February 28, 2009

An Up and Down Day

Today's ride cut right to the chase (er, climb). The approach to our first hill was short and essentially flat; after that we were either going up, or down. We climbed everything we descended, kind of like the Death Ride (but a mere 5780 feet of climbing over 45 miles). Moody. Page Mill. West Alpine. Portola Park.

I was climbing Moody when a descending rider shouted "Hi, Pat!" Someone recognized me? Turns out it was Ron, a fellow Low-Key Hillclimber (and video-creator extraordinaire). He swung around to join me for a brief chat and climb, in true Low-Key spirit.

I did a variation of this route two years ago in January, as I was toying with entering the lottery for the Death Ride that year. When I reached the upper section of Portola State Park Road, I was toast. It's the only way out. I had to finish climbing it, and then I had to finish climbing Alpine Road.

Death Ride? No way! What was I thinking?

As we started descending Portola Park today, another rider asked how long it was. "About three and a half miles down, and ten miles back up," I joked.

Oddly enough, my wildlife sightings for the day were all in residential Los Altos. A mass of feathers plummeted from the sky to the edge of Moody Road, not ten feet away: a red-shouldered hawk, just as startled to see me, took flight again without its prey. Next, a handsome coyote stepped off the road and watched me pass. Last, a woodpecker (probably Nuttall's) clambered up a tree between a playground and tennis courts in the park where we started (and finished) our ride.

I love the Bay Area.

February 21, 2009

Tootsie and Pops

Today's ride visited a hill that's new to me, Olive Tree Lane. Our local topography is such that one need not stray far to find fresh challenges - in this case, a residential neighborhood of Los Altos.

Although we could see the snow-capped peak of Mt. Hamilton across the valley, the lower altitudes of Los Altos are rarely affected by treacherous weather. Translation: sections of Olive Tree Lane are tortuously steep.

Most impressively, our ride leaders today (Tootsie and Pops) were a father-daughter pair who rewarded us with . . . Tootsie Pops. Our dynamic duo climbed this beast on a touring bike/trail-a-bike combo outfitted with panniers. Yow! I had enough trouble hauling my sorry self to the top of the hill. The last stretch averages about 14.5% for almost two tenths of a mile. After that, the "hilly route" home felt pretty benign. Here is most of my route, courtesy of MyTracks:

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February 17, 2009

Ringside on Sierra Road

As I started hiking up Sierra Road this morning, I thought about the sunscreen I didn't apply and envied the cyclists streaming up the hill. The cold, driving rain returned before I took up my position at the base of the final steep stretch before the finish, and I celebrated my decision to leave the bike at home.

I captured a few photos during my hike, before the wind and rain interfered. For the race, I chose an uncontested spot at the base of the final steep ascent that turned out to be a nearly perfect vantage point to watch Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California. With my back to the windblown rain, I hooked my umbrella around a post for shelter and planted my warm, waterproof boots in the mud.

Francisco Mancebo was part of the initial breakaway, but he had one thing on his mind: the King of the Mountain points atop Sierra Road. He chose to attack and pull away right in front of me! You can see that the other guys are not enjoying the climb, but is that a grin on Mancebo's face? My next shot, four seconds later, shows him pulling around to pass them on the right; and then, I just watched him go.

I was surprised to see the damage done by Sierra Road, which began only about six miles into the race. The breakaway had established itself before the climb, and had close to a 42-second advantage when they passed me. The peloton was large when it passed, but some splintering had already been done. Cavendish was lagging by about two and a half minutes, and the last rider by five and half - over less than ten miles of racing. I was also surprised to see jackets on most of the peloton. How do they not overheat? Generating far fewer watts than they do, I was too warm hiking up the hill.

The early position of the climb was a boon for spectators, as it meant a brief wait for the broom wagon to sweep by. I hiked back down the hill to join a party hosted each year by some generous members of our bike club who live near the base of Sierra Road. Hiking up the hill was less strenuous than cycling up, but a workout nonetheless, and I was grateful for warm lasagna on a cold day. Luckily, we watched the rest of the race play out via the live streaming Internet feed; at home, I would discover yet another aborted Versus broadcast on my PVR (due to a later-than-expected finish).

