November 20, 2014

Stayin' Alive, Take Two

Wet Strida illuminated by my headlight (400 lumens).
The first thing I noted about riding my trusty little Strida in the rain was that the fenders were less than effective. The rear fender's mud flap was lost some time ago, but tonight I was getting sprayed from the front. [Upon later inspection, it appears that the pliable plastic fender is somewhat warped to one side.]

I regretted not biking to work yesterday, when the threatened rain never quite made it over the coastal hills. Given that the roads were wet this morning, I opted to ride the commuter shuttle instead of making a mess of the commute bike. With a 50% chance of evening rain, I took a chance and chose the Strida over striding to the bus stop.

I lost the bet. [Ah, well. Once you're wet, you're wet.] It's only 1.6 miles.

I could shave the trip to 1.2 miles, but that requires biking on a busy local thoroughfare: mostly two lanes in each direction, separated by a median. The problem with that route are all the distractions. My bike is well-lit, but I'm a small fish swimming in a sea of bright lights: signs for businesses, traffic signals, pedestrian signals, street lights, vehicle lights.

The longer route is safer: it passes mostly through residential neighborhoods. In the darkness, I stand out: reflectors on wheels, pedals, and rear rack, reflective sidewalls on my tires, a reflective stripe down the front of the bike, reflective stripes on my messenger bag. Of course, none of that counts until some light source bounces back. So, I have a blinking white light on my handlebar. Two more blazing lights will encourage you to avert your gaze: a blinking red taillight (35 lumens) mounted on the rear rack, and a powerful headlight mounted on my helmet. Motorists give me a lot of space, at night. If they see me.

I watched the car heading through the church's parking lot, toward the exit. In self-defense, I slowed my pace and focused. I was the only moving thing on the street. In the bike lane.

She's not looking.

She's not looking.

She's not going to stop.

This is how cyclists die.

The driver pulled out directly across my path, making a left turn while staring exclusively to her right. She didn't even glance to her left until she was into the street, shocked [I can only imagine] by 400 lumens in her face. At close range.

Disc brakes, in the rain, for the win. They stopped the bike.

After I took a deep breath and resumed pedaling, I heard:
I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.
She had stopped her car down the street and lowered the window to call out an apology.

I'm sorry, too. I'm sorry that the State of California saw fit to award you a driver's license.

November 16, 2014


Some people prefer to bike with their club. Some people prefer to bike with their friends. [Do both, I say!]

Four does grazing at the edge of woodland.The ride calendar offered many choices. Long rides. Fast rides. I needed a just-right ride.

I knew that one of my regular ride buddies would join me; beyond that, you never know who will show up.

Surprise! We had an unexpected five-girl outing.

“Don't wait for us, we may not go all the way to the top,” two of them cautioned. [They insist that I'm a fast rider.]

A Sunday morning ride can be especially quiet. We spotted a flock of turkeys in a field, then encountered a fine buck standing his ground in the middle of the road. He proved camera-shy when we stopped to admire him. The local does were more skittish.

Ten does, five women, 18 miles, and 1,900 feet of climbing. Everyone made it to the top, with cheers and congratulations.

November 12, 2014


Not the freeway (U.S. Highway 101).

Not an academic course number (though “Commuting 101” would fit).

Cyclist emerging from the fog at the far end of a bike/pedestrian bridge.
Number of trips to the office by bicycle this year, as of today: 101.

Most trips involved returning home by bicycle, but since we reverted to Standard Time I rely on a commuter shuttle for most of the evening trip. [Less than two miles in the dark, versus twenty.]

Most trips are routine, but there have been some memorable moments in those 3,500 miles.

In the past few weeks, I surprised a covey of California quail crossing a road: one ran, the others actually took flight!

I have ridden from sunshine into ground fog so thick I couldn't see either end of a bridge from its center.

Coots nibbling on breakfast alongside the trail.
When I take the scenic morning route through the park, I can expect to thread my way through a flock of coots.

I had a close call with an idiot on a heavy electric bike who rounded a corner at speed into the bike lane. He didn't even glance to his left, much less heed the stop sign. [At the next traffic light, I gave him a piece of my mind.]

My Squirrel Scare Tactic elicited a “Nice trick!” compliment from a nearby cyclist. “Tsssss!” I hiss, loudly. This reliably sends the pesky rodent running, at warp speed, in the opposite direction. [Try it!]

For those increasingly common electrified pests ... an AirZound, perhaps?

November 8, 2014


An historic day in the annals of Bay Area cycling: With permission, our Low-Key Hillclimbers finished at the highest accessible point on Mount Umunhum—the fabled White Line Of Death.

Bicycle downhill from the White Line Of Death on Mt. Umunhum Road, Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, Los Gatos, California
There are clear “No Trespassing” signs planted below the line, which marks a border between the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve and private property. The “line” itself is a broad stripe across the pavement, plainly visible in satellite images. The white is aging to gray, but it's definitively edged in red.

