September 26, 2009

Who Knows?

My bike computer records the temperature, but since the sun is beating down on it, the readings are higher than the actual air temperature. I generally ignore anything other than the minimum temperature. Today's minimum was 70 degrees F, with a maximum of 114 degrees F; the average temperature was 100 degrees F. Who cares about the air temperature? The bike computer was baking in the direct sun, and so was I.

The last time I visited Paicines, I was helping with the Low-Key Mega Monster Enduro. It was so cold that my fingers were numb until well past sunrise. One thing I do know: the next time I climb Quien Sabe Road, the season will be winter (or maybe, early spring).

When I decided to do this ride earlier in the week, I said I would only do Quien Sabe if the weather was not blazingly hot. After refilling my water bottles at the Paicines General Store, I decided I would tackle the climb anyway. Yes, it was already hot, but I felt pretty good. I knew it was a long climb, and I had studied the terrain map. I had not studied the satellite view.

Quien Sabe Road is what one would call "an exposed climb." What does that mean? Great views, precious little shade. Another clue: to reach Quien Sabe, you pass through the town of Tres Pinos. I took my cues from the locals (cattle), and sought respite beneath any tree that cast an accessible shadow. There were, oh, at least a dozen patches of shade over the principal five and a half miles of the climb.

A first for me: I ran out of water. Around mile 45, I dropped to two mouthfuls at each mile mark. I knew I wasn't in trouble, but I knew I would run dry before I finished the ride. Shortly after mile 50, I passed a school. Must ... find ... drinking ... fountain. Sure enough, it was near the playground, and nicely shaded behind a building. About one liter and twenty minutes later, I comfortably finished the last two miles of the ride.

Conveniently, we had started our loop near a Foster's Freeze. Prescription: reduce core body temperature. One vanilla cone dipped in chocolate, taken by mouth.

Another milestone: Climbing 3,235 feet over 52 miles on today's route puts me at a new all-time high for a single year: 3,520 miles and 201,315 feet of uphill. The year isn't over yet ...

September 24, 2009

What to Wear

Such a complicated piece of machinery, the modern automobile. Some months ago (I confess), a helpful indicator lit up to alert me to some minor tail light issue. My local mechanic explained that replacing the bulb involved a substantial amount of disassembly and I should not wait for the car. I returned the next morning to furrowed brows, lots of dangling wires, and the news that it would require more troubleshooting. Needing the car, I drove off and procrastinated.

This morning I wanted to wear my newest cycling jersey, from my recent Best Buddies ride. Audi is a generous sponsor of that event, and their logo is emblazoned front and center. It seemed imprudent to show up for service sporting the colors of a rival German automaker, so I opted for a more neutral choice. Given the raised eyebrows I get, I suspect that few service customers pull up to this dealership, lift a bicycle out of the car, and pedal away. Works for me.

Tuesday was a Spare the Air Day, with the forecast for high temperatures and no onshore breeze. Such conditions conspire to trap stagnant air in the valley, and we are encouraged to drive less (preferably, not at all). My daily tally of fellow cyclists topped 100 that day, but as I pedaled over Highway 280 that evening, I looked down at a veritable parking lot.

My sturdy commute bike being too awkward and heavy to load into the car, today's ride entailed advance planning. Without a rack and bag on my featherweight road bike, I left a change of clothes at the office. The morning ride was so effortless, I felt guilty enjoying my second breakfast.

Of course, I understand that weight matters - but how much? What would happen if I traveled my normal commute route on my road bike? Today, I would find out. The tail light repair, involving wiring harnesses that twist and snake through tight places, was still more complicated than expected. The car would not be ready until tomorrow.

This could mean only one thing: in addition to the two small gratuitous hills that provide an occasional diversion on the way home, there was no reason not to explore the final short steep bit to the Rinconada Water Treatment plant. What a view of the Santa Clara Valley! (No camera, so you will have to take my word for it.) Despite the added distance and climbing, I made it home in record time. Stats: 20.9 miles, 810 feet of climbing.

Good thing I didn't wear that Audi jersey this morning, or I would be convinced that they had kept the car overnight as payback.

September 19, 2009

Down a Pint

When you donate blood, they caution you to avoid strenuous exercise for 24 hours. After that, well, it's back to your regularly scheduled program. Sixty hours having ticked away ... time to head for the hills!

Today's program: Climb a lot, descend a little, climb some more, descend a lot.

To reach Skyline Boulevard, we snaked our way through the little community of Redwood Estates. It was disconcerting to meet a pair of dogs on one of the arduous sections of this climb, but luckily they were friendly. Or perhaps it was just that we were much too slow to incite a chase. They escorted us until we passed safely out of their territory, repeatedly advancing up the hill and waiting patiently for us to catch up. What a relief when I felt the cool breeze that was a harbinger of the summit.

