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Anatomy of a Climb

Fillmore Street

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Anatomy of a Climb: Fillmore Street

The Background

Hobbes famously wrote in Leviathan that life was "nasty, brutish and short". He could easily have been talking about Fillmore Street. Seen from below, you might look up at it and think, how the hell am I going to get up this wall of pavement? But don't let that scare you. While the climb can be very intimidating, focus on the last part of Hobbes statement. It's "short". We're talking about only 4 city blocks here.

Fillmore is not the steepest climb in San Francisco. That dubious honor goes to Filbert Street, but it's probably the most famous because, for years, this short climb was featured in the San Francisco Grand Prix. It's was a serious spectacle. Throngs of spectators lined the street watching professional cyclists duel it out on the wicked little ascent.

A couple things to keep in mind while watching the video. The cyclists may be younger than us and fitter than us, but they were racing and doing a circuit that took them up the climb 10 times. We'll do it once. And we're not racing. Typically, recreational cyclists have easier gearing, compact and triple cranksets. So while some of the pros were forced to weave up to the top, you shouldn't let that intimidate you. (That's not to say you might have to resort to weaving.)


Mt. Diablo South Gate

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Anatomy of a Climb: Mt. Diablo South Gate

Because It's There

When Mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest he responded famously with the retort: "Because it's there." Whether he actually said that or not is a debate for historians. But it's safe to say that's the same attitude cyclists share about Mt. Diablo. We climb it because it's there.

Mt. Diablo looms both over the landscape and our imaginations. It's a constant presence for Bay Area residents. On a clear day you can see the summit from the Marin Headlands. It has been said that it's even visible from Half Dome. You can catch glimpses of it from dozens of Yellowjacket rides. From the top of Pinehurst. Crossing the Benicia Bridge. Gazing down from Twin Peaks. The mountain beckons you to it's lofty heights and challenges you to climb it twisty roads.

To paraphrase, we choose to go to Mt. Diablo. We choose to go to Mt. Diablo, not because it's easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

The Route

When you make the left onto Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard, you're looking at about 6.9 miles to the Ranger Station. But the road is hardly uniform. There are steep sections to be sure. But there are also many false flats and even some downhill sections that will help you catch your breath or increase your average speed as you make your way to the half way point of the mountain.

The average grade is something like 4.4%, not terribly demanding by climbing standards. But when we breakdown the ride into components, we'll see where the real trouble spots are and where you can coast.

To take your mind of the climb, you'll have a constantly changing variety of scenery. The vistas are truly spectacular and only improve as road ascends to 2180 feet. If you stay alert and keep your head on a swivel, you're likely to catch sight of some of the beautiful flora (think wildflowers) and fauna (deer and daredevil squirrels that dart across the road).

Weather on the mountain can be quite severe. Depending on the time of year, you can expect searing heat bordering on triple digits, viscous winds and even snow and hail. The Yellowjackets traditionally climb Diablo in the summertime, so be sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.


Morgan Territory

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Anatomy of a Climb: Morgan Territory

The Background

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve is a 4,708-acre open space tucked in on Mt. Diablo's eastern flank. In spring the rolling grasslands of the preserve bloom with wildflowers. In summer the verdant foothills turn to amber, with temperatures hovering in the high 90s. In the winter, temperatures at the summit can drop below freezing.

The territory is named for Jeremiah Morgan, who was born in 1818 on the banks of the Tennessee River in Alabama. In 1849 Morgan ventured across the country to the Golden State by ox-drawn wagon seek to make his fortune in the gold fields. When that didn't work out, Morgan left the state, but was drawn back to California, returning with his family in 1853. In 1857, he started a ranch in the area after having seen the land while on a hunting expedition.

The land has changed little since Morgan's time. Yes there are some houses and even some ostentatious ranches, but it's mostly uninhabited and a great place for cyclists to explore. Though the preserve is not actually a wilderness area, it certainly feels like one.

Morgan Territory Road climbs through this wild country. From the north side where it intersects with Marsh Creek Road, it enters a wide valley that soon narrows meandering uphill along Marsh Creek under a canopy of oak trees. The climb becomes gradually steeper as the road continues to and through the Preserve. There are a couple of short, steep pitches near the top that will test you heart rate monitor. At the summit you're rewarded with a spectacular view of ranch lands to the west and south.

Let's breakdown the climb.


Tunitas Creek Road

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Anatomy of a Climb: Tunitas Creek Road

As a general rule, the Yellowjackets don't do much riding on the Peninsula. We have Dumbarton-Alpine and, of course, the Monterey ride, but neither has any significant climbing. So it might come as a surprise to many riders that the Peninsula not only has it's own Skyline (State Route 35), but that with elevations above 2000 feet it's significant higher than it's counterpart in our backyard (perhaps a rude surprise).

If you're doing the Advanced or Intermediate rides this weekend, you'll bisect Skyline twice, the first time at the top of Page Mill Road and the second on top of Tunitas Creek Road. If you're not, you're going to miss out on one of the great climbing roads in the Bay Area.


Dissecting Pinehurst

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Anatomy of a Climb: Dissecting Pinehurst

Pinehurst is the signature finishing climb of many Yellowjacket rides (Arlington, Three Bears, etc.) and will be featured again in this weekend's Dublin Grade ride. For some, the climb is a fitness test. For others it is a nightmare. It is avoided, dreaded, and feared. But it need not be that way. So let's take a closer look at the climb, dissect it into individual sections, and see how tough it really is (or isn't).


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