November 28, 2009

Mycological Wonderland

Having indulged in a deserved rest day after Thursday's climb, Saturday was reserved for a fresh hiking adventure.

Six of us set out from the Rancho del Oso trailhead at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I have happy memories of many excursions to Big Basin's waterfalls along this less-traveled route, but today's group deemed that destination too ambitious. Our shorter "eight-mile" hike turned out to be even longer (13 miles). [Ahem.] Although we did not quite make it to the overlook we sought (the summit of Mt. McAbee at 1,730 feet), the ridge delivered impressive wind gusts and grand views of steep, tree-lined canyons all the way to the shimmering Pacific.

Undeterred by a sign warning that the bridge over Waddell Creek had been removed for the winter, we followed the scenic bypass rather than the wide, flat fire road that forms this end of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. Now I understand why my regular hiking companion has always insisted that we stay on the fire road. Up, up, up goes the bypass, until it goes down, down, down to the creek. The water level was low in spite of Friday's rain showers, so it was straightforward to ford the rocky creek bed without getting more than the soles of our boots wet.

The base of the McCrary Ridge Trail is marked with this sign. Need I say more? We headed straight up. Overall elevation gain for the day was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.

On the trails, we crossed paths with only one fellow hiker. Along the way were banana slugs, a newt, and more varieties of mushroom than I have ever seen.

If there are any muscles in my legs, ankles, or feet that aren't sore now, I am not sure they have a purpose.

Okay, so what did you expect me to do? Go shopping?

November 26, 2009

Thanks for the Suffering

As we battled challenging conditions on a ride a year or two ago, one of my cycling buddies asked:
Do you have any children?
No, I replied, giving her a quizzical look.
Oh, I asked because I figure you would have declined the epidural.
Thanksgiving Day, chock-full of tradition. Parades, calorie-laden feasts, bicycling at maximum speed to the top of one of the highest peaks in the Bay Area. The finish line for the Low-Key Hillclimb season is at the top of Mt. Hamilton.

We are never alone on the mountain; plenty of cyclists climb it to offset those second helpings of stuffing later in the day, albeit at a more comfortable pace. Along the way, a helpful pair of them suggested that I should get a bike fitting (have had one) and try a shorter stem (he wanted to fit me with a longer one). They probably thought I was rude for barely responding to them, but I was not riding at a conversational pace. Another woman was impressed by my "fan club," as fellow Low-Keyers at the summit or on the descent recognized me and cheered me by name.

Thanks to an inversion layer, at 6:30 a.m. the temperature at the summit was already 10 degrees warmer than at my house, some 4000 feet below. No need for multiple layers or long-fingered gloves to keep my teeth from chattering on the long descent.

The conditions were ideal, but my power was not. Much to my dismay, I was a full 10 minutes slower this year than last. Did I go out too fast, drop into my lowest gear too often, or pay the price for cycling less over the past two months? I did manage to sustain an average heart rate of 174 beats per minute for two and a half hours, and burn more than 1900 calories overall to make room for the amazing six-course dinner (plus two desserts) that my friends served me later.

Will I give it another try in 2010? Less than a year before I decide to ride. No pressure.

November 22, 2009

Don't Steer Me Wrong

At the bottom of Metcalf Road, I met a racer who had become separated from the rest of his flock. Yes, they're at the top, I confirmed for him. I guess I overshot, he mused. There was a pained expression on his face as he looked back up the steep hill we had just descended. No problem for you, I thought. Have a good climb, I said, before taking off to rejoin the rest of my group.

We made a short loop through the east foothills of San Jose today, rapidly leaving the suburbs behind. As we passed fields with grazing cattle, a curious conversation ensued. One fellow cyclist noted that he often sees bulls near the fence; another fellow said it was a steer, because bulls have horns. Goodness knows, I am no farm girl, but I am pretty sure that the defining characteristic of a steer is not his lack of horns. That bull may have lacked horns, but he was [shall we say] otherwise intact.

November 14, 2009

Top of the Mountain

Before the start of today's climb, a Low-Key regular from Team Spike asked what I thought my time would be. My guess?
About 100 minutes.
His reaction?
That's a long time to suffer!
Those words were echoing in my head at mile nine, 82 minutes and more than 2700 feet into the climb. I was working hard and my pace was slowing. Why was I doing this, again? I was not an athlete when I was young, and I am no longer young. Is it pure folly to push myself to the edge for a solid 100 minutes, or more? The final steep stretch to the finish loomed large in my mind's eye.

It was a trick of the hill that summoned such dark thoughts. Looking at my data post-climb, I can see that the gradient increased at that point. This was my fourth trip to the top of Mt. Diablo, so the nuances of the ascent are not familiar. The gradient of North Gate Road averaged a moderate 5.4%, but the road to the summit averaged 7.1% (with the penultimate mile at 8.3%).

When I reached the base of the final stretch, it didn't look as steep as I remembered. Steep? Yes. Difficult? Yes. Crazy steep? No! The biggest challenge was dodging a dad with a stroller and several errant children who should have been on the footpath, not on the road. The oldest child had noticed our "200 paces" sign and was counting them off.
Eighty-three, eighty-four ...
Would I reach the top before one of her siblings ran into me and toppled me over? Yes.

My results: 106 minutes, 42 seconds to climb 3,525 feet over 11 miles at an average heart rate of 173 beats per minute. My heart rate peaked at 185 on the final stretch, comfortably lower than my last assault on the summit (192 bpm).

November 1, 2009

Designed to Descend

Another first today: I had to brake for a motorcycle. That might seem unremarkable, but I was not traveling in a motorized vehicle at the time. I was bicycling downhill at about 32 mph on a curvy (but not steep) road with plenty of visibility. I have two wheels, he had two wheels plus a motor. There were a couple of other guys with me, and the motorcyclist motioned for us to back off. So, we did.

I consoled myself by experimenting with aerodynamics. My companions were good descenders and had a slight lead. One had dropped into his most aerodynamic position; I did the same. Immediately, I started gaining on him; I passed him and opened up a gap without turning a single pedal stroke. Some cyclists are born to climb, others to sprint. It seems I am designed to descend.

Today's route took us up (and sometimes down) four principal climbs, ascending 3,550 feet over 28.1 miles. I climbed the easier (east) side of Quimby Road for the first time, and then plummeted down the insanely steep and twisty west side (with abundant caution). I had not descended that on a bicycle before today; the pavement is poor and there is no room for error. There was some relatively straight stretch where I relaxed a bit and unintentionally reached my top speed for the day (37.6 mph). I also did something I never before imagined: I saw a slight uphill ahead and I braked before heading up. The road also curved at that point; without knowing the topography ahead, I calculated that I was carrying more speed than the hill would take back.

It felt great to get out on a longer ride. Before yesterday's Montevina climb, I headed over to the rollers around the Lexington Reservoir to warm up. Imagine my surprise, later, to discover that my 7-mile warm-up had included 765 feet of climbing. This hill-climbing thing is getting to be a habit.