I was rooting for Cavendish to sprint across the line, and probably just as surprised as Hincapie that he was nowhere in sight. Overall, an off day for Mark?

February 16, 2009

On Pine Flat Road

It has been raining almost non-stop for the past 48 hours. More than eight inches have fallen in Ben Lomond, a local epicenter for rainfall in the Santa Cruz mountains and about three miles (as the crows fly) from today's decisive King of the Mountain line at the top of Pine Flat Road (the Bonny Doon climb).

After a miserable Sunday of wind and rain on the bike, the world-class racers in the Amgen Tour of California clipped in to face a miserable Monday of wind and rain on the bike. The television cameraman kept wiping the lens as they rolled across the Golden Gate Bridge. I can just imagine his frustration - it's an iconic moment, raindrops be gone!

I bundled up to stay warm and dry, and headed for a spot along Pine Flat Road. Much to my surprise, less rain was falling on the other side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I scouted up and down the road before settling in a stretch with reasonable visibility, sufficient grade (to slow them down), and a good background for pictures.

The intermittent mist lifted, the sky grew brighter, and just before the leaders arrived, the heaviest deluge of the morning started dumping on us. Juggling an umbrella and my camera, I regretted leaving my tripod in the car. The messages we had chalked on the road vanished in less than a minute.

Getting a shot of a solo rider is straightforward; when a pack comes along, you can just click away and hope for the best. As luck would have it, I had a close-up of Lance that was completely out of focus.

The arrival of the riders is heralded by an impressive motorcade: CHP motorcycles, an event car broadcasting the lead positions, various VIP and official vehicles. It's fast, furious, and festive. As one CHP car approached, this message came over his loudspeaker:
You all rock, being out here in this weather!
I don't know who's crazier, you or the guys on the bikes!
From the expressions on their faces, some of those guys on the bikes might have been re-examining their decisions to be professional bike racers. Mark Renshaw (Team Columbia) still had a sense of humor, though. When a spectator called out "Welcome to sunny California!" as he passed, he twisted back around to share a wry smile as he looked up at the sky.

February 15, 2009

The End is Near

It's not every morning that you open the local newspaper to find a color photo of your butt plastered across page 1B (West Valley section). Above the fold, I might add. Bigger than the photo of fellow cyclist Lance Armstrong on page 1C (Sports section, below the fold). There I am in the foreground, the sleeve of my yellow jacket dangling from the rear pocket of my jersey. The photographer (Pauline Lubens) was positioned near the top of the final steep section before the finish, so I had ample time to observe her as I crawled slowly upward. She was concentrating on rear shots, and I was silently grateful for that pesky sleeve - ha! I look sloppy, I am not photo-worthy.

What do I know?

I know what's it like to climb Sierra Road on a bicycle. The start is daunting - you turn off Piedmont and you face the first challenge, a long section that just goes straight up. There are worse bits ahead, but it's especially intimidating whenever you can see a whole climb laid out before you. Before you reach the top (some 3.7 miles later), it changes from being steep, to painfully steep, to slightly less steep, to I-can't-believe-it's-getting-really-steep again, to a downward slope that's too short to gain momentum for the uphill finish. Steep enough to split up the pro peloton when they have faced it toward the end of a Tour of California stage. My bike computer tells me that the climb averages 9.9%. There are a few sections that seem comparatively flat - even somewhat downhill - so that means that most of the climb exceeds 10%.

I reappear in the closing shot of the Mercury News slideshow, in the background as the men crowd around to see their results. I enjoyed watching the photographer positioned behind the easel, holding the camera high overhead, and wondered how those shots would turn out.

When the pro peloton roars through with fresh legs on Tuesday, perhaps they will stay together. I'll empathize with the sprinters at the back - I expect that our suffering is comparable on that hill. I may be hiking it on Tuesday - cycling up in the pouring rain may not be the best plan, but descending it would be worse.

February 14, 2009

Sierra Road, Race Day

I didn't bring my skis, I signed up for a bike race!

