April 30, 2010

Taking It Slow

With a view like this, what's not to like about bicycle commuting? You might enjoy it equally well from the comfy seat of your car, you're thinking? Only as a passing glimpse.

With no shortage of excuses, somehow I have managed not to pedal to work even once in the past seven months. It has been cold ... dark ... wet ... windy. Oh, and I have been busy. Shameful. With Bike to Work Day fast approaching, it was time to refresh my commuting skills. I will be helping to lead a group of coworkers that day, some braving their first bicycle trip to the office. That would be the wrong day to discover some unpleasant new wrinkle along the route.

There are memorable moments in every commute, and today was no exception. In a residential neighborhood on the way home, I was stopped at a stop sign with my left arm extended to signal my turn. A young male in a sporty black VW arrived at the opposite stop sign, and I correctly predicted that he would not understand that I had the right-of-way. I chuckled when he interpreted my extended arm not as a left turn signal, but apparently as a gracious gesture that he should go first: as in, "Please, after you." As he turned, he swept out his right arm in return. Or maybe there is a new section in the California Driver Handbook I should study: Right-of-Way at an Intersection: Violating with Courtesy.

April 24, 2010

Whole Lotta Climbin'

At the beginning of March, my regular ride partner suggested an ambitious ride for late April (today, in fact): Four significant hill climbs over about 50 miles. Seemed like a good idea at the time ...

Within the first 300 yards this morning, my saddle notified me that I have not been spending enough time on the bicycle: I was still sore from last Sunday's ride. Our destination? Lunch, in Half Moon Bay.

After climbing up Kings Mountain Road and descending almost to the coast, we meandered back uphill for some more fun and a fast descent into town. Near the summit of Higgins Purisima Road, we were lucky to cross paths with some locals who pointed out a very active bees' nest at the base of a tree and likely kept us out of harm's way.

Having refueled at the Garden Deli Café, we found some fresh hills to climb on the way back to Tunitas Creek Road. I reflected on my ride partner's suggested translation for Lobitos ("crazy cyclists") as I became acquainted with Lobitos Creek Road. And then, there is Tunitas. In a few weeks we will miss seeing the pros tackle Tunitas Creek Road; the dense redwoods will block transmission of live video during the race. The trees are majestic; the road is unforgiving. After some 36 miles and 3600 feet of climbing, a mere six miles to the final summit. Just six miles ... and 1600 feet of climbing.

With 42 miles and 5,185 feet of climbing in my legs, I assure you that I earned my descent. From the top of Kings Mountain Road to the first stop sign: 9 minutes, 28 seconds. A car averaging 30 mph over the same distance would be about a minute faster; the road is twisty, so that is a tall order for most drivers. Which explains why I tend to catch them.

April 18, 2010

Pedaling to Panoche

The photo says it all: a curvy road, a downhill worthy of a warning, hillsides shimmering with California poppies. Paradise for cyclists.

After pitching in as a volunteer for our club's annual event yesterday (the Tierra Bella), today it was my turn to enjoy our beautiful land. I was unsure whether I could pull myself together for a ride that started some 60 miles away at 8:30 a.m., but I managed. The early-morning sacrifice was well worth it.

For the Mega-Monster Enduro, I have spent the better part of two days sitting at the western end of Panoche Road. Until today, I had never ventured any farther. No maps or route sheets are needed: keep pedaling until you reach the Panoche Inn, 27.5 miles down the road. Eat lunch, turn around, and keep pedaling until you find the car you left 27.5 miles away in Paicines. Elevation gain for the day: 2,775 feet.

Some think an out-and-back route is boring, but I relished the chance to take in this scenery a second time. As I remarked to one of my ride companions, I don't have the urge to travel afar for a bike tour when this is virtually in my backyard.

April 10, 2010

No Princes Charming

Today was the day for that local lighthearted annual celebration of cycling known as the Cinderella. The precious invitation had been secured in February. The car was ready to be loaded with the bicycle. The bicycle was ready for its princess and her gear, carefully chosen in shades of pink and laid out the night before.

The colors in that Five-Pass Finisher's jersey from the 2009 Death Ride look smashing with the pink feather boa that traditionally bedecks her bike helmet.

But alas, the princess was awakened at 4 a.m. No, her sleep was not disturbed by a pea hidden beneath the mattress - it was the shrieking, howling wind. A powerful storm front is approaching; was it arriving earlier than forecast?

I first rode the Cinderella route in 2005, and have returned every year. In 2006, a crosswind nearly knocked me into a ditch descending Cross Road. The skies opened up just as we prepared to leave the lunch stop; we sheltered briefly under a flatbed truck in the parking lot before ultimately finishing the ride. In 2007, the longer Challenge route was introduced, and I was able to move faster into the headwind on the Altamont Pass than as part of a semi-disorganized paceline. In 2008, it was so windy at the top of Patterson Pass that it was a challenge to mount the bike for the descent. Driven by a massive tailwind, I attained my still unsurpassed maximum speed of 50.7 miles per hour. I gave my ride companions a quick lesson in how to execute a rotating paceline and we sliced through the headwind on Altamont without wearing ourselves out. Last year, conditions were nearly perfect (less so, my condition).

By 4:30 a.m., I turned to the Internet. Weather Underground made it all too clear: sustained winds at 21 mph with gusts to 43 mph, at a weather station less than two miles from my house.

Been there, done that. There are so many lovely days to ride a bicycle, and today was not one of them. Today was a day for climbing back under the comforter and sleeping in.

April 3, 2010

Hazy Hills of Hollister

What a difference 60 degrees makes. Spring, it seems, is a good time to ride in the Hollister area.
All the hills were green, and the sky was gray ...
Those among us who love the outdoors are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in northern California. Consider today's cycling destination - a National Monument, no less: Pinnacles.

My regular ride partner chose to do only the first part of the route. Slower than most but faster than some, I rode solo on Highway 25 for miles. The irony was not lost on me that while I have been reticent to drive this route alone, instead I am out there on my bicycle. [Well, in most cases, I can fix the bicycle if it breaks down. But, still ...]

I worried briefly that I lacked the power to outpace a yappy little dog that gave chase, but was saved by a second yappy little dog that distracted the first one. Arriving at the Pinnacles visitor center, a hiker recognized my Plus 3 vest. He smiled - Making it count!

All too soon it was time to head back to Hollister. One of the joys of being part of a bike club is having other members who are there for you. Facing 30 miles of stiff headwind, a fellow club member paired up with me. In the tiny town of Tres Pinos, three spectators (motorcyclists) applauded and cheered us on. I took a few turns at the front, but my partner graciously did most of the work (think 25 miles or more). He even slowed for me to catch up whenever I lost his wheel on a hill. Thanks, Dennis! If not for you, the return trip would have easily taken me twice as much time. As it was, I burned approximately 2,277 calories on the bike (65.6 miles, 2,955 feet of climbing), and was voraciously hungry when I got back to my car.

Along the way, I encountered wildflowers, wild turkeys, Longhorn cattle and buffalo (happily, on the other side of barbed-wire fencing), ravens, magpies, red-winged blackbirds, and possibly a female yellow-headed blackbird. Not to mention the giant inflatable pink Easter Bunny on a rusted old tractor. No wild boar, though.