June 27, 2010

Spreading Sunshine

Someday, when I look back at all of this, I know I will remember the faces of so many little boys pressed against the windows of passing cars. One scolded by his father for nearly climbing out of his car seat, trying to get a better look.

Fueling up today, I was approached by two fellow customers. This was not unusual. Both of them were women—that was unusual. The first question: How fast have you driven it? Have you wound it all the way out?

Truth be told, I am really rather shy. I am not adept at talking to strangers. Needless to say, "shy" is not exactly compatible with driving about in a conspicuous car.

Today's excursion had a little bit of everything. Wide-eyed children in passing cars on the freeway. Adults snapping photos with cellphones. Scenic, curvy, rural California roads. Motorists who pulled aside, unbidden, to give me the road.

An approaching motorcyclist tipped me to a patrol car lying in wait ahead. With four or five sedans and SUVs in my wake, I cruised past at a respectable speed. Another patrol car just happened to appear as I rolled into town. 25 mph? Watch me. I can do 25 mph.

At my halfway point, I was tempted to turn around and enjoy the same route back home. Sensing that I had exhausted my karma with the local authorities, I opted for the freeway instead.

An unexpected dividend earned through hundreds of cycling trips: How to get home on back roads. The freeway was boring (and jammed). Coastal views, curvy roads, redwood trees.

Another of my shortcomings: I do not enjoy driving long distances. Any trip over an hour and I start to feel drowsy. Evidently, in this I have been granted an exemption.

June 26, 2010

All is Not Lost

What if the club schedules a ride, and no one shows up? I arrived early for today's outing in Carmel Valley, and waited for 30 minutes past the scheduled start time with no sign of a fellow rider. Having traveled a long way, I set off to climb Robinson Canyon Road on my own.

Before I moved to California, I fell in love with nearby Pacific Grove. Once here, I would quickly realize that the residents shiver all summer under the influence of the cold, gray marine layer. I regretted not bringing a jacket, but knew I would warm up on the climb.

Fifty yards from the turn onto Robinson Canyon, I recognized my mistake. There was the Safeway parking lot with the coffee shop and the gas stations ... I had parked in a different Safeway parking lot, with a different coffee shop and gas stations.

The sun was breaking through at the summit of Robinson Canyon Road, and I descended into a lovely valley. Almost instantly, I was too warm; I rolled down my arm warmers and continued exploring. Having studied a map of this area last summer, I had a vague memory that I could follow another road back to Carmel Valley. Stopping to take a photo on the way up, I observed that the edge of the road really is the edge of the road: a few inches of dirt next to the pavement, then a sheer drop into the canyon several hundred feet below. I was enjoying my little adventure, but exercising caution. Out in the middle of nowhere, alone—best not to risk any mishaps.

Question: If you are passed by a FedEx van, are you really out in the middle of nowhere?

Happily, MyTracks on my Android phone showed me exactly where I was, and I confirmed that I was looking for Rancho San Carlos Road. I continued to a shady redwood grove for lunch, and was surprised to see that I had missed my turn. The reason would soon become clear: like the other side roads along the way, it was gated. Private. This land is all part of the cleverly-named Santa Lucia Preserve, which looks like a wonderful place to visit ... if you happen to be one of its 300 residents.

And so I would retrace my path back to the start. The marine layer had thickened at the summit, thanks to the prevailing onshore wind. A nervous quail skittered into the brush when I stopped to pull up my arm warmers. I completely overlooked the raptor in the tree above me until I clipped in and it took flight. I caught sight of what was likely a ferruginous hawk, just a few feet overhead. I was not disappointed to descend Robinson Canyon.

Sometimes, being lost is a good thing.

June 19, 2010

Half is Not Enough

When we reached the turn-around point at Grant Ranch Park, the summit of Mt. Hamilton was so alluring that I could not resist. How could I climb only halfway up the mountain today?

I continued with the rest of our little group on our planned route along the easy eastern approach to the summit of Quimby Road before dropping back down to resume my climb to Lick Observatory. It was a spectacular day to head up the mountain—cool and breezy, with little traffic.

Most of the traffic was well-behaved, with the notable exception of one driver who crossed the double yellow line completely into the opposite lane on a blind curve to pass me. Knowing it was not safe for a car to pass, I had moved to the center of our lane to send a clear message: Do Not Pass Me. Had there been a cyclist or vehicle coming downhill in the other lane, I would have been collateral damage. I saw the Sheriff three times before that, but he missed this moment of stupendously dangerous driving.

