After psyching myself out for a long time, I was very thankful when Dan suggested a ride up Mt. Diablo together. I said yes, knowing I will be more inclined to keep my words and actually do the ride. After the Mt. Tam ride, descending on mountainous roads got scarier with every time I replayed the memory in my head. In my newbie inexperience, I didn’t know that sore forearms and shoulders are the least of problems riding down on brakes the whole time. The real danger is the rim may overheat from all the friction, and causes the tires to blow out.
Dan’s a very experienced rider, so I must do something to improve my descent before riding with him, otherwise only two scenarios can happen: (1) I get dropped big time on descent, that’s no fun for me; (2) Dan rides brakes with me, going slow down the hill, that’s no fun for either of us. So I need to get methodical with descending. First and as a matter of course, I watched quite a few YouTube videos on techniques and tips. Global Cycling Network did a nice short video on descending with Emma Pooley. Knowing someone like Emma Pooley started out being scared of going downhill is somewhat comforting, well, she’s awesome now, so there’s some hope for me too.
Theory, check. Next, practice. The hairpin turn right outside of the gate of LBNL is fast and tight. It’s a good place to calibrate how much speed and lean I need to get through the corner. Though that’s one corner a day… too little. So I hit the roads in Berkeley hills as well as the Bay Bridge. The bridge is surprisingly helpful. A factor in the descent-phobia is the speed. Going into a corner at 30MPH is scary AF if going in a straight line at 30MPH is scary. On the Bay Bridge, the descent is gentle and straight, and I used that to get comfortable and learned control at higher speeds on the bike.
So at the cusp of a heat wave in the East Bay, on a Sunday, off we went up Mt. Diablo. Diablo is a singular sight to behold, rising out of the flat terrains with no companions nearby. Second highest peak in the Bay Area, it is a sacred place for native tribes who lived here. I also learned that there are rattle snakes and tarantulas on Diablo. While I do not want to ever be in the same mile radius as a rattler, I would love to have seen some tarantulas. But I didn’t spot any, probably because I had tunnel vision while sweating my way up the mountain.
After a couple of hours, we arrived at the heart-in-your-mouth kicker in the end, the Devil’s elbow. Dan rode up the 17% climb, and spared some breaths to encourage me too. But I stopped and pushed my bike up after a few pedal strokes. I’m a bit embarrassed by that, my mind just gave up, looking at this 17% hill. Once the idea of stopping doesn’t seem so bad, that’s all I wanted to do. Well, that leaves something for next time…