this climb for many years, and I’m “looking forward to it” only from a sado-masochistic perspective. Felix left me his mountain bike his last time here in the Bay Area, and I might just use it to ascend the beast!
Our team, Blubber Busters will need two more riders for next week. Rae has gracefully declined, and Jorge will be at a wedding in Vegas. Any takers?