April 27, 2009

pep Gets Lucky

After returning from San Luis Obispo on Sunday, I spent some quality time pulling weeds in my backyard. You know the old saying "All play and no work ..." Or is that the other way around? Being a good little multi-tasker, I talked with my family on the other coast as I uprooted oxalis and burclover. Which meant that I happened to have my phone in my pocket when a nervous yellow lab appeared in my neighbor's driveway.

A lost pet is a heartbreaking thing. Sure enough, this one is a wanderer. I'm really not a dog person, is he menacing? He wags his tail and bounds over to me as soon as I call him. He's friendly, with a collar and tags ... I can help ... my neighbors step outside with some guests, and he bolts.

Thank goodness he's had some training. He comes back when I call him, and this time I get a grip on his collar. Sit. Good dog. Petting him as I fumble for his tags, he immediately drops and rolls onto his back for a belly rub, squirming with delight, and starts licking me enthusiastically. Having read Marley & Me, I smile at this goofy lost lab. Lucky, I see, is his name.

I call the first number on his tag. "Hi, I have your dog. Yellow lab?" An open gate. Where's Lucky?! "No problem, I've got him." Lucky is soon reunited with a beaming ten-year-old boy.

A happy ending, but pretty tame in comparison to the rescue one of my biking friends had shared over breakfast that very same morning. Biking out on Calaveras Road, she came upon a crowd of cyclists, some cars, and one very frightened cow. Call 911? Not much cell coverage out there. She spotted the gap in the fence, herded the cow back through it and mended the fence with some zip ties. "You carry zip ties?" Nonplussed, she replied "Oh, some of my friends are emergency responders and they always carry zip ties." Her zip ties are still out there in a fence along Calaveras Road, if you know where to look.

April 26, 2009

The Long and Windy Road

This weekend's adventure involved a trip to San Luis Obispo with some friends, old and new, to ride the Wildflower Century. This was to be the first century (100-mile ride) for three of them; a couple of us pointed out that the Wine Country Century would have been a friendlier option (shorter, with less climbing). But that's just not how we do things, is it?

I was grateful for the opportunity to tag along and bike through new terrain. Strange as it may sound, it is easier for me to bike 100 miles than it is to drive 100 miles. San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Solvang - tantalizing, but out of range. Unless I can be a passenger.

Three loops of rolling hills comprised the route, which covered about 107 miles and 5,750 feet of climbing. I was able map the first half of the route before my G1's battery ran out of juice.

Favorite street sign of the day: Random Canyon Road. I missed the wandering pig, but met the cows on Shell Creek Road. (The creek, by the way, was utterly dry.) The San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club volunteers were wonderful, warning us at the cattle grates and regularly cruising the route with SAG vehicles.

I would soon learn what so many others already knew: strong headwinds on the road to Shandon. Shift down. That didn't help. Shift down. That didn't help. Fifteen miles of this? Luckily, I found a buddy (Jerry) who suggested we work together. We took turns pulling and drafting; my average speed actually went up through this section, as a result. Gradually we caught and passed other riders, who turned down our offer to rotate in with us (because they didn't know how). Moral of the story? Learn to draft. It works for pro racers. It works for mere mortals.

At the end of the day, our group of five spent cyclists celebrated together; every one of us completed the long route. I slept for ten hours that night.

April 19, 2009

Primavera, Poached

The Calaveras Reservoir looked invitingly cool this morning, but today it was my lot to simmer in the heat. Yesterday I volunteered for the Tierra Bella, doing my fair turn to support my fellow cyclists. I congratulated a guy who completed his first century, and another who rode the event with clipless pedals for the first time. I watched two guys fall into a deep sleep despite the bustle around them, and chatted with many familiar faces as I handed out jerseys and t-shirts.

I wisely abandoned my plan to ride the century route for the Primavera today, much as I enjoyed it last year. I settled for the metric century (100 km) instead, given that my cold symptoms are lingering. Not to mention the heat advisory. With a later start and a more relaxed pace, I still finished with plenty of time to enjoy lunch at the end of the ride. 3515 feet of climbing, 63.5 miles.

I admired a red-tailed hawk that soared overhead, and was paced by the shadow of a turkey vulture that judged me an unsuitable meal. A pair of quail darted back into the brush as I approached, leaving me to wonder why do these birds prefer to walk, when they can fly?

