August 28, 2010

Jill's Ride

It is still summertime—I checked the calendar. The water in my bottle at the end of a 60-mile bike ride should not be colder than when I started out (but it was).

As soon as I learned of this opportunity to support a worthy local organization, I signed up. Jill's Ride for Hope was a grass-roots, lightly-supported cycling event to benefit CASSY, a non-profit counseling service.

I did not know Jill, a high school student who took leave of the world in March 2009, but I find it heartbreaking enough just looking at her photo. CASSY has been there for her friends and family, and today's ride ended at a newly-created memorial garden on the grounds of the high school. There, benches have been set to remember students we have lost.

The 60-mile route was pretty challenging—climbing Highway 9 to the summit from Saratoga, then looping around to descend Bear Creek Road to Boulder Creek and climbing back up the other side of Highway 9 (by the end of the day, 5,715 feet of climbing). When I rode the Sequoia Century last year, I still faced more than 60 miles (and some significant climbing) after completing that loop. I have not been training hard this year, but I knew I could do it.

The marine layer was not a factor today, but it was surprisingly windy (and cold!) approaching the summit. I was mindful of the extra challenge of braking with numb fingers on the descent. Surprised to find it warmer in Boulder Creek, on the return climb I took refuge off the road in a grove of redwoods to peel off my jacket.

And then ... oh, how I know that sound.

What came into view first was the Gallardo, top down, plastered with logos from head to tail. Many similarly-adorned vehicles would follow—some Porsches and BMWs, a Mercedes, and an impressive array of Lamborghinis: Gallardos and Murcielagos in black, yellow, red, and orange. Fortunately for all concerned, the cars were descending and the cyclists were climbing. Many of the drivers were taking some liberties with the center line when the curves were clear. [Ahem.]

Dropping down the other side, I enjoyed a smooth descent unimpeded by vehicles until I reached the line-up at the traffic light controlling that pesky single-lane stretch. Along the way, it seems that I might have exceeded the speed limit. Just a little bit. [Ahem.]

I considered taking the most direct route back to the high school rather than following the circuitous "official" route ... but hey, what's one more gratuitous hill among friends?

Back at the school, the party was in full swing. I cherish living in a small town, with a community that rallies to support a cause. Trader Joe's donated cookies. Someone baked brownies. The Lions Club managed the barbecue and served us on plates that were actually Frisbees. The band was surprisingly good. The local merchants were so generous with schwag for the riders that I felt guilty. All I did was go for a nice bike ride, and I was sent home with a card for a free burger at Main Street Burgers. A card for a free pizza at Willow Street. A bean-shaped tin of ... you guessed it, Jelly Bellies from Party Beans.

And a photo of a beautiful young woman named Jill, whom I never met but will not soon forget.

August 22, 2010

What Goes Around

The Tour of Napa Valley was my very first organized bike event, back in 2002. I was not in shape, riding my trusty old steel frame hybrid bicycle, and unprepared. I did have bike shorts, but I was so cold at the start I layered the event t-shirt on top of whatever else I had chosen to wear that day. At the end of the day, surrounded by real cyclists, it was the skinny guys in the Death Ride jerseys that made the greatest impression on me.

Today it seemed only fitting that I should wear mine. As I was climbing Ink Grade, a guy in some team kit passed and gave me props. "Child's play for a Death Rider," he called out. It was a nice, steady climb that reminded me of our local Old Santa Cruz Highway. Turns out my hill sense was right on: OSCH climbs 1210 feet over 4.5 miles, and Ink Grade reportedly ascends 1110 feet over the same distance. I was surprised at the number of people who were walking up the hill. I made a point of asking each one if he or she was okay. I worried about one woman who failed to answer me, until the third time when I insisted "I need to hear yes."

The highlight of the ride for one friend is the Ben & Jerry's ice cream at the end. [I was delighted they were dishing out my favorite, Phish Food.] The highlight of the ride for me is a fabulous five-mile descent on smooth pavement. On the approach, I reluctantly touched the brakes when I saw a patrol car ... but on the long descent, I was free to roll.

I started out with about a dozen friends; the faster half of the group was soon out of sight. I had failed to connect with two friends at the start, but had a chance to chat when our paths crossed at the first two rest stops. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to a Starbucks on the long drive home and spotted their car in the parking lot!

I will remember 2010 as The Year of the Feather. I still have a small spotted one from a woodpecker tucked into my saddle bag, and I collected a turkey feather on a previous ride. This fine specimen was shed by a hawk, I believe.

The downside of cycling in the wine country is, as you might guess, people touring wineries and driving. It is not a good mix; the safest finish is an early one, so the metric route is the only viable choice for a slow poke like me.

August 13, 2010

Exotica

I never imagined I would find a place to park this car where it would hardly be noticed. A place where ... well, it just blends in.

The hard-core enthusiasts stake out their turf early. The sky was barely light and the fog was misting low when one guy strategically planted his tripod to capture the cars streaming into the Laguna Seca Golf Ranch for the 25th anniversary Concorso Italiano.

Was it the same guy on that same corner in the evening, waiting for the last cars to stream back out? I patiently waited my turn at the traffic light, no cutting into the flow by turning right-on-red, even though ... well, I could have. Green light. Pause. Turn. Accelerate. Smile.

So many people. So many cars. So many great photo opportunities. Somehow I failed to shoot a single proper Alfa Romeo, the only other Italian marque I once had a chance to drive. The Ferraris were staged with precision, carefully spaced with marks on the grass.
What is that F50 doing here?
These are the F40s, he has to move!
Inevitably, there would be an announcement like this one:
We have a report that a vehicle is blocking a roadway.
It is a Lincoln Navigator.
You need to move your car, or ...
Complete the sentence, you know the drill. It will be towed, right? No.
... it will be set on fire.
At the end of the day, one of my friends asked me which car was my favorite. "It is so hard to choose," I replied.

I thought of the jaunty Fiat Jolly, with its wicker seats and ball-trimmed canvas roof.

The light blue Bianchina, rolling in again this year with three guys and their picnic—including their umbrella, table, and chairs.

The classic exotics, lovingly restored.

The cars that are driven, for that is why the cars were made.

The answer, of course, is obvious.
The one that I drove home.

August 1, 2010

Cookies 'n Cream

Enough with images of California's rolling golden hills, towering trees, sparkling blue water. It's all just too scenic. As you can see, this was a very serious ride.

Serious enough to wake up early on a Sunday morning and roll out for a 42-mile excursion over some local hills. I was a little apprehensive, because despite the "social" pace advertised for today's ride, I expected to be the laggard. But the hills were so familiar, it would be okay if they had to drop me. [They didn't.]

I nearly talked myself out of climbing Sanborn Road, but I tackled it. I nearly talked myself out of climbing Sixth Street to Oak, but I made it all the way to the gates of the cemetery. Surprisingly, the greatest punishment was dished out on some residential back road we followed to avoid Highway 9. That little hors cat├ęgorie gem made my legs burn! Normally I just slow to a near-stall, but this was so short and steep that I think my heart rate did not have time to become the limiting factor.

Our group did so well that we were the first to arrive at the club's annual Ice Cream Social party. We pitched in where we could, and mostly tried to stay out of the way of the selfless volunteers dishing out the ice cream. With one final hill between the party and home, with any luck I was calorie-neutral for the day. If not ... well, I can live with that.