Napa bike ride – the hardest 4-mile climb

Don and I were to go for a bike ride this morning. The plan was for us to do a pretty steep climb up Howell Mountain Road and then split up. Don was to take the road back to the villa while I was to do a total of about 45 miles in about three hours.

Don dropped out. He and Debbie had a wine tasting planned at 11AM and it was logistically impossible for him to return back, take a shower and reach the winery by 11AM. I went solo!

It was a chilly morning. The bike I had rented yesterday was a Felt Z85 with an aluminum frame, chrome fork and Shimano 105 components. I raised my seat just a bit and started riding north on St. Helena Highway for the first mile before taking a right on Oakville Cross Road going east. I was dressed warmly in a red Ironman cycling windcheater that Binita had given to me on my birthday. Winds were relatively calm and the sun was out. It didn’t take me long to warm up.

I took a left on Silverado Trail for the next 6+ miles. I had run a portion of this route yesterday. It is pretty flat, but soon there was a short rise. I passed by some familiar vineyards on the left; ZD Vineyards followed by Mumm. We had visited Mumm back in 1997 with Len and Julie. I looked down at the buildings inside Mumm and smiled; it brought back some fond memories.

At Howell Mountain Road, I took a sharp right turn. After an easy uphill for the first quarter of a mile, the road goes straight up. I was in my easiest gear very quickly and was going slower than 8MPH. My heart rate had already elevated up in zone 3 and was bordering zone 4. I had only done a total of 11 miles. At this rate, I would burn out in the next hour and would find it hard to finish the entire 45 miles. Unfortunately, I had no choice. I kept going…

The road wound uphill with gorgeous vineyards on both sides. The canopy here was heavier than most places in Napa. I alternated in the shadows of tall trees and the open sun. I was breathing heavy and counting down the miles. At around 2.5 miles into the uphill climb, I hit a pot-hole pretty hard. Thunk! My bike swayed but I managed to keep my balance. I was only going 10MPH. I noticed that my front brake was sticking now. I stopped for a minute and adjusted my brakes. I kept going. My front wheel was now making a distinctive rattling noise. I looked down to see but found nothing wrong. This took my mind off momentarily from my effort and pretty soon I had less than a mile to go before the Deer Park Road turnoff.

At 4 miles into the uphill climb, I took a right to continue on Howell Mountain Road. I thought my uphill climb was over, but the road kept climbing (albeit more gently) for the next 2 miles. This is where the downhill decent began. The front of my bike was still rattling as I picked up speed. Since there were some hairpin turns on the downhill, I was constantly riding the brakes. My speed varied between 30MPH and 12MPH as I went downhill for the next 2 miles.

Soon, I merged into Chiles Popes Valley Road and started heading south. This road had pretty low traffic and has some easy ups and downs. I ate a Clif bar and drank some Gatorade Endurance. I was about 90 minutes into the ride and needed this nutrition to keep going.

Red Breasted Mergansers in the foreground (they look like dots in this image)

At around the 30-mile mark, the road takes a few easy curves as it winds slightly downhill around a mountain. This was the funnest part of the ride with speeds ranging from 23MPH and 30MPH for a few miles. On a slight uphill, I happened to look down at my wheel which was still rattling. I noticed that my front wheel lever had completely come loose. “Dude,” I said to myself, “that could have been absolutely disastrous.” I stopped and tightened the lever. The rattling noise was now gone.

As the road flattened out, I approached a gorgeous reservoir on my right. I saw some red-breasted and hooded mergansers swimming in the waters and stopped for a minute or two to soak it all in. After taking a couple of snaps, I continued on to circle back to Silverado Trail and heading south to Yountville Cross Road before coming back north to the villa.

By the time I got back, it was past 1PM. I had done a total of 46.3 miles in 3 hours and 10 minutes. Everyone was out wine tasting. I relaxed for a bit, took a shower and caught a quick nap.

Napa Bike Ride Elevation

In the evening, Don and Debbie made some exceptionally good pasta and pizza. The recipe for these should go on a food blog! Here are a couple of pics.

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