Early in the day, more people were walking up the Calaveras “wall” than pedaling. If they could fly, they would not be walking. Late in the day, climbing Palomares seemed to take forever.
The summit is around that next bend, I'm sure of it.
Eager for some advantage, I swept past the clutch of cyclists huddled in the shade of the oak tree at the top to claim my reward: a cooling, rip-roaring descent. Palomares leads to Niles Canyon Road, which has an idyllic ring that Highway 84 lacks (sadly, they are one and the same). There may be some lovely vistas, but the traffic is too treacherous to notice them. With a narrow, shoulder-less underpass ahead, I had the good sense to check my rear-view mirror in time to see an enormous RV approaching. If ever there were a time to “take the lane,” this was it. I am riding as far to the right as practicable. At the moment, "practicable" means not giving that RV an opportunity to sideswipe me.

April 11, 2009

Tierra Bella Preview

It was so cold and gloomy for most of the morning that even the poppies were reluctant to unfurl. Forty-odd miles into the ride, the sun started to break through and I bravely peeled off my jacket.

Today's ride was a preview of the 100 kilometer route for one of our club's big events, the Tierra Bella. For those of us who provide the volunteer labor next Saturday, this was our chance to enjoy the route (and, verify the route markings along the way). A few of our fellow volunteers graciously staffed some rest stops for us, so we were not totally unsupported; at the end, we joined together for a celebratory barbecue.

This biking thing - it's really all about the food, you know. Oranges, cookies, strawberries, salty snacks, cantaloupe, peanut butter and jelly. Chocolate.

Cruising along Uvas Road, I was passed by a polite and orderly peloton of racers from the San Jose Bicycle Club (with some Plus 3 Network jerseys in the mix). The leader alerted me ("Peloton coming through") as they streamed by, single file. Of course, it's in their best interests to warn me, lest I move unpredictably and trigger a pile-up.

Resistance is futile. Must give chase. Pick up the pace. Stay with the boys. I expected to be dropped at the first uphill roller, but much to my surprise, I did not lose contact. It was hard work, but quite the thrill to hang on at 25+ mph. Having flown past my ride partner, he was now a distant speck in my rear view mirror. Time to slow down and take in the scenery.

April 4, 2009

One Weary Princess

The Cinderella Challenge route delivered a clear message to me in 2009: Work on Endurance.
Good thing they shortened the route somewhat this year (no more excursion through industrial parks on the way to Tracy). Good thing that we didn't have the fierce headwind we fought last year. Otherwise, I might not have made it back before nightfall. (No, just kidding, I wasn't that slow.)

The Cinderella is an annual gift from the Valley Spokesman Bicycle Touring Club to women cyclists. It is a rolling festival of women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and levels of ability - about 2500 of them. Most of us are creatively adorned - some in elaborate costumes. A couple of Cinderellas ago, some friends convinced me to join their theme and fasten a feather boa to my helmet. Shocking pink, no less. I didn't play around with stuff like that when I was a kid, and now . . . hey, what the heck? My outrageous headgear never fails to elicit compliments from passing motorists, kids shouting from playgrounds, and fellow Cinderellas with cameras at the ready. People smile at me all day long, and it's easy for my ride buddies to spot me in the crowd.

It was a picture-perfect day, not a trace of a cloud in the sky. It was a tad cold (38 degrees F) when we started, but I learned it is possible to shift gears with stiff, numb fingers by leveraging them like sticks. Braking was more of a problem.

We were cruising along Concannon Blvd in Livermore when a bunch of official vehicles, including animal control, stopped on the opposite side of the road and started crossing toward us. Puzzled, I looked to my right and immediately wished I hadn't. I would later learn that a car had collided with a stray horse early that morning.

An elderly gentleman in robe and pajamas snapped photos of us from his driveway. A cheering section greeted us at the summit of Patterson Pass, and other supporters had chalked messages for their friends along the way and offered us water. I faded after lunch and dropped back (see above, endurance work needed). Stopping and re-starting at every. traffic. light. along. Alcosta Blvd. in San Ramon took its toll on me. I acknowledged to myself that I was Officially Tired and looked at my bike computer - 72 miles. I told myself I only had another eight miles to go, but reality was closer to 14.

Nearing the finish, it took a lot of determination to stop at every stop sign that other riders were blithely rolling through. I glanced in my mirror to check for traffic behind me as I started moving at one of these, just in time to see a police car turn on its lights. Had I stopped long enough? Were other riders getting busted? The car wasn't moving. Then it dawned on me: We were getting a free pass! The officer was blocking the cross street and waving riders through. When she got ahead of me and blocked another intersection, confused (and somewhat panicked) cyclists ground to a halt. "It's okay," I told them. "She's blocking traffic for us!" Smiles and abundant thanks from a pack of weary princesses.