March 27, 2010

Conversational Climbing

Today's cycling excursion included Old La Honda Road on both sides of Skyline. Each segment is beautiful in its own way, whether snaking upward through the redwoods or offering a panorama of green hills rolling to the Pacific Ocean. I indulged myself by heading uphill at a relaxed pace, taking in the sights. On Old La Honda? This is just Not Done, and so I was passed by many panting cyclists.

If you know where to look, you can see the west side of Old La Honda Road angling upward along the base of the cliff in my photo. (If you have not been there, you may have to accept this on faith.)

My last ascent involved quite a bit more horsepower. On that occasion, I could not resist the temptation to introduce my co-conspirator to a road he had never traveled. Barely more than one lane wide, with little reason for any vehicle to take that route, I calculated (correctly) that I would have the road to myself; no sane driver would descend this twisty, wet road in the dark. I would not enjoy driving down it in full daylight (see "cliff," above). But, I digress.

After lunch, we followed Kings Mountain Road back to civilization. The pros will take this route on Stage 3 of this year's Amgen Tour of California, and one of my ride buddies wondered how my time would compare with theirs. My descent: 15:31, averaging 22.4 mph over 5.8 miles. I did not get stuck behind any cars today, but I had to slow down before I could safely pass a pair of cyclists I caught. The pros will have another advantage: the road will be closed, allowing them full use of both lanes. They will be faster. Quite a bit faster.

March 20, 2010

A Cake from Carlo's

I confess: I am woefully (blissfully) ignorant in most matters of popular culture. My favorite supermarket does not display, or even sell, tabloids. I was never much of a TV watcher. The only (so-called) reality show I have seen was a single episode of The Amazing Race. The camera work left me feeling nauseated, and the contestants fulfilled all my expectations: People I would not want to know, behaving badly.

The stage was thus set for me not to grasp the significance of the guy striding into the dining room at Saturday's party, delivering an elaborate cake. A minor celebrity, as it turned out, bearing a three-tiered confection from Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. The guest of honor shrieked in delighted disbelief, and I learned about the phenomenon known as the Cake Boss.

Some bakery in Hoboken? On TLC?

Later that night, my family furthered my education by replaying a series of episodes they had recorded. Creative? Yes. Talented? Without a doubt. People behaving badly? In abundance. Amazing cakes, though.

March 19, 2010

Dear Imprudence

I arrived on the east coast and Hertz did not seem to have the mid-sized car I had reserved.
How about an SUV?
[An upgrade, in some minds.]
No, that's too big for me.
It's a small one.
[I would take a downgrade, but not at the same price.]

With considerable frowning and lots of typing, the agent came up with a set of keys. In this round of the rental car lottery, I won ... a shiny black car, with tinted rear windows. A big bad ... Chevrolet HHR? The antithesis of aerodynamic.

I turned the key in the ignition and wondered ... is the engine running? Is this a hybrid or something? Tentatively, I pressed the accelerator. All four cylinders were indeed firing - the car moved forward.

The view through the rear view mirror was reminiscent of a porthole. I have some experience with limited rear visibility (haha). But this vehicle has no rear camera.

I'm not used to sitting Way Up High Off The Ground. Or driving a vehicle whose accelerator feels like ... a sponge.

I visited one of my (very) old haunts for dinner. It looked like the next generation was in charge now, but little else had changed. The fortune in my cookie:
Prudence keeps life safe, but does not often make it happy.
How did they know?

March 14, 2010

Bike to Eat

I can tell you that it is a bad sign when you check the weather forecast online and instead of something mundane like "Sunny" or "Partly Cloudy," you see Windy. I had been warned that the wind on the Solvang Century could be a fearsome force, and in that sense, I was not disappointed. I was relieved when most of our biking gang opted for the more modest 50-mile route, with 1700 feet of climbing.

We rode from Solvang to Lompoc, straight into headwinds estimated at 17-20 mph. Although this segment was principally downhill, my speed averaged a mere 12.9 mph. I experimented with new aerodynamic angles on the bicycle in order to stay upright; crosswinds made it difficult to hold a straight line on the road.

After making a circuit through the streets of Lompoc, we were looking forward to the tailwind we had earned for our return trip to Solvang. Mysteriously, the tailwinds were as fleeting as the headwinds were fierce. On an extended, but modest, downhill I settled low on the bike and pedaled furiously to attain my maximum speed for the day, 42.2 mph. Satisfied at having demonstrated my superior aerodynamics to the two guys I overtook, I sat up and rolled into town at a more relaxed pace.

Enjoying a sandwich at the cyclist-mecca Bulldog Cafe, I was entertained by the exploits of some local racers who cut the century route short to escape the ridiculous wind. (Ha! The winds were abnormally strong.) After enjoying another decadent double chocolate cookie confection from Mortensen's Danish Bakery, we tidied up and headed out to explore Santa Barbara, where we celebrated with a fabulous meal at Seagrass.

Ride to eat, eat to live, live to bike.

March 5, 2010

Easiest Route

Along the ridge at the top of Squaw Valley's Emigrant chair lift, I pointed a couple of snowboarders in the right direction.
Yes, that really is the easiest route - just drop down around the rock.
With wide eyes, they sought clarification.
The BIG ROCK, or the little rock?
Keep in mind that easiest is a relative term, not to be confused with easy.

I had the great good fortune to spend the past two days exploring Squaw, with fresh snow on the slopes. I can only imagine that my talented (past) ski instructors would cringe if they saw me now, as I dredged up their valuable lessons from the dim recesses of my mind. No abrupt turns in powder returned with the jolt that landed my backside on the hill.

Having committed myself at the top of Red Dog face before realizing that I meant to drop in at a lower point, I found myself in a steep field of moderately-sized moguls.
I don't belong here.
There is no escape route.
There is only one way, and that is ... down.
Coaching words from long ago echoed in my head. You can do this. Relax. It wasn't pretty, but I stayed upright and was more exhilarated than relieved when I reached the bottom.

Squaw is different from other areas where I have skied, in that there are few trail markings (or named trails). A tram, a gondola, and many chairlifts are scattered around the mountain, and those are rated according to the general difficulty of the terrain they serve. Hop off at the top and point your skis downhill. Even the extreme skiers agree, though, that some bits are not skiable.

After spending most of today working on technique, I was happy to avoid following the crowd down "the road" to the base, choosing instead to ski the short pitches. Approaching a wide, relatively flat field, I recognized that I needed to take it at speed (or risk slowing to a complete stop). At the time, I focused on being relaxed, lest I catch an edge and wipe out; I knew I was moving pretty fast. In fact, I attained a new personal land-speed-record-on-skis: 38.6 mph.