The level of traffic on Skyline this morning surprised even the locals we met along the way. It is officially California State Route 35, so you might expect some highway traffic? The segment we traveled, however, is barely wide enough for a single car in places. We ventured far enough to reach the southern terminus of the two-lane portion of the roadway, a stretch that has been freshly paved with creamy-smooth asphalt within the past two weeks. Federal stimulus dollars in action!

Yes, I missed the red blood cells I gave away this week; the steep climbs were especially hard, and overall I was more hungry and tired than usual after a 32.5 mile bike ride. (Okay, with 3,530 feet of climbing.) But I'll get over it. Weighed against the benefit of helping to save some lives, it is a price I will pay again and again.

September 13, 2009

Biking for Best Buddies

If you have driven in a hilly region, you are familiar with those "curvy road ahead" signs. The ones with an "S" shaped arrow and some advisory text, like Next 2 Miles. Just south of Carmel on the Pacific Coast Highway there is such a sign: Next 74 Miles.

At that point, we had completed our 9-mile warm-up on sunny Carmel Valley Road and entered the fog zone along the coast. Our starting location, the posh Quail Lodge, was a new treat this year. A truly continental breakfast: pain au chocolat and fresh strawberries.

When assembling for a mass start at a charity ride, where should you position yourself in the pack? Wisely, the pros (including Garmin-Slipstream's Lucas Euser) are at the front. Farther back than I would like, behind which of these would-be century riders should I position myself to maximize my chances of staying upright?
  1. The guy wearing tennis shoes, with platform pedals on his bike.
  2. The dude in the baggy athletic shorts, already sagging below the waistband of his designer underwear.
  3. The guy sporting an LA Triathlete Club jersey, with smooth, chiseled legs.
Once we took off, I moved up in the pack. Triathletes being somewhat allergic to hills, I pulled away from him after a few miles. I was pleasantly surprised to stay in contact with the main pack almost to the first rest stop, averaging 15.7 mph. Our cheering section directed us down a private driveway, explaining:
The food is in the garage.
I would wager that none of us had ever before seen a garage with floor-to-ceiling glass corner panels (overlooking the main house and, of course, the Pacific Ocean). Hoping to set a personal record on the ride to San Simeon, I abandoned my fantasy of moving into said garage and pedaled onward.

A new milestone for me was the realization that I could bide my time climbing behind a slower rider until traffic cleared, and then easily accelerate uphill to pass. I have the power in my legs to do this now, on a human scale not unlike the engine that rockets a shiny black car from 0 to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds. Just pull out, and go. Later, an impatient driver would floor his accelerator at his first opportunity to pass a string of riders. Oooo, I am sooo impressed by your raw display of power in that ... Kia.

The marine layer overhead kept us cool and damp as we made our way down the coast. With white-out conditions at Vista Point, the second rest stop, there was no vista to enjoy. But from the seat of a bicycle, you take your vistas wherever you find them - you are not limited to those designated roadside pull-outs. I snapped a few photos along the way.

At the third rest stop, a perky volunteer confirmed for a weary rider that there was "one more hill" ahead. Guessing that he was better off not knowing that there were really a pair of hills linked together, with the second climb being shorter but steeper, I said nothing. Ignorance is a sort of bliss, especially at mile 75 (and 80). The SAG vehicles are always busy on that stretch.

Momentum being useful for some uphill advantage, approaching the start of the second climb I flung myself aggressively (and gleefully) into the final hairpin. Grinding along, a rider caught up to admire my descending skill (wow, second time this year!). He was surprised at the speed I carried through the turns, and already understood that a big part of descending well is really about cornering. We chatted at the last rest stop; he wanted some tips. I learned from a pro rider, I explained.

Although this is the third time I have done this route, the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge, there were still surprises. Booking along the final stretch into San Simeon with the traditional tailwind, I notice a patrol car at the side of the road with flashing lights. Just ahead of it ... was that a wave breaking onto the highway? Time to slow down and study the ocean. With ample caution, I rode through the seawater during a periodic lull. Next, a knot of tourists catches my eye. What's that on the beach? Elephant seals! This is the third time I have biked this stretch, and I had never before noticed the elephant seals? Translation: I am in much better shape this year.

Crossed the finish line to set a personal record, averaging 14.3 mph over 98.7 miles with 6,290 feet of climbing. Faster than last year by 0.5 mph - not bad. Ranked as the 15th top fund-raiser for this event, another personal record. Delighted to put my fitness to such good use, and grateful for the generosity of the many friends who responded to my appeal on behalf of Best Buddies.