I have climbed to the line before, but always felt uneasy about lingering. The view is better lower down, anyway. (The best view would be at the top, but we can't go there ... yet.) My volunteer post today was at the line, affording ample time for some amateur archaeology before the first cyclists arrived. Till now, I had never noticed the fading messages broadly stenciled in red on the white background.

The oldest warning was “NO TRESPASSING,” the paint now barely discernible. Subsequent additions included “NO HIKERS” and “NO BIKES,” accompanied by an image of a bicycle with a giant “X” through it. It takes some careful study to see all of that, but it's there. For now.

There is a brand-new parking lot (and pit toilets) at the trailhead for Bald Mountain, but the gate controlling access to the upper road is still in place. And locked. Except for today, when we were fortunate that a landowner opened it and granted the bicycles free passage up the road to The Line—no need for riders to dismount and thread through the narrow pedestrian opening.

It turns out that the area was recently re-surveyed, as work progresses toward opening the top of the mountain for public access, and the actual property line is a bit higher up the hill. [Bwa-ha-ha.] The signs will move, and perhaps a new white line will be painted. The original WLOD will disappear sooner (if they choose to black it out) or later (when they resurface the road, someday).

Today, it marked the finish for 119 cyclists tackling one of the toughest-rated hill climbs in the Bay Area.

November 2, 2014

Take a Hike

So many trails, so little time. Local parks, county parks, state parks, national parks, and open space preserves—oh, my! We grumble about Bay Area traffic and population density, but we are consoled with an abundance of wild land to visit. Each year, the acreage tends to expand when another generous landowner chooses preservation over development.

Trees arch over the John Nicholas Trail and a mossy boulder in Sanborn County Park.
Biking on back roads, I pass the occasional remote trailhead begging to be explored. Some sites mock the would-be hiker, offering no nearby parking. Others might have space for one or two vehicles.

A small forest sprouts from a long-fallen tree along the John Nicholas Trail in Sanborn County Park
In the company of some well-seasoned trekkers, I was introduced to one of these special places along Black Road today—the John Nicholas Trail in Sanborn County Park, including a portion of its newest segment.

Lake Ranch Reservoir in Sanborn County Park is nearly dry.
A Great Blue Heron ruled the Lake Ranch Reservoir—what was left of it, anyway. Signs that prohibit boating and swimming seemed, well ... beside the point. Above the reservoir, we climbed more switchbacks through the forest, turning back after 90 minutes to cover seven miles in our three allotted hours.

We didn't quite make it to some promised boulders and vistas. [I was slower than the main group. Big surprise.] Save it for another day.

October 18, 2014

My Buddy Cameron

October 18, 2014
The day that shall ever be known as:
The Day I Passed George Hincapie 
Staging at the base of the Washington MonumentOn a bicycle. At speed.

There was a price to be paid for this, and that was the price of a crash. [More about that in a bit.]

I had a special opportunity to ride a second time for Best Buddies this year, and so I found myself in Washington, D.C., staging with the rest of the pack near the base of the Washington Monument before dawn on a loaner Cannondale bicycle.

We rolled out and turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, paced by a lead car at a nominal 12 mph. They told us that the roads would be closed for us for the first 10 miles. They didn't tell us that one of the first roads was under construction.

Cameron Wurf approaching in the unpaved lane, seconds before I crashed. (Narrative Clip photo)
It was a small group, and the pack was spread out. I made a turn onto a surface that was prepared for paving, ground down and rough. The lane to my right was paved. In the pre-dawn light and pre-dawn brain fog, I decided to cut over to that lane.

Bad idea. Bad, bad, bad idea. The edge of the fresh pavement was too high and my angle of approach too shallow. My front wheel caught the lip and I was summarily slammed to the ground. Before I could get up, a second rider mirrored my mistake 20 yards ahead.

Shouts rang out. “Rider down! Rider down! Another one!”

As luck would have it, the Narrative Clip affixed to the back of my helmet captured the scene a few seconds before I crashed.

“Are you okay?” At least three guys stopped to help; a medic confirmed that I didn't need his attention. A tall rider in full Cannondale kit took charge (Cameron Wurf). My cell phone and water bottle having skittered away, it was the proverbial yard sale. My body cushioned the bike; apart from scuffing the tape at the end of the bar and dropping the chain, the bike was unscathed. My body fared less well: one shredded arm warmer and skinned elbow, a few scrapes, and ribs that would hurt more as the day progressed. Bruises would appear later, but nothing was broken.

