January 31, 2009

Sierra Road

It has been a year since I've climbed Sierra Road, and with today's club ride heading up the back of it, why not descend and then climb it? Approaching the summit from the back side, you can see the road snaking along the top of the hill and you can't see the sprawling metropolis below the fog.

Sierra is hard. On the descent, I pondered making a sensible return to our starting point. But where's the fun in that? Thus, having warmed up with 2400 feet of climbing already in my legs, I made the big u-turn and headed back up.

The last time I hauled myself up Sierra, I was earning my place as a spectator during the Tour of California. When I finally reached the summit, one of the local racers teased me:
What took you so long?
I had a mechanical problem,
I replied.
Getting the expected look of sympathy, I continued: I need a bigger engine.
A few eyebrows went up when I proceeded to pull a long lens, mounted on a digital SLR, out of my little backpack. Maybe she's not as slow as we thought.

It was so warm today that I was overheating. I pushed up my sleeves. I thought about stopping. I kept going. I thought about turning around. I didn't.

Shortly after I arrived at the top, a serious racer arrived, breathing mightily. Before his support vehicle picked him up and ferried him back down the hill, I caught a snippet of their conversation.
How was it?
That was hard. And not in a fun way.
In addition to the usual turkey vultures and hawks, I crossed paths with a magpie and a western bluebird in brilliant plumage, and saw the largest flock yet of wild turkeys. The cows at the top were indifferent to our suffering.

I celebrated with some pretzels and triumphantly descended the back side.

January 25, 2009

Riding with the Leaders

San José is the tenth largest city in the US, but the beauty of California is that you are never far away from wild land. We started today's ride in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers, but left all that behind in less than eight miles as we crossed the freeways and climbed the foothills toward Alum Rock.

The skies were threatening, the winds were blowing, and there was a damp chill in the air. The landscape is a bit dynamic here; we passed through a section where only one lane of the road is hanging on (barely), and also traversed a few segments of dirt. We saw hawks circling overhead, fields of wild mustard, and even a stray heifer on the wrong side of a fence.

Once the climbing was done, I enjoyed a screaming fast descent (44.5 mph, max) on our way back to the start. Lunch awaited, and I had worked up an appetite.

Today's ride was a generous thank-you from our bike club, ACTC, to all the members who had led rides in 2008. Our pre-lunch ride was thus a rare group - all leaders! Nonetheless, we took direction well, and needless to say, no one got lost.

January 24, 2009

Montebello in the Rain

This is getting to be a habit - it was raining the last time I climbed (and descended) Montebello Road. Today the radar showed no rain for miles around, and the skies were supposed to clear before 9 a.m. Caveat: when you climb above 2500 feet on a cloudy day, you may meet the cloud. And get wet.

Having survived this climb once in the rain, I didn't have a good excuse to stay dry in a warm house instead. (I lack imagination, or common sense, or both, you say? You can think of plenty?) Well, once you're wet, you're wet; and you'll have to clean the bike later anyway. Bundle up, back off on the tire pressure, don't lean the bike aggressively, and for goodness' sake stay off the painted lines and and all metal (grates, tracks, plates, covers).

An angry horn on the road below me was a harbinger of a common species, The Aggressive Driver. Soon enough, I could hear the accelerating engine and sliding tires, and conveniently tucked myself into a driveway before The Jerk in the Black Mercedes roared past.
I am a Privileged Person in a Powerful Pricey Car, and I am Most Inconvenienced by that Road Closure down there. The Speed Limit on this curvy, slippery detour doesn't apply to Me.
Downed trees were blocking Highway 9 just south of where we'd turned, diverting unexpected traffic onto part of our route. Back on the road after The Jerk had passed, I was left to enjoy the whir of my tires and the creek splashing alongside the road. That, and gunshots reverberating through the canyon from the nearby firing range. The road climbs high enough to escape all that noise.

January 20, 2009

The Web Site Has Changed

I rolled out before the sun this morning, headed for the usual destination (work) on a most unusual day. The sky brightened from pink and gold to blue, while the air made my fingers and toes tingle and chilled the water in my bottle. It was a lonely ride, with my shadow not joining me until Sunnyvale.

I arrived right on schedule, with enough time to refuel on a second breakfast before the key moments of today's big event. I joined several hundred of my coworkers, gathered to watch live coverage of the Presidential Inauguration, just as Senator Feinstein was wrapping up her remarks.

