June 27, 2009


Shady, but steep? Or a more mellow grade, in full sun? Life is full of little trade-offs. My backyard thermometer registered 101.8 degrees F this afternoon, in the shade. The weather may heat up even more tomorrow, so I was determined to bike today.

For some reason, riding Mt. Eden Road tends to be eventful. Today, as we were descending a curvy section with motorcycles roaring by, an SUV swung wide into our lane around a bend to pass some ascending cyclists, and suddenly a young buck tried to cross the road. I'm not sure the scene could have been more chaotic, but perhaps I lack imagination. The buck backed up, the traffic passed, no cyclists were harmed, and the buck crossed behind me.

It was not the day to try for a personal best on Montebello Road, although if you are faster you will spend less time suffering in the blazing heat. Montebello tilts up abruptly at the bottom, and after covering 3/4 of a mile, I was wishing for a lower gear. I looked down, and . . . holy cow, I was in my middle chainring! My wish was granted! I do have a lower gear, and I wasn't already in it. I am now strong enough to climb that far up Montebello without my granny gear?

On the way up, I admired the (somewhat hazy) views of the valley, noticed a memorial plaque to a cyclist for the first time, enjoyed the still-blooming wildflowers, and was amused by a marriage proposal painted on the ascent. Did Tamara accept?

We shared the summit with some lizards as we waited for the rest of our group to reach the top. Most of our fellow riders scattered before our leader joined us, and the rest of us split off at the bottom to retrace our path to the start (more climbing, more climbing). A short ride today, 33 miles with 3,620 feet of climbing.

Some triathletes visiting from Texas joined one of my rides a couple of years ago, on a blisteringly hot day (108 degrees). Early on that ride we compared notes about biking in the heat, and they told us:
This is not like Texas. In Texas, it feels like your flesh is burning.
Before the end of that ride, we took refuge in a local convenience store where we refueled with cold Gatorade, packed ourselves with ice, and heard our visitors admit that we were now having a taste of the full Texas experience.

Riding home from Saratoga today, with the heat blasting me from the road surface and the sun beating down, my flesh was searing. This time, I rode straight to the cure.

June 25, 2009

Cruisin' to Santa Cruz

'Twas a lovely day for a picnic at the beach and a rare mid-week opportunity for some challenging riding. Two organizations at work pooled their resources for a joint summer outing, and the popular vote landed us at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Biking to the picnic is part of the tradition, and groups formed to ride from San Francisco, Mountain View, and Los Gatos. Most riders opt to shuttle home on buses, and this year a small rental truck had ample capacity for hauling all the bikes. Where's the fun in that?

I led the Los Gatos contingent and was astonished to attract 15 riders. Since the shuttles would not be stopping here on the way back, most of them biked to our starting place so they could shuttle back to Mountain View. Two were game to join me in biking back from the picnic.

Being a high-tech crowd, we used Google Latitude to track our fellow riders as they made their way toward us. Incoming text message:
Two flat tires, don't wait for us.
They were baffled that we weren't moving, as they were monitoring our position, too. We had a rider who also went flat (twice) before we started, so everyone came together for the start.

But not the finish. Their rider flatted again, and upon further investigation, they mended a gap in his rim tape with some electrical tape to protect the tube from the end of the spoke. (I love engineers. Biking with electrical tape.)

Our route to the coast involved a little uphill on the downhill side, for which I took some friendly ribbing. Okay, okay. It's a 9% grade for half a mile to the top of Laurel Glen . . . but the other two miles are practically flat, and the road brings us within a couple blocks of the bike trail to the boardwalk. Trust me, it's worth it.

At the beach, we wolfed down huge plates of food and headed for our favorite attraction: the 85-year-old Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. Our group of four was unanimous - as soon as we exited, we headed for the end of the line and rode it again.

All too soon, it was time to claim our bikes and head back over the hill. Another rider was loitering around the racks, seeking to join us. I'm a big fan of Bean Creek Road, but I imagine my three ride buddies were thinking . . .
Uh, why are we descending, when we need to go up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains?
This was the inaugural ride up Mountain Charlie Road for two of them; along the way, one commented that it looked more like a driveway than a road. Indeed. At one point, I politely stopped and stepped aside to let a resident pass; she called out her thanks.

I finished climbing Mountain Charlie in about the same amount of time as my last visit: 46 minutes, with a lower average heart rate (despite the additional 4.5 pound backpack). Maybe I am getting stronger. Still, my three companions beat me up the hill.

June 23, 2009

Minus One, Plus One

On the ride home from work tonight, I was treated to a close look at one very handsome California Quail, our state bird. He was posing atop the stone pillar of a bridge over Prospect Creek in Saratoga, uncharacteristically four feet off the ground. In the past, I've caught only brief glimpses as the birds scatter into the brush.