To appreciate Saturday fully, I must start with Friday. Friday was not the best of days, as I spent most of it sitting quietly at home, dehydrating, suffering from an apparent "24-hour bug," aka food poisoning. I ventured out on a rainy San Jose night to claim my race packet. If nothing else, I would collect my schwag, as it seemed increasingly unlikely that I would be racing the next morning. Now I was committed to a return trip, though, to turn in my timing chip. Well, I could always watch the Criterium.

Heavy rain woke me during the night, but there were scattered, moonlit clouds when the alarm went off. A radar map survey revealed rain not making it over the ridge of the Santa Cruz mountains. Next up, a physiological survey: Well-rested, got enough sleep. A pulled muscle in my left inner thigh - how did I manage that, in my sleep? Some residual aches from Friday, but definitely not miserable. Lighter weight, but disadvantaged - somewhat dehydrated.

I am not a professional bike racer; no one is paying me to ride when I'm under the weather, or when the weather over me is nasty. But I am currently reading Arlene Blum's Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life; she has climbed huge mountains while suffering from hepatitis or dysentery. This, after all, is just a bike ride and a little food poisoning. [Thanks, Arlene.] Get on with it.

The turn-out for the San Jose Cycling Classic KOM Race was so low, I joked that I might place third in my category. When the final results were sorted out, I missed finishing in the top ten for the Category 4 Women - landing in 11th place with my time of 47:08.84. Faster than some of the Cat 4/5 Men, I finished 99th in a field of 107. Slower than my Low-Key 44:50, but my fellow Low-Keyers suggested that everyone was slower today due to the strong winds. I did let my heart rate dip a couple of times, but averaged 177 bpm (peaking at 184 bpm). Definitely not a conversational pace, but comfortably shy of my actual maximum. Note that my average heart rate was considerably higher than my theoretical maximum according to the oft-cited formula (Max HR = 220 - my age), so don't put too much stock in that. On the other hand, if I can use that to calculate my theoretical age . . .

I knew I was moving at a stunningly fast speed when I flew past some of my fellow riders on the return to City Hall, but that's no time to look at anything except the road ahead (definitely, not my bike computer). I probably had a touch of tailwind to reach 44.5 mph descending Felter Road. Luckily, I was traveling a bit slower when I passed a police car at the side of the road, no ticket for me.

Overall, a fun day - six miles of rolling road closures to the base of Sierra Road, thrashing myself up the hill, a fabulous descent once the tricky crosswinds were behind me, and enormous pans of paella for lunch back at City Hall. And yes, I raced with my camera (<200 grams). At my ability level, it just can't matter that much, and I would have regretted missing every one of these shots.

February 10, 2009

Frosty Rooftops

I don't carry a camera on my commute rides - I'm just trying to get to work, or back home. When I found myself rolling up to a left turn behind a small steam roller this morning, it was one of those shots-that-got-away. [There was no steam involved, but what else do you call those things?] I was happy to discover that I am faster than some motorized vehicle, especially when he chose to rattle along in the bike lane behind me.

This morning's ride was not without a form of steam, however, as I could easily see my breath. It was less than one degree above freezing when I left home, and not much warmer when I arrived at work. Yes, it does get that cold (or colder) in the Bay Area during the winter. Frost was thick on the rooftops, and I noticed one property where the homeowner would have learned a lot about heat loss had he ventured outside to examine the pattern on his roof.

My cyclist count was at a record low this morning (14), most likely a result of the chilly air. This was the coldest cycling trip I've taken, but I was quite comfy. From time to time, other riders ask me what they should wear to be warm enough, but that's a question they need to answer for themselves. Experiment, figure out what works; every body is different. In general, keep the extremities warm and don't overdo it on the core.

Here's what worked for me, this morning - and trust me, I don't like to be cold:
  • Woolie Boolie socks, Baah! DeFeet: warm, with a sense of humor.
  • Sugoi Resistor Booties: warm, ready for possible rain on the ride home.
  • Pearl Izumi Thermafleece tights: often too warm, best for really cold days.
  • Woolistic jersey, long sleeves: wool really does keep you "warm, even when wet."
  • Craft winter rain jacket: perfect outer layer, in bright neon yellow.
  • Castelli Max Donna gloves: warm, with a cuff that cinches above the wrist.
  • Planet Buff head cover: thin, easily fits under a helmet, surprisingly warm.
The first three miles of my ride are mostly uphill, so I was generating the watts and I was toasty warm - even on the sections where I cruised at 34+ mph. After that, the ride is essentially flat (slightly downhill), and the tips of my fingers and toes were a bit tingly - but not so much that I was motivated to crank a little harder.