Today was to be one of those never-to-be forgotten days, and a joyous one! As I reflect on the other such moments in my life, all were tragic. Dismissed from school for lunch and told not to return that afternoon, the morning that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Accompanying an injured colleague to the hospital, and learning on my way back that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded in the sky. Waking up to an early morning phone call from my brother, as he watched the twin towers burning from his office across the Hudson.

I will remember our cheers as Joe Biden was sworn in, and the hearty appreciation for Aretha Franklin, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and the other performers. I will especially remember how we almost missed the beginning of the Presidential Oath of Office. The moment before, the television announcer had remarked that it was now past noon on the east coast and the White House web site had just changed. Our crowd roared with cheers and applause so loud and prolonged that we overwhelmed the sound of the broadcast. Eight years is a significant chunk of my life, of the lives of my colleagues, even more so the lives of their children.

Thank you, Barack Obama, for wanting this job. In all the years I've voted, you're the first candidate in whom I truly believe. And now I can say something that has not been true for a long, long time: I am proud to be an American.

January 19, 2009

Life in the Bike Lane

Spider web along Kennedy Rd, Los Gatos CACycling gives you the chance to see all manner of wondrous things, if you will just take the time to look about you. The spider who spun this web was very clever, as there were dozens of gnats bobbing and weaving nearby in the sunshine.

Some of my friends enjoy cycling with a soundtrack, and I admit that the iPod Shuffle mounted on Arriva headphones is an ingenious solution. But with decades of music stored in my head, the gizmo seems unnecessary.

Almaden Lake Park, San Jose CA As I cruised to the start of today's ride at Almaden Lake, my internal music source triggered on an Eagles tune, Glass in the Bike Lane (surely make you lose some air). Okay, I improvised on the lyrics. I'm not an Eagles fan.

Without headphones, my ears are open to the songs of birds and the whoosh of the wind, alert for the sound of approaching vehicles and other hazards - like the hooves clattering on the pavement next to me one day when a young buck decided to charge me, or the only time I've heard the eerie cry of a hawk circling overhead.

Other than glass and the ubiquitous cigarette butts, today's roadside debris included a small right shoe (tossed by a petulant child?), a shiny CD, and one of those little plastic flossing tools. Somehow I'd expect that a person so committed to good dental hygiene would also respect the environment, but what do I know?

Today's ride was flat and social; I enjoyed good conversation, a circuitous route through suburban San Jose, and a large chocolate croissant. Not without guilt, enjoying another 68-degree day when much of the country is suffering a deep freeze. But look at this view from my (hilly) route home. How could you not bike on a day like this?Kennedy Rd, Los Gatos CA

January 17, 2009

Butterflies in January

I know a butterfly when I see one, you're thinking, and that's a freight train. As I cruised back home from today's ride along a segment of my familiar commute route, I heard an unfamiliar rumble - and there was the train. One blocked a major local road not long ago when it derailed, but I'd never actually seen one here.

Most of the route was considerably more scenic, along the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains on Skyline (aka Highway 35) north into the redwoods. Idyllic, if it weren't for the racing motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts that know enforcement is rare. It seems the authorities would rather just pick up the pieces. Yeeerrrooommm . . . Ferrari. Draft that!

A year ago, I rode up here on a rainy day, pointing my bike through the tire tracks in the slippery residue of mudslides. It was warm enough today for a few butterflies to venture out. On a clear day, the Pacific glistens to the west and the valley shimmers to the east, all the way to Mt. Diablo rising above the haze.

The wheels on the bike go round and round, round and round. The next thing you know, you've traveled 78 miles and climbed 5,965 feet. When some friends looked at my weekend ride calendar, they said:
You're going to do a 97-mile ride?!
No, no, of course not. I'm just doing part of it.
Back in civilization (central Woodside), a thoughtful motorcyclist pulled alongside as we proceeded through the intersection. Despite his Michigan license plate, he was eminently qualified to educate me on some finer point of the California motor vehicle code. Muffled by his helmet all I could make out was " ... RIGHT ... TRAFFIC LAWS ..." Perhaps he took umbrage when I rolled up to the stop sign in the bike lane, passing him on the right? He and his buddy were riding two abreast, which is mighty controversial behavior for bicyclists, by the way - but legal for motorcyclists? Hmm, that's worth researching.

He must have been one of those guys I saw traveling at the speed limit up on Skyline today. Oh, wait, I remember. I didn't see any of those.

