January 31, 2010


More riding. More climbing. The view from the top of More Avenue.

Some friends were planning a route through my neighborhood and invited me to join them. Feeling better than expected after yesterday's outing, why not?

Needless to say, these three guys are stronger than I am. We took turns waiting for each other: They would wait for me at the top of the hill, I would wait for them at the bottom of the hill.
Did you watch pep descend?
Uh ... sort of ... until she was out of sight.
I split off to head back when we hit the flatlands, leaving my companions to explore a more distant hill. I could not resist a few gratuitous climbs on the way home, including that little bit of brutality at the top of More. Such a view! (If you survive.)

Parking downtown is often frustratingly scarce, especially with the Farmers' Market on Sundays. Here is where a bicycle truly excels, for simple errands.

January 30, 2010

Viewing the Countryside

From the top of Bernal Road, we could almost spy our challenging destination for the day: the summit of Country View Drive lies just beyond the tree-studded hillside left of center. Our group of eleven included three of the four friends who joined me on a scouting party up Country View last August. (The Canadian judge sent her regrets. Gleefully, I might add.)

Following that successful expedition, I nominated this route to become one of our bike club's recognized hill climbs - and was honored to have it accepted. Well, perhaps more pained than honored. It is one tough climb, and if I nominated it, I should certainly be prepared to lead fellow club members to the top. This early in the season, I thought I might be hiking more of it than biking. Throughout the week, I desperately hoped that rain would arrive to cancel the ride. This morning the streets were wet, but the sky was clear.

What sort of challenge does Country View present? Two riders elected to wait for us at the base of the hill. After making the initial turn onto the road, an unprepared rider was forced to circle back in order to shift into a lower gear. On the second and most relentlessly steep section, one rider stopped for a break and toppled over (laughing). He expected to put his foot down, but on that sort of grade, “down” is a bit farther down. Two strong riders (with double cranksets) were similarly inspired to take a break. Another rider took a turn that sent him off the route onto an unplanned steep diversion.

Ultimately, nine of us reached the top. We were obliged to dismount and step over a firehose near the summit. There were a dozen or more vehicles up there, having transported firefighters for an apparent training exercise; that accounted for the smoke I had noticed earlier on the ride. One of them kindly warned us about the abundant broken glass at the summit, but it was actually cleaner than last time.

A great climb on a glorious winter day. In all, I covered 33 miles and climbed 2300 feet, with a peak speed of 39.6 mph. Hmm, guess where that was ... Of course, my bicycle was no match for the Ferrari F40 that passed us in the opposite direction as we returned to our starting point. But that fed a passion of a different sort.

January 24, 2010

Attractive Nuisance

That's what snow is, in the Bay Area: an attractive nuisance. The raindrops that sprinkled us as we climbed the lower portion of Mt. Hamilton Road were also a nuisance, but luckily, nothing more.

Normally there would be little traffic heading up the mountain on a gloomy Sunday morning, but today we were passed by a steady stream of minivans and four-wheel-drive vehicles [see "attractive nuisance," above]. Undeterred by the sign warning that the road was closed four miles ahead, they would eventually be surprised to meet the sheriff.

Our first destination was Joseph Grant County Park, which is the only convenient place for all those disappointed snow tourists to turn around. Yes, ma'am, unless your driver's license shows that you live up the mountain, follow the orange cones and head back down the hill.

The largest flock of wild turkeys I have ever seen was sauntering past the restrooms in the park. Spooked by a pair of cars approaching from opposite directions, they hustled their tail feathers across the road and up the hill, gobbling loudly in protest.

Signs warned of slides on Quimby Road, but the sheriff assured us it was passable. We faced more traffic here, too; at one point on the climb I had to stop and dismount behind two uphill vehicles that stopped to let two downhill vehicles pass. A sedan filled with snow tourists stopped to chat at the summit; they were clearly determined to reach the top of Mt. Hamilton, and I doubt they believed my story about the road being closed.

And that is why the sheriff works his shift in the chilly dampness. Yes, ma'am, follow those orange cones and turn right around.

January 16, 2010

Avant le Déluge

Sipping hot chocolate while gazing absently out my kitchen window, I saw a car drive past with its windshield wipers on. Only then did I notice the rain. I had been home from today's ride for (at most) ten minutes.

It was a short, social ride with a big turnout. Most of us shared the same thought: Get out there before we are house-bound by the coming week (or more) of rain. Choose a shorter ride in case the weather arrives early. Our first re-group came at mile 4.5, having pedaled for a mere 25 minutes. That seemed impossible - had my cycle computer stopped recording data for awhile? But no, we really did spend almost as much time waiting as riding today.

The sun peeked through early in the day, but was ultimately smothered by gray clouds. With two French teachers in our midst and stories from a fellow rider who led a tour through the French Alps last summer, what could be more fitting than lunch at Le Boulanger? Good fortune for hungry cyclists: They were handing out a free demi-baguette with every purchase. I was well-equipped to carry mine home.

An easy day: 21 miles, 1830 feet of climbing.

