April Fool's Day was the ideal irony for the 11th annual Nifty Ten Fifty, a notoriously hellish 54-mile, 10,000-feet-of-climbing course up and down Berkeley and Oakland's steepest roads. If you look at the route on Strava, it seems ridiculous. On the bike, it still kind of seems ridiculous, until you finish and then it's just cool.
To anyone familiar, it's not surprising that it was Bruce Carroll's idea to do the Nifty this year. I was convinced by the encouragement that this would "be a great training ride for the Triple Crown Stage Race!" Guess so…
We showed up at the starting point in El Cerrito, at the corner of Moser and Pomona, around 8:15 for a pre-ride meeting before the 8:30 start. It was a chilly morning—Roubaix bib knickers, long sleeve base layer, jersey, vest, double gloves for me, but then I dress like I'm in the Arctic most of the time.
The Nifty route has 10 climbs, but some are actually two, so it seems like more. Joy!
- Marin from the fountain
- El Toyanal/Lomas Cantadas
- Canon/South Park
- Broadway Terrace
I'd been on most of these before, though had never done Marin from the fountain and hadn't done Hiller from the Tunnel side. We warmed up pretty fast climbing Moser, which sports grades of up to 20%, but is really more in the 15% range. Everyone re-grouped at the top and followed our leader, Bill Oldham (riding with a fractured wrist!), down streets I don't remember and then up the second climb, Terrace. Everyone in the group stayed together, all the while mentally planning for the day's most daunting climb, Marin.
The steepest half-mile of paved road in California is forgiving only in that it has little side streets that you can bail on when you feel like you just might topple. The first few blocks are not bad, really, but I'd done the last three blocks once before with OYJers Reese, Myra, Scott, Joan and Bruce, so I knew they were gut-busters. Once at the top, we got a little ego boost from a car spinning its tires trying to make the summit.
With Marin done, we re-grouped again and pedaled over to Inspiration Point, before heading down Wildcat and over to Toyonal. At the top, the B group split up, with the front half deciding to go ahead to Centennial. By now it had turned into a gorgeous day and all along Skyline the views of the City were stunning.
I don't think I'd ridden up Centennial since college, and then it was on a mountain bike and it hadn't gotten any easier in the years since. Near the top, the large A Group caught us. Bruce definitely could have gone with them but he graciously stayed at my pace and we tailed just behind the As the rest of the way.
The middle of a ride always gets a little fuzzy for me but two things stood out—South Park seemed short and Snake was a breeze, like a recovery spin. On the way up Broadway Terrace all I could think about was Hiller, that road to the left when you usually make the right onto Tunnel. It should be called Mountain-er. Or Wall-er. Or just Stupid-er. That is NO hill.
Already tired, we tried to pick up some speed coming down Tunnel, but whatever momentum you have just evaporates as the road pitches. I looked down at the cogset to make sure there wasn't one more gear—there wasn't—then stood up and mashed up and up and up. You’d think that road would mercifully even out once you round the bend, but no, it just keeps going! Once it finally did end, there were a series of smaller climbs on twisty roads I'd never seen, before the descent to Domingo Peet's for a quick drink. The A Group was there, so we hung out until they were ready to go and followed them out.
The last climb of the day is actually a trio—Claremont, Grizzly, and Vollmer. Claremont is a beast even when you're not tired, so I took it easy going up. Once we made that left onto Grizzly though, we knew it was just the few steep sections of Vollmer to finish the day. At the Steam Trains, Bruce charged on ahead and I chased after, making sure to keep just a little in the tank for that final 28-30% insult at the top. And then we were done.
As always, the top of Vollmer was a beautiful view and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. OYJers should head up there some time; it's just a short climb from the Tilden Steam Train water/bathroom stop to one of the area's best views.
So that was the Nifty Ten Fifty. All in all a fantastic ride with a very cool group of people on a perfect April Fool's Day! If you like climbing, you should come out next year. There's a "light" ride too—with only 8000 feet of climbing, if you want to ease into it.