I did not set out this morning to climb all the way to the summit. Cool day? One water bottle. Not much distance? Eat a sandwich after the ride. I consumed everything I had stuffed in my pockets: one Balance Bare bar, one molten PowerBar, a dozen peanut butter-filled pretzel nuggets, and three Clif Shot Bloks. Plus a few cherries shared by a fellow rider, and the best energy bargain in the observatory's vending machine, a Nature Valley Sweet and Salty Peanut bar. Intake: 876 Calories. Burned: 2040 Calories.

Free to be a tourist, I enjoyed the wildflowers and lingered at the top. Along the way, I pocketed a shiny nickel that caught my eye, saw my first skink, and watched a pair of acorn woodpeckers for awhile. A friendly biker (of the motorized sort) offered to take a picture of me ("to prove you were here!"), before confessing that they had "cheated" (driving, rather than pedaling, to the top).

Just yesterday a friend commented that he does not enjoy descending Mt. Hamilton. What's not to like?! So long as you respect the gravelly curves where the hillside is chronically crumbling, and keep an eye out for the suicidal squirrels ... His hands hurt, he explained. You're braking too much, I replied.

A fabulous day on the bike: 42 miles, 5,635 feet of climbing, maximum speed 35.3 mph.

June 17, 2010

Oxymorons on Hicks

There are a couple of approaches to this view at the summit of Hicks Road, which was particularly striking in the warm glow of early evening. The climb from the Los Gatos side is painfully steep, and I was grateful that we were not taking that route. Instead, we were taking the easier route, climbing Hicks from the San Jose side. Which is ... painfully steep. From The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike) in California:
After a shallow start, this side of Hicks Road contains one of the steepest miles in the state.
I had the uncommon opportunity to be home from work early enough to join one of the club's regular after-work rides. With the summer solstice just a few days away, tonight's ride could be a long one. Facing that tough climb, I had some doubts about whether I could pedal fast enough to stay with the group and finish before the sun set. When I lost them on the flats, I would catch them at a traffic light. When they regrouped at a key intersection, I would keep pedaling for a head start on the next hill. I used every downhill to pull ahead, so the group would not have to wait too long for me at the top of the next hill.

I managed to cover 27.8 miles, ascending 2,170 feet along the way. My maximum downhill speed was 39.3 mph, while my minimum uphill speed was ... well, let's not go there. [Okay, okay ... 3.2 mph.] All in a day's work.

June 12, 2010

Some is Better than None

Another view from a bridge—this week, of a solo rower on the Lexington Reservoir.

This morning, the spirit was willing; the body ... not so much. Had I not committed to meet up with a ride partner, I simply would have stayed at home. I considered showing up in street clothes to explain and apologize.

My original plan for the day was to ride up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains to the coast with a group, have lunch at the beach, and then head back up and over the mountains. The climb to the summit is gentle, and I guessed that I could make it that far today no matter how crummy I felt.

Spinning uphill in the redwood forest felt better than I expected, but I did take it easy. The descent was so smooth I was almost lured into repeating the climb just to glide back down. I did the prudent thing instead, and climbed back into my car. Ten miles of cycling (half of it uphill) was far better than sitting at home feeling sick and sorry.

June 5, 2010

View from a Bridge

By the time I reached the summit of Metcalf Road on this blue-sky morning, I was soaking wet. Was it only two weeks ago that I was clad in wool and long tights? At the end of our ride, the still-broad expanse of Coyote Creek looked very inviting.

When the ride's original leader sent word that she needed a substitute today, I stepped forward. It turned out that my job was particularly easy: among the six cyclists who joined me were two members who had also volunteered to lead the ride. What a vibrant bike club!

Our amiable bunch required little management on my part. We naturally climb and descend at varying paces, and everyone waited willingly at key points for all to reassemble.

Despite the county park's wealth of warnings about mountain lions, wild pigs, rattlesnakes, ticks, and poison oak, coyote scat was the only hint of wildlife I saw. It was so quiet in the San José outback, though, that I could hear the cattle munching.

Somewhere along the way, my air-cooled speed peaked at 41.9 mph. The steep hairpins near the base of Metcalf command my full respect. The heat of the day and the end of a stressful week commanded a late-afternoon nap.