Sadly, this brings to mind the sculptures that briefly adorned some well-placed boulders on the southern approach to the Mary Avenue bike bridge. One morning not long ago, a sign appeared in front of the newly bare rocks:
The quail sculptures have been removed to prevent further vandalism and theft.
I remember smiling at the joy on a toddler's face as her mother lifted her to stroke the birds. No more. Even in a tony suburb, some lowlifes will deny our small public pleasures. The bridge, so far, remains unsullied by graffiti, though some blue stains (ink, perhaps?) have appeared on the deck.

On the plus side, it is now possible for bicycles to take a vehicular route across Homestead on the northern side of the bridge. A gate has been removed from the fence leading to the Homestead High School staff parking lot, which includes a driveway that aligns with Mary Avenue at the traffic light. At the intersection, plant your wheels on the stripes above and below the bicycle icon that marks the sensor loop, and the signal will cycle to green.

June 20, 2009

Holy Howling Headwind

Ice Cream Grade intersects Candy Lane, but there is no ice cream or candy within miles (unless you stuffed some in your pockets). There is plenty of grade, however.

We had a lovely excursion through the redwoods and along the coast today. The headwind demanded some pedaling even while descending Bonny Doon's 10% grade, and the crosswinds were a challenge for bike handling. For that matter, so were the dogs.

Climbing Smith Grade, something started smashing down the steep embankment on my right, and it wasn't stopping. Through the brush, I caught a glimpse of a tawny, wriggling animal (was I about to come face-to-face with my first mountain lion?!) before not one, but two, dogs scrambled in front of me. Nervous, but not yet panicking, I slowed down. They looked like well-fed bulldogs and seemed preoccupied with their particular quest, which luckily did not involve me. Whew.

We passed (and in turn, were passed by) some Bicycle Trip race team members training on Swanton Road. Their quest did not involve me either, and I behaved myself and did not try to give chase. Returning along Highway 1 to Davenport for lunch, with the howling wind finally at my back, I reached a downhill stretch that was traffic-free and gave it everything I had: 44.2 mph. While inside the bakery, I watched a motorcyclist in full leathers check out my bike. Was he a bicyclist, too? Or was he thinking I might be crazy to do 44 mph on those skinny tires? In spandex, no less.

Our route intersected with another club ride - a long distance training ride. These guys set out to ride 110 miles today, with nearly 8,000 feet of climbing - yet they seemed impressed that we were climbing Bonny Doon. Okay, so they weren't doing anything that steep today, but they could. And they could easily climb it twice as fast.

On the way home I visited a covered bridge that is on the National Register of Historic Places, spanning the San Lorenzo River in Felton. Believed to be the tallest covered bridge in the U.S., somehow this local landmark had escaped my notice (till now). There were lots of families enjoying a breezy, carefree afternoon in the adjacent park.

37 miles, 3,965 feet of climbing for the day. My reward? A luscious, chocolate-dipped strawberry. Remember, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

June 14, 2009

Tunitas Again

A team formed at work to ride the Silicon Valley Tour de Cure (a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association); with some misgivings, I joined as an act of solidarity. As it did two years ago, this event disappointed me; but I figured it would be a worthwhile training ride. I completed 6800 feet of climbing over almost 78 miles.

I rode alone most of the day, which was fine. I am pathetically slow (averaged 11.2 mph), and much happier not gasping to keep up with faster teammates or feeling guilty for lagging behind. Those doing the long route (120 km) rolled out promptly at 6:30 a.m. Not being a morning person, I was quite proud of myself for rolling at 6:40. I probably lost five minutes trying to get MyTracks to start recording a track, then debating whether to return to the car rather than carry the otherwise useless G1 all day. I was already cranky after navigating the registration maze, which involved standing in lines at two separate tables just to get my rider number and an exit chute with an even longer line to get a route sheet after waiting for a volunteer to pin the number to my jersey.

Lots of riders were huffing and puffing up Kings Mountain, including one Cory from Concord who passed me only to stop a few yards later. Not being accustomed to hill climbing, he had no idea how to pace himself. He seemed astonished to find the hill much easier to climb at my pace, and chatting helped distract him from the effort. He was sensitive to the uptick in pitch on every switchback, which did not bode well so early on this route. I gave him the quick synopsis of Tunitas Creek Road, so he might not have despaired on that middle steep section (if he made it that far). He was still at the first rest stop at the top of Kings when I took off, and I never saw him again.

The route itself is beautiful - redwood forests, rolling hills, views of the Pacific Ocean. I flew down Highway 84 through La Honda, and was surprised to see one rider walking up Haskins Hill. This route takes us over the easy side. Tunitas Creek Road, longer and steeper, is going to be a long walk. [At the next rest stop, he arranged for a SAG ride up Tunitas.] More than a few of these riders should have opted for one of the easier routes. One of our teammates, having given us a two-hour head start, passed me on Tunitas like I was standing still. Later, he would graciously tell me that it hurt, that he didn't climb the whole thing at that pace - he was trying to catch the rest of the guys.

