About a month ago I felt like I had hit the sweet spot. After many months of trying to get to the place I consider my peak form, which I last experienced before I went to Tassajara last summer, it seemed like I was there. A couple of ascents of Tam in the warm weather we were having, and I felt strong enough to try the harder challenge of Mount Diablo.
There are two ways up Diablo – the north gate road and the south gate road. They both have their appeal, so I try to alternate, and I started with the south gate. It is steeper for the first few miles, but spectacular as you climb along the side of a deep valley, then it flattens off around Rock City, and then you have to pick up your rhythm for the last few miles.
Over the years I have realised that nothing really counts until you get to the junction of the two roads, about four miles below the summit. Then the road continues pretty steadily upwards, with a hard steeper section just below the corner where the view across towards Tam starts to include the city as well, at Junipero camp. Then, more relentless slopes, and a question of how much is left in the legs. On that first climb a few weeks ago, I had felt very strong to that point, and caught up with someone I had been closing slowly in on for a few miles. I regretted the extra effort that the catch took, though. It was really hard to keep my rhythm after that, and though he and I chatted for a while, he was still stronger and rode away over the last mile.
This past weekend I returned, worried that having skipped a good ride the previous weekend from being at Wilbur, my form might have tailed off from that high point. These peaks are always temporary, but I like to enjoy them when they do happen.
Climbing on the north road is much steadier, and though I didn’t feel so great at the end of the long arroyo valley and turning left onto the real slopes at the state park boundary, I know the climb well enough to pace myself over the harder sections – going up to the 1000′ elevation marker, before and after the series of switchbacks that unspool above the ranch house. My legs felt okay, so I was determined not to push too hard before the final couple of miles. It was also pretty warm; I was glad that I am now free to go out on Saturday mornings, when the BART runs much earlier than it does on Sunday, allowing me to be on the mountain before it really heats up.
There were fewer riders this time; the guy I had ridden with, and a few others at the top the previous time, had been talking about the Death Ride, which was the following weekend; I imagine a lot of them were fine-tuning their climbing form for that event. Few cars too, which made for very quiet moments on the upper slopes. One veered across the road near me to avoid a rattlesnake that was basking on the tarmac. Little by little I pushed up to the summit, and then cruised all the way back down on the south road, savouring the views.
Every time I go to Diablo I come away with a nagging feeling that I have not really seen the mountain. Even with the intimacy of the slow climb, seeing every fold, every hillock of golden grass, all the stately oaks, I don’t feel like I completely enter it – it always seems to come and go in a flash. I don’t feel that when I am on Tam, even though I am on a similarly small slice of the mountain spread; it is as if the magic of the mountain is speaking to me, but slightly out of reach.
I have only been up Diablo in a car once. This is coming up to the 1000′ elevation marker.
Diablo is often visible from a plane coming and going along the bay.