Massaged and cleaned up, time for the evening festivities. First, the barbecue. Women in high heels step off the bus at the Hearst Ranch, oblivious to the fresh cow pies dotting the field. Hello, it is a working ranch. First priority: Food. My plate: Salmon, corn/green pea salad, garlic bread, grilled veggies, pork rib, broccoli salad, mashed potatoes, small rib of beef, half an ear of corn. Having burned over 3,000 calories to get there, I ate every last bit of it.

For me, as a top fundraiser, the day ended with a very special treat: a party at Hearst Castle. First priority: The Neptune Pool. Much to my surprise, my legs felt better after half an hour swimming around in the pool. Was it just the cool water, or was it that magical, mystical pool? Next priority: dessert (chocolate to finish the day, of course), followed by a private tour of some of the highlights of Casa del Sol and Casa Grande.

It was after midnight when I returned to the motel; you will appreciate how tired I was when I explain that I overlooked the 19 Porsches in the parking lot until the next morning.

September 11, 2009

Remembering Paul Joshua Friedman

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
- John Lennon, In My Life
Our lives intersected only for a couple of years; sometimes, that is the natural course of a friendship. Paul left Bell Labs to study for his MBA; the rest of us kept working. He was smart, and funny, and kind.

After so many years, only a few memories remain. Meeting for brunch at The Cupping Room Cafe. Learning to see with a photographer's eye. A day at the Bronx Zoo. Evita, with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Admiring Manhattan from a table at Windows on the World.

I do not remember when I last saw Paul.

I do remember the visceral jolt I felt that sunny December morning when I found his profile in the Sunday New York Times.

What I remember now, I will never, ever, forget.

September 7, 2009

Laboring the Day Away

What better way to spend the Labor Day holiday than climbing a few hills? I will admit to a few doubts when the alarm went off, my night's sleep having been interrupted by unusual noises. Dishes? Why does it sound like someone is clattering dishes in the sink? 1:30 a.m. The cat was neither the culprit, nor concerned.

Mystery investigated and solved: My neighbors, for whom cleanliness is a virtue above all others, were still tidying up after having had some guests over. I knew they were prepping for company, as they had power-washed the house, the front walk, the back patio, the driveway, and their side of the fence. And I'm supposed to install a low-flow shower head? Don't get me started.

Lying abed, I pondered my options. I did a hard ride on Saturday, after all. The next day, I was rather a couch potato until I was invited for a Sunday drive (which was fabulous, but did involve more sitting). Dinner culminated in a decadent serving of chocolate fudge cake (oh, the flesh is weak). Get up, get out, get moving.

I managed to do more climbing (5,055 feet) over less distance (45.3 miles) than I did on Saturday. In the photo at the top, you can see the curves of Montebello Road to the right, Stevens Creek Reservoir below, and clear across the Santa Clara Valley to Mt. Hamilton and the peaks of the Diablo Range. The fall harvest is nigh at Ridge, a pair of deer paused to watch me on Montebello before splitting to sprint in opposite directions, and my tools rescued a mountain biker with a slipped cleat on Mt. Eden Road. Best of all, descending Highway 9 into Saratoga, I validated my hunch that I would be faster than the lumpy Prius that held us back on Sunday night. I wish more people understood how to drive ...

September 5, 2009

Santa Cruz Mountains Mini-Challenge

Today I co-led a ride for the club that we had previewed a few weeks ago. We had a surprisingly good turnout; fifteen riders signed in, with only one turning back after the first hill. I overheard one guy remark:
I tried to get my buddy to join me on this ride, but he said he wasn't doing anything that had “mountains” and “challenge” in the title.
Hey, what about the “mini” part? This wasn't the real Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, which entails a serious amount of (steep) climbing. Our hills were much more mellow. Well, with the exception of a rather testosterone-fueled descent of San Jose-Soquel Road. Given no room to pass, I had to touch my brakes a few times to avoid running up the back of some of the guys (aerodynamic advantage). The speed limit is 40 mph, and I exceeded it by less than 1% - within the range of calibration error, wouldn't you say?

The ridge along Rodeo Gulch Road delivered a view of Monterey Bay that extended from Moss Landing to Pacific Grove. As we zigzagged up and down through the redwoods, our route came to resemble a three-fingered glove (for you GPS art-lovers out there). 4,445 feet of climbing over 49.4 miles (for the stats lovers among us).

Along the way I saw a juvenile California Mountain Kingsnake, sadly flattened in the middle of the road. The significant wildlife sighting of the day, though, occurred before I left the house: I was in my kitchen at just the right moment to see a very robust coyote dart across my neighbor's yard and head up the road. The road meanders a couple of miles uphill to an open space preserve, but it's all suburban lawns down here. Er, about that "lost pet" flyer ...