February 28, 2010


There were few cars on Black Road this morning, but clever license plates ruled the day. A Mini Cooper with a European-style plate on the front: UPHILL. Then, 4 BLK RD: a local resident, perhaps? My personal favorite:
❤ MTN RDS. Kindred spirits, all.

This was my second time biking up Black Road, and I must have repressed any memory of the steep bits. Four days at high altitude in Utah evidently had no beneficial effect on my hemoglobin, as I struggled with my first climb of the day. The runoff from yesterday's rains sent small streams across the road in places (hint: in the steep places), which made it all the more exciting when my front wheel would pull up off the pavement. Climbing out of the saddle on the slick road was not a sensible alternative.

Of the three hills on today's route sheet, I set out to do two. Once I reached the top of Black Road, my choice was clear. Soda Springs would be longer, with more vertical ascent, but less steep than Montevina. The climb was as interminable as ever, but at this time of year the hillsides were green with mosses and ferns, and the sound of running water was constant. Rocks had tumbled onto the road in a few places, but there were no fresh mudslides.

I managed to ride 28.7 miles and climb 5,060 feet. (Yikes!) No wonder I was so slow. When you consider that this route meant climbing and descending the same hills, that means I really climbed 5,060 feet in 14.35 miles. Even I will admit that this might be just a tad crazy. (Just a tad.)

With a nod to my kindred automotive spirits, I recovered later in the afternoon with a fine Sunday drive: right back up Black Road, along the ridge, down to the coast, and back home through the redwoods. I ❤ MTN RDS.

February 23, 2010

Slippery Slope

Somehow, for the past several winters, my calendar has filled early with other distractions that have conspired to keep me off the ski slopes. I forgot the simple joys of gliding down the side of a mountain. Could it be that I also forgot how to glide down the side of a mountain?

Left to my own devices, I would have retreated to the comfort of a modest beginner trail for my first run. With some apprehension, I climbed into a gondola with my expert skier friends and headed for the top of the mountain. Luckily, my skills were no rustier than my skis, and I managed to carve and skid my way down the trail. It was not a pretty sight as I sped along, trying to remember how to ski while not losing sight of our little group in unfamiliar terrain at Snowbasin. The clouds rolled in, the light went flat, I lost my nerve and was more than ready to call it a day. I stuck it out for one more run and the sun peeked through to reassure me.

I was relieved to spend the next two days on my own, honing my skills on familiar ground at Alta. Every ride on the chairlift offers fresh faces and conversation. Locals, visitors from other states, French Canadians. A guy in his seventies who skis every day. A guy who proudly earned his free season pass this year (prerequisite: 80th birthday).

My most entertaining companions, though, didn't even acknowledge me. They were busy talking about a mutual friend - cyclist, skier, triathlete - who sounded most intriguing. The conversation turned to his car, a Porsche Carrera GT, which he had wrecked (circumstances, unclear).
Why would you want such a car? It does 80 mph in first gear. You might as well have a Formula 1 car, what can you do with it?
I smiled. The temptation to comment was strong. I resisted. They were oblivious to my presence.
It's like marrying a supermodel and then not being able to [deleted].
In the annals of memorable chairlift conversations, this one rises to the top.

After my first run on day three, I was ready for a challenge. I knew just where to find one.
Beyond this gate is some of the most difficult terrain at Alta ...
Max speed on days two and three: 33 mph. Some day I will return to Snowbasin and ski the women's downhill course (2002 Olympics). At less than half speed, if I really push it.

February 15, 2010

Slowing Traffic

Today it was my turn to pedal, having devoted my first weekend day (dawn till dusk) to the Mega-Monster Enduro. Once all the riders departed on Saturday, it was time to sit back and savor the sights in Paicines. I caught a good look at one low-flying bald eagle, yet somehow failed to notice the shiny black car when he passed through town. I must have been focused on approaching cyclists and their finishing times, or something.

I took advantage of the extra weekend day to join a club ride that was headed for San Francisco, though I planned to cover roughly the first half of the route. Descending from the patch of clear sunny skies into the valley's dense fog this morning, I regretted leaving my blinkie tail light at home. Once we started rolling, I placed myself strategically in the middle of our group and held tight until they outpaced me up the first hill (and out of the fog).

Our early start meant that I had plenty of time this afternoon to rinse away the ravages of my Sunday drive. Given the attention we had drawn at a roadside parking lot, I was unsure whether I was truly prepared for The Spectacle of Washing the Car.

Much to my surprise, only one person approached me. To her credit, she recognized the (base) model. Her fiancé, she said, is looking to buy one; might I be interested in selling mine? Now, that is the most amusing question I have gotten, to date. [By the way, he must not be looking very hard.] I noted that our local dealer has one for sale.

Curiously, drivers seemed to obey the speed limit this afternoon on our busy street. Are my neighbors disturbed by the sound of my engine? Ha! Rather, they will thank me for succeeding where the authorities have failed.

February 7, 2010

Life is Like a Song

Will you drive it in the rain?
So far, it has been my destiny to drive it in the rain. Even today, some raindrops sprinkled down.

At last, the skies above are blue. At long last, it was time for a proper drive.

You would never suspect how many people are cruising about on the freeway with cameras at the ready until you cruise about in an unusual vehicle. And if seeing one of these on the road is unusual, you might imagine that seeing a pair of them would be a memorable experience.

Consider the surprised travelers in a small sedan that merged onto the freeway behind the shiny black car. In front of ... an orange one, just like it. The passengers in the rear seat didn't know which way to look. Forward. Back. Forward. Back.

Or the guy in a mightily mud-splattered off-road vehicle who threw open the passenger door to deliver an enthusiastic "Bonita!" as they passed. Following a similarly muddied Jeep, they were friends out for a good day's fun - just like we were - but ... different.

And then there was the vehicle in my rear view mirror, on an isolated rural road. It was SUV-like, maybe it had some antennas. The driver was clearly familiar with the road, as he had caught up to us. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it until we had negotiated a particularly curvy stretch and I checked my mirrors ... he was right on my tail. Just as I calculated that this was probably Not A Good Sign, the grille lit up with all manner of flashing red and blue lights, a siren wailed, and I saw "Sheriff" on the door as he pulled around me and stopped the shiny black car.

Turns out that he just wanted to warn us to keep an eye out for the free-roaming wild boar and remind us that it's pretty desolate out there, no emergency services nearby. When he was done chatting with the shiny black car, he gave me a wave as he climbed back into his vehicle. And we all continued on our way.

I saw a pair of coyotes on a hillside pause and turn to watch me pass. No wild boar, though.

I put more miles on the car today than it had accumulated in the preceding 10 months, and I loved every inch of it. When I got home, I cleaned away the splattered bugs (no mud for me, today).

Yes, Scott. I will drive it in the rain. The wipers work.