January 13, 2010

Orange is the New Red

The day will arrive when the car of your dreams becomes the car in your driveway.
That was the tag line in a Chrysler commercial I saw during the holiday season. Automakers saturated the airwaves, desperate to reduce their end-of-year inventory. Does anyone really buy a new car in December, stick a giant bow on top and surprise someone with a gift that doesn't fit under the Christmas tree?

My first car did have a bow attached, a totally unexpected gift from my parents on the occasion of my 18th birthday. It was red, with a black plastic interior. A few years later, with not-too-many miles on it, it would routinely stall at idle; no one could diagnose the problem. The car of my dreams was a Honda Accord with a manual transmission. I couldn't take one for a test drive, though, because I didn't know how to drive it.

My second car was the color of cream, with a matching interior and cloth-covered seats that were well-suited to hot summer days. Buying a foreign car was anathema to my father, but he loaned me the money and taught me how to drive a stick shift. Those cars were assembled with a precision unknown to Detroit at the time, and although he could not admit it, he was impressed. A few years later, he replaced my mom's car with ... a Honda Accord. (Automatic transmission, of course.)

For the next several years, a page torn from the Sunday New York Times Magazine graced the windowless wall over my desk at work. The background was a luminous rosy sunset. The foreground featured a silver Ferrari, shot from the side. This was my new dream. Unattainable.

Some 130,000 miles later, it was time for my next car. It was a toss-up between the Accord and its new cousin, the Acura Integra. The salesman who accompanied me on the Honda test drive looked to be the dealer's son, home from college for the summer. Gripping the door on a curvy back road, he exclaimed:
I see you like to drive!
At the time, the Accord and the Integra seemed indistinguishable to me; I went with the lower-priced Integra. I preferred the car in dark blue, but its electric blue interior was - in a word - hideous.

My third car was silver, with a black interior. Within a week I had a severe case of buyer's remorse. I hated the way it handled. Too pragmatic to take a loss on it, I soldiered on.

A few years later, I consoled myself by picking up a second car from a friend. Before he bought one of the first Miatas to reach our shores, his collection included a Jaguar sedan and two other convertibles, a Fiat and an Alfa Romeo. (And yes, he would need the occasional ride when all three of those were out of commission.) When he acquired a fiancée with long, wavy tresses that were incompatible with convertibles, I acquired that red Miata.

The Integra was stubbornly reliable. After enduring it for some 148,000 miles, I was more than ready to move on. But, what next? I wanted a car that would be safe, reliable, and fun to drive. A hatchback would be convenient; Honda no longer offered one. I took an Acura RSX for a test drive on a curvy mountain road and couldn't return it to the dealer soon enough.

A friend suggested BMW. "Too much snob appeal," I countered. "Ah, but have you driven one?," he asked. My test drive at the local dealer was essentially a loop around the block, a mile (at most) through a suburban residential neighborhood. Based on that, they expected me to spend how much on this car? I found another dealer where BMW was showcasing a traveling fleet of assorted models. Each test drive raised funds for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. They handed you a key and a route map, and sent you on your way. I merged smoothly into the northbound traffic on the highway, glanced at the speedometer and ... whoa, I'm traveling how fast?

I guess they don't expect to sell many cars at those events. The salespeople were so busy chatting and munching on hors d'oeuvres that no one paid me any mind when I walked into the showroom. I remember announcing:
Excuse me - I would actually like to buy a car.
Then, last summer, a friend indulged his dream.

The first time he turned the key in that shiny black car and I heard that engine roar to life, a new dream was formed.

Once I took the wheel, my fate was sealed.

The day has arrived when the car of my dreams has become the car in my driveway.

It isn't a Chrysler.

January 10, 2010

Cranky Sunday

I woke up cranky, with a headache. This should not have been a surprise, because I went to bed cranky, with a headache.

Due to a combination of being busy and lazy (same thing, really), I have not been on my bicycle in five weeks. I thought I might head out on an easy club ride this morning, and the sky was clear (and dark) when I woke. I knew that riding would make me feel better (see Spark, by John Ratey), but I surrendered to being cranky and disabled the alarm clock.

Luckily, my regular ride partner sent me a note later in the morning, and I agreed to a short afternoon ride. The thing about riding a bike is, as they say, "It's just like riding a bike." You get on, start pedaling, and it is as though you never took a break. Well, except for the quads that started aching within the first 30 seconds of pedaling uphill.

I started a new year of riding in my spiffy new Plus 3 vest. They awarded this prize to one lucky rider (me!) who logged his or her Low-Key Hillclimbs on the Plus 3 Network site to raise money for charity. I started logging all my rides back in 2008. What could be easier? I ride my bike, a designated sponsor donates money to a charity.

Ah, January in California: the camellias are in bloom. The streams were flowing, the hillsides were green, the sky was brooding, the temperature was comfortable. Along the way, some fine exemplars of the subspecies Young American Male in a passing pick-up truck shouted "Go, Lance!" How clever. How original. I take comfort in the knowledge that they will have difficulty reproducing if they cannot distinguish me from Lance Armstrong. There is yet hope for our species.