January 13, 2009

Moon Over Cupertino

We're in the midst of a veritable heat wave in the Bay Area, but I needed a rest day yesterday. I overdid it with 83 miles and 5,800 feet of climbing over the weekend, having neglected endurance rides in favor of short, intense efforts over the past couple of months. My legs felt like lead on Monday.

I did capture a picture of the nearly-full moon over Cupertino on my way to work this morning, but it was a disappointment (unlike the real moment). I enjoyed a leisurely ride, but saw fewer cyclists than usual (21).

The number of dicey driving maneuvers was about typical, though (3). Starting at 7:20 am with the ignorant motorist who honked at me for being in the right place (the right edge of the lane proceeding straight over the freeway, as opposed to the right edge of the lane turning onto the freeway). Good morning.

Next up, a guy in a Jeep waiting to turn left at a light, with his cell phone plastered to his right ear. Unsure whether he planned to steer with his left hand or his knees, I gave him plenty of space.

Finally, a commercial pick-up truck turning left onto another freeway, trailing the line of cars before him, through a light that was already quite red. Always bike attentively.

January 11, 2009


We do need more rain, although from this angle you can't appreciate the low water level of the Calaveras reservoir. Another perfect day for cycling, though. Rainy work days are always welcome. No bald eagle sightings this year; speculation is that they sought better hunting grounds.

It's hard not to run on about the things you love. Cycling, for example. I have inspired a few people to get back on their bikes, while driving others to distraction. One conversation from my holiday visit back east springs to mind.
How do you stay so thin?
I bike. A lot. More than 3300 miles and 178,000 feet of climbing [in 2008]. Pass me that plate of cookies? Thanks.
For the most part, my family members have never been physically active, and I'm not sure they quite believe me.
What happens if you get a flat tire?
I fix it.
It's a lot easier to fix a flat in warm comfort at home, so don't ask why I had procrastinated about a slow leak in my rear tire for months. But when I found a small piece of glass embedded yesterday, I read that as a sign. I knew it wasn't the glass, which was a new acquisition (and thank you, Continental Grand Prix 4000S, for resisting that puncture). Much to my surprise, I found a wire fragment piercing the tube (and, more or less, plugging its hole). I also learned that my neurotic cat finds small children and bicycle wheels equally terrifying, as she fled to her safe haven under the comforter on my bed.

January 10, 2009


Shortly after I moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast, the following item appeared in the local police blotter:
A woman called to report that she'd just seen a coyote kill a raccoon, and she was concerned about the safety of small pets in the area.
Life is different out here. As we descended the back side of Metcalf Road today, a scrawny coyote scurried across our path and eyed us from the opposite slope. I could still hear the little white dog yapping at us from the property we'd just passed; I'd been relieved to see that this dog could not chase us. Now I realized that we'd probably spooked a hungry coyote and I wondered how things would turn out for that little white dog, chained up in the front yard.

View from a switchback along Metcalf Road, San Jose, CaliforniaI'm not sure how a relentless gradient in excess of 10% can look flat, but it does in this photo. Can you spot the cyclist making a slow ascent? We've had a relatively dry winter so far - just a touch of green in the landscape. We were blessed with a clear, unusually warm winter day (temperatures in the 60s). I settled into a comfortable pace that was merely two minutes slower than my Low-Key assault on this hill two months ago. Go figure.

I found it surprising when the inaugural San Jose LIVESTRONG Challenge included Metcalf on their 100k route last summer. Dropped chains on the first overpass did not bode well for many of those riders, and more than a few walked up Metcalf Road that day.

January 1, 2009

Firsts on First

They said the fog would lift at 10. It lifted, grudgingly, at 4.

It was less cold and wet than yesterday, but the mist brought a certain surreality to the San Bruno Mountain Hill Climb. I would hear the finish line before I could see it.

The pack took off at a blistering pace.
Yikes! I was off the back in no time, and with adrenaline spiking my heart rate, spinning seemed like A Mighty Good Plan. I caught and dropped another woman from the Cat 4 field before the veil of fog shrouded the rest. Her front wheel came into view briefly near the bottom of the upper climb, but I held her off - to finish: Not Last!

It's important to have goals. Being a late bloomer, I focus on the achievable. Although, this being an official bicycle race, being
Not Last was conceivably a stretch goal. I was delighted to be cheered by spectators along the way, enthusiastic children with cowbells, and the encouraging shouts of descending racers as I approached the summit. And with so many familiar faces from the Low-Key Hillclimbs, overall I felt more relaxed and less intimidated.

My first official bicycle race. My best time up San Bruno Mountain. A blog begins.