The 2020 PMC:
Green Day

September 19, 2020

To tell the story of my 2020 PMC, we need to go back to August, 2018. I had just returned from the Ranch fire in Lake County, when a fire station accident left me with a broken right elbow. It was repaired, but after a year, range of motion was decidedly sub-optimal. We rode an early, abbreviated 2019 PMC on July 15th to clear the calendar for a second surgery in August. The surgery delivered a modest improvement in range, and was followed by aggressive physical therapy. I was cleared to return to my firefighting job in November, and did some light biking in November and December. Physical therapy continues to this day, as we get fractional improvements. I'm just under 80% of maximum range. We'll keep working at it.

By late spring, it was clear the PMC would be a different event. With Covid in full swing, the PMC was reimagined as 100% virtual, where all riders did their own rides. Although I really wanted to ride with Steve and David again, it just didn't seem sensible, and I decided to ride solo.

I had a slow start to riding in 2020, logging only 220 miles through April 1. April and May went well, with about 500 miles total and a few rides up around 45 miles and extended climbs. At the end of May, the climbs might have been a little much - for the first time in a very long time, I abandoned a ride with some right knee issues, calling Beth for a ride home from 5 miles out. After 12 days off the bike, I got back to it. July was a big month by my current standard, almost 300 miles, and I finally started trusting my knee and saw better times on standard rides. I was ready to ride mid-August and planned to ride on the 16th or 22nd.


By now, everyone knows that fires broke out all over California in mid August. A very rare lightning storm in the Bay Area on 8/16 started dozens of fires, creating three large "complexes": CZU (ours), SCU (Santa Clara), and LNU (Napa, Sonoma, Lake counties northeast of San Francisco). Though we had a few successes early on, several of the fires in CZU merged and tore through Davenport (north of Santa Cruz), Big Basin state park, Boulder Creek, and Bonny Doon. My volunteer company worked for 17 days on the fire, alternating days on/off. We were released on September 1. The CZU fire is holding at 86509 acres, but still not quite 100% contained. It destroyed 925 homes in Santa Cruz County.

After 17 days off the bike, I did a test ride to stretch the legs on September 4th and declared myself ready for the PMC. But Mother Nature was not done with us yet. The weekend of the 5th brought record heat - 113 degrees at the house. This lasted a few days. Then, new big fires further north (Butte county) and south (Fresno) pumped huge amounts of smoke into the atmosphere which converged on the Bay Area. Air quality, according to, was "hazardous". Certainly not a good time to be out doing a strenuous ride. Wednesday the 9th I took this picture of a yellow/orange sky. Our solar array produced 1/16th the typical daily energy that day. Although solar production to improved slowly over the next 4 days, the air quality lagged. So I watched, and monitored, and the quality map finally started moving out of orange and into some yellows (ok) and green (best) by the 16th. It was all green on the morning of Thursday, 9/17, so I rode.


Bleah - who wants to breathe that?
Green air quality for the ride!
Food for the ride
Elevation profile
Route Map
Route Map

Let's Ride

As I'm still in injury recovery, I planned a route with more miles than last year and twice the climbing: hard, but not too crazy. The plan was about 80 miles and 5000' of climbing. I set up the route with many possible shortcuts and reroutes, just in case. The basic idea was to ride from the fire station all the way up Skyline (Hwy 35) to Hwy 92, then down to the Crystal Springs area, then make my way back to Los Gatos to meet Beth for a late lunch or early dinner, and a drive home. Much of the route has been in previous PMC rides, though a few sections would be new.


At the start, it was cool - in the mid 60s - no jacket required, just the new 2020 PMC jersey. I filled my pockets with power food and started at a luxurious 10AM. The route and elevation are shown above. The first segment, along Skyline Blvd (aka Highway 35), has much of the categorized climbing. It was nice that it wasn't roasting. There's climbing from the very start, nearly 500' in the first 2.5 miles. There's a similar climb about 10 miles in, with many shorter climbs in between. The biggest climb of the day starts where Highway 84 crosses Skyline, by Alice's Restaurant (really). In just under 5 miles, this climbs around 850 feet at a steady 5% to 8%. The last mile or so is only about 2%. The remainder of Skyline rolls for 3 or 4 miles, followed by a non-technical descent to the intersection with 92. The first 32 miles, even with the climbing, took under 2 hours. I felt pretty good.
The obligatory pose at the start
All smiles on the first climb
Not from the song...