The route covered some of the same territory as last week's Sequoia Century. I took it easy and stopped to snap some photos along the way. A juvenile red-shouldered hawk atop a telephone pole ignored me, as did a peacock strutting his stuff along the edge of Stage Road.

Handy tip for riding in organized cycling events: Always, always stuff your pockets with your favorite sustenance before you leave home. Maybe the rest stops will be well-stocked with a wide variety of fruits and salty snacks. Or not, in which case you might be temporarily disabled with severe muscle cramps, like the rider some of my teammates encountered a few miles from the finish.

I carved my way down Kings Mountain Road so fast that my toes were chilled, and thanked a courteous driver in an Isuzu Trooper who pulled aside to wave me past. When I arrived at the finish, the taco provider had packed up early and there were no more hamburgers (veggie burgers or hotdogs only). No protein for me. (Bugs in my teeth don't count.) Thank goodness for Tony & Alba's timely pasta delivery. Looking to add some salad to my plate, I soon discovered that the organizers had whisked away the huge bowls of green salad as soon as the pasta arrived. Sigh. I did enjoy a good massage before leaving, in search of dessert.

June 7, 2009

Home Field Advantage

Wildflowers were abundant on today's Sequoia Century, unlike April's Wildflower Century. The two events, however, are not to be confused. The Sequoia has a reputation for being one of the tougher centuries in our area, and the route masters change it every two years. I have done the workers' 100k ride a couple of times; this year, it was time to tackle the 100 mile route as an actual registrant.

The ride started in Palo Alto and immediately headed toward the Saratoga hills that are just a few miles from home. Rather than getting up extra early to haul myself and my gear to Palo Alto, essentially to bike back home, I plotted my own start. A side benefit was avoiding Redwood Gulch, a “Steep Climb” according to the route sheet. Something of an understatement, that. The first time I was brave enough to climb it, a few years ago, I recorded my highest heart rate (199). I can climb it whenever I want (which is, rarely), and I certainly didn't want to pick my way through an obstacle course of surprised 100k riders on it today.

As I passed the top of Redwood Gulch, I met my compatriots. Uh-oh. Racing kits. Jerseys from Paris-Brest-Paris, the Death Ride, Climb to Kaiser, Devil Mountain Double, and some other event that includes 200 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing in one day. These are the sub-5% bodyfat types, overwhelmingly male. There were no recreational riders (though I would see some, later), and they disdained to acknowledge me with so much as an “on your left,” much less “good morning.” I enjoyed sweet satisfaction in passing a couple of them on the descents.

Highway 9 has mile markers that count down to the summit; you know where you are, with great precision, at irregular intervals. Mile 5.89? Are you kidding me? They couldn't have planted that stake 1/100th of a mile sooner? And so it goes, to the top, which today was dripping in cold fog.

I have been off the bike for almost two weeks, and donated blood 10 days ago. I was not confident that I could really pull off this ride today. Being on home turf, I was prepared with plenty of bail-out options. My legs were already aching by mile 40, on the second climb—ascending the other side of Highway 9 from Boulder Creek. Just go down the other side and cruise home, counseled the evil voice in my head. Let's see how much I'm hurting when I get to Alpine Road, I replied. If I descend that, I'm committed.

“It's all about pacing yourself, at this point,” remarked one of the many stronger riders who passed me. Indeed, I was carefully grinding it out and managing my heart rate. My alternate start meant that the finish was six miles closer for me, but . . . then I would have to ride home.

The lunch stop in La Honda was a veritable garden party (our hostesses, Vickie and Karen, always do an amazing job). Even the portable toilets were adorned with flowers. One of my Western Wheeler buddies assured me that I was making decent time and helpfully pointed out that sunset is almost as late as 8:30 P.M. these days, so I would surely make it home before dark.

Honestly, I wasn't feeling terrible. In fact, I was feeling pretty okay. The prevailing headwind spoiled the descent to San Gregorio and slowed my climb up Stage Road. When I reached the rest stop at the Bike Hut along Tunitas Creek Road, I realized that I was in much better shape than many of my remaining fellow riders. It's not a race; I had done a good job of conserving energy. My leg muscles had attained a steady state of ache and I wasn't feeling tired.

Having reached the top of Tunitas Creek, the last real climb, I enjoyed a jubilant, car-free descent of Kings Mountain Road. I arrived at the finish with ample time to enjoy more food and chat with friends before continuing on my merry way—18 miles back home, at a recovery pace.

Lots of firsts today! Most vertical feet climbed in a day (9,775). Most miles in a day (116.8). Most time on the bike (10 hours, 32 minutes, 48 seconds). Most calories burned (4,498). I did it, and I'm glad.