February 8, 2009

Fuzzy Legs

What to do on a chilly winter's day with rain in the forecast? Stay dry? Mostly. Climb a hill to touch a cloud and get wet? Of course.

Today's group was a faster one, and I was pleased to keep up with them. The front group charged off at a pace that was not impossible and I was swept along nicely, drafting a guy riding a fixed-gear bicycle and our ride leaders on their tandem.

Am I spending too much time cycling? The San Francisco Chronicle recently profiled another local cyclist and her cycling addiction. Whew, that's not me. I am not signing up for any double centuries, much less Paris-Brest-Paris. I'm not addicted. No intervention needed. Nothing to see here. Move along, please.

Still, when you recognize at least one cyclist [not riding with you] on every ride, does that mean you're riding too much? When men in Lycra with fuzzy legs look weird to you, are you hanging around too many bike racers?

The tandem flew past me on a straightaway descent; the urge to draft was irresistible. Another rider tried to insert himself as we passed; I defended and held my position on their wheel. Coming up on the fixed-gear as we crested a little rise, I seized the moment (and momentum) to attack. My breakaway would last only until the next uphill, but I knew that. It was fun anyway. Out of the saddle and rocking the bike, he powered past me like I was standing still. I'll never have legs like that.

February 7, 2009

The View from the Top

I bought my ticket and I boarded the train, touched down in the land of San Bruno Mountain with Marc Cohn singing in my brain. Caltrain did not disappoint: today's delights included train groupies in a state of sheer ecstasy, induced when the engineer blew past one of the local stations along the way. The train came to a halt before winning approval to back up to the missed station. The bike car being the northernmost car (leading the way to San Francisco), it's a natural magnet for the groupies. The cyclist who disembarked muttered "Once a month . . ."

Puddles lingered from the showers that ended sometime last night, as we pulled away from the gray skies of the south bay into the San Francisco sunshine. The conditions at the top of the hill could not have been more unlike those on January 1. Clear, still, and nearly balmy. The view to the west extended past the Farallon Islands; to the north, past San Francisco and the Marin Headlands to Mount Tam and Drake's Bay; to the east, Mount Diablo and beyond.

Coyote Point is a great vantage point along the approach to SFO, and we picnicked near the water's edge before meandering south along the bay shore and the hills of Redwood City to catch a southbound train in Palo Alto.

February 1, 2009

Bench Henge

You'll find this inviting spot on Coleman Road in San José, not far from Almaden Expressway. It is not a bus stop. Four benches are clustered in a semi-circle facing the five-lane thoroughfare and a light post adorned with a "No Stopping" sign (not the Guadalupe Creek, which runs behind them). A gravel path leads here from some nearby apartment buildings; was this "park" some sort of deal related to that development? I should pack a lunch and sit here one day, just to see how passers-by react.

One of the things I appreciate about biking with our club is the depth of local knowledge. Today's route passed through the Blossom Valley neighborhood, which I had not visited before, on the way to climbing Bernal Road through a section of Santa Teresa County Park. At the top of Bernal sits IBM's Almaden Research Center, and we stopped short of that (private property). It is a modest climb, but my legs were protesting after yesterday's flogging. I learned that this land was all part of Rancho Santa Teresa, part of a 10,000 acre land grant from the Mexican Government to José Joaquin Bernal in 1834.

Traffic was light, as people prepared to party around today's big football game. This year I remembered to record it, so I could check out the much-vaunted commercials. (I fast-forwarded through the football parts.) Not being the targeted demographic, I was resoundingly disappointed. Commercials for three different job-hunting sites? Are there any job openings these days? I did enjoy the half-time show; it looked like Bruce and the band had a genuinely good time.