Crystal Springs to Portola Valley

I added a new detour to the second segment: Crystal Springs Reservoir. This area, alongside I-280, was closed in 2010 to rebuild the road atop the dam. It just reopened this April. I have not ridden this in quite some time. It had definitely warmed up - according to the Garmin, about 14 degrees warmer in the valley than at the summit. The road starts at Highway 92 with a short climb, followed by a descent to the dam. A right turn on Crystal Springs Road takes you under the tallest 280 overpass, the Dolan Bridge. It's an impressive structure to ride under. This is a nice swoopy descent for a mile to the next short 2.5 mile climb: Polhemus Road. From here, the route leads to a bike path and short bike bridge over 280 to Cañada road, which was last used in my PMC in in the 2015 ride. I had planned to do a favorite short climb into Redwood City, Jefferson Road, but decided to reroute for lunch at Roberts Market in Woodside. Indecisive, I passed Roberts then rerouted again for a little bonus climb up Sand Hill Road into Portola Valley for a stop at the other Roberts Market - it was in a better position for a lunch break. At this point, at 52 miles, I had equalled my longest ride of the year.

Portola Valley to Los Gatos

The last segment is very familiar territory. From Alpine, I crossed through the Arastradero Preserve into Los Altos, and along Foothill Expressway. Like in 2015, I crossed the Don Burnett / Mary Avenue Bicycle Bridge across I-280 connecting Sunnyvale to Cupertino. This time, I continued on around DeAnza college and into Steven's Canyon for the final climbs of the day. Starting at 71 miles in, Mt Eden is a short climb, about 3/4 of a mile at 7%. A good sweat. Beth was at the top to get more pictures, and pass me a full, cold water bottle, which really hit the spot. The other side of Mt Eden is a steep descent leading to Pierce Rd.

I'm not sure why I put this climb in so late in the ride, but it is the PMC, and it should be a challenge! Pierce climbs 300 feet in 2/3 of a mile, and is quite steep, as you can see from the profile on the right. As you know from previous reports, purple means steep! At the peak, out of the saddle and gritting my teeth, the climbing is basically done. From here, it's downhill to Highway 9. With more training, I'd have turned right and climbed the 2000 feet back to Skyline - but not on this day. I knew I would not have the legs for it.

Once on Highway 9, it's downhill to Saratoga, then on to Los Gatos. I met Beth at Victory Lane (how fitting) behind Andale Taqueria, which still provides take-out, and we headed home for a well-earned tasty dinner. After 80.25 miles and 5200 feet of elevation gain, I needed it!

Crystal springs from Skyline
Crystal Springs Reservoir from Skyline
Dolan bridge
Impressive I-280 Dolan Bridge with Crystal Springs Rd below
Pierce Rd profile - Purple means...
Mt Eden
Top of Mt Eden, I've seen that face before
At the top of Pierce, tough on tired legs and arms

Post ride

Despite delays and a choppy training season, this was a really good ride. I had good weather, plenty to drink and eat (learned my lesson in 2016), and a reasonably challenging route. With a 100% virtual event, the PMC adjusted it's goal down to $41M, and as of this writing, they have raised about $39.5M. I've raised about $12,600 so far on the way to $13000. 100% of rider raised funds go directly to Dana Farber.

There's still much motivation to ride a challenging PMC. My mom continues to keep lung cancer at bay. Sadly, Steve's cousin Momoko lost her 5 year battle with cancer. We ride to support research and development of new modes of treatment so we can continue to see an increase in successful treatment options, to help our family and friends live longer. By the close of this year, the PMC will have raised over $750M for Dana Farber in it's 41 year history. That has made a huge impact, as you can see here.

And we are closer by the mile.

Thank you so much for your support!

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