Horses grazing in a Maryland pasture.
I climbed back onto the bike. The pack was long out of sight. “They won't wait for us,” Cameron said. “Do you mind if I push you?” With his hand on my back, we were off in side-by-side tandem. I was pedaling moderately hard and he was hardly breathing. “I wish I had a power meter on this bike!” he said with a laugh. He related a story from a (fallen) European pro, who had said this is what it feels like to be on EPO. [Being pushed.] Wow. We were moving, soon reeling in the stragglers. When the back of the pack was in sight, I thanked Cameron, expecting him to pull off.

Bird flies overhead after I pass on a long straight road in Maryland. (Narrative Clip photo)“I want to get you to the front,” he insisted. We passed some guys who knew him. “Hey! She's helping you! That's cheating!” they joked.

The closer we got to the front, the more tightly packed were the riders. I can ride in a pack, and Cameron has experience in the peleton, but these were riders of unknown provenance. “On your left!” I called out as we whirred past.

How did Cameron, who started the day at the front, end up behind me in the first place? [Evidently, he crashed, too.] And when he said he wanted to deliver me to the front, he meant The Front.

As we edged into the gap between the pace car and the lead riders, George Hincapie was at my right elbow and then ... he was somewhere behind me.
Maryland Scenic Byway C&O Canal Tour sign with Best Buddies route sign
Those early miles through D.C. and along the eastern shore of the Potomac were a blur. I lost any advantage at the first rest stop when I visited the medical tent for some attention to my raw elbow.

Before mile 20, the bike's bottom bracket was making a racket. It sounded like a loose ball bearing clattering inside with every turn of the crank. [Ugh.] Would I have to abandon? I wasn't confident that a quick repair was possible, and the time lost would force me to be sagged forward. I soldiered on, and for much of the ride the errant ball settled into some happy place and fell silent.

Sunlit yellow leaves on a distant hillside under a gray sky in VirginiaBy mile 30, the wind became a factor. It was blowing hard from the west—the general direction for today's adventure. My ribs hurt on the side that took the impact. I had been nonchalant about this century, which involved less climbing than September's. What was I thinking? The prospect of another 70 miles of rolling hills suddenly seemed daunting. I kept going.

Rolling rural road with changing leaves in VirginiaWithout a cycle computer, I had no way to judge my speed. Without a route map, I had only the yellow signs along the course to follow. My sole reference points were placards at each 10-mile mark, and the rest stops. I calibrated my effort by my heart rate and cursed the headwind. I couldn't drink while riding—the impact of the crash had shattered the hard plastic lid of my water bottle.

By mile 50, I calculated that I was flirting with the edge of the ride's 4 p.m. cut-off time. If you were still on the course at that time, the broom wagon would sweep you up (and drop you off near the finish, so you could ride ceremoniously across the line).

Colorful leaves on tall roadside trees in VirginiaThe course rolled along back roads through the woods of Maryland and Virginia. Autumn was changing the color of some leaves, but the theme of the day was green—an unfamiliar sight for those of us visiting from parched California. There were vast green lawns, meticulously trimmed in patterns by men on riding mowers. You don't see acreage like that in the West unless it's a ranch.

By mile 70, I was winning the endurance game. Few riders had chosen the 100-mile route, and they were mostly the fast guys. There weren't many fading riders on the course for me to catch, but I did pass some. A couple of ride officials trailed me at a courteous distance, but I got a gap when one flatted. SAG vehicles cruised by, some loaded with bikes and riders.

W&OD trail in VirginiaWhen I reached the W&OD trail around mile 89, I knew I was golden. I would follow this for some 10 miles, turning off close to the finish. The broom wagon couldn't touch me now! I relaxed.

I crossed the line at Morven Park around 4:30 p.m. The announcer was there to greet me. “She crashed in the first mile,” he explained to the people standing nearby. “Where's my buddy Cameron?” I asked. “He's been worried about you. I'll find him for you. You need a hot shower. Right now!” he commanded, assessing the chilled bare skin alongside my knee.

101 miles and some 4,560 feet of climbing, approximately 3500 Calories burned (and fewer consumed).

My buddy, I expect, had left the party hours before I arrived.

Thanks, Cameron, for one of my top ten moments on a bicycle.

October 17, 2014


Where in the world is pep?

Not California—someplace green. A city with mass transit that works: Minutes from the airport to my hotel downtown. A city surprisingly popular with cyclists, with a robust bike-sharing program. A city with walk signals timed to allow a full 60 seconds to cross a street.

U. S. Capitol building with its dome under restoration, Washington, D.C.
A city of monuments: Our nation's capitol, Washington, D.C.

Best Buddies tent next to the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
Given the opportunity to bike another 100 miles for Best Buddies, I packed my bags and headed east. I spotted the staging area from the air as our plane descended past the Washington Monument. From the hotel, it was a comfortable walk to check in and get fitted on the loaner Cannondale I'd ride tomorrow.

In the late afternoon light, the walls of the Smithsonian's Castle were redder than red. I haven't visited D.C. in more than a decade, and now I regretted that I didn't have some time to be a tourist.