January 29, 2011

Casting About

The forecast for the day: Overcast.

Now, that depends upon your point of view, doesn't it? If you are gazing down from the window of an airplane, for example, would it be Undercast? What would you call it if you were in the midst of the cloud layer?

I can answer that: Wet. As we rose toward the base of the final (and easiest) climb on our route today, the winds picked up and the clouds descended to meet us.

We had already shed three of our twelve riders. Of the remaining nine, six were experienced ride leaders for the club. All but one were ready to declare victory and return to the start. (We twisted his arm.) Having tackled the climbs according to decreasing level of difficulty, no one felt shortchanged. Thirty-three miles, 2,650 feet of climbing, max heart rate 185 bpm (on Olive Tree Lane). If there are any olive trees up there, somehow I always fail to notice.

On the drive home, my windshield wipers engaged.

January 26, 2011


Today's blog is brought to you by the letter "B," in honor of

... the black crows scavenging for breakfast,

... the sleek Bentley that passed me by,

... the bunny rabbit that bounded across the road,

... my fellow bicyclists [24 of them], and last-but-not-least,

... buttermilk almond pancakes studded with chocolate chips, my second breakfast.

The body must be refueled after biking 19 miles to work. Besides, what could be more motivating than pancakes?

Yet, last year I managed to bike to work [insert drum roll here] ... three times. First, a warm-up to prepare for leading a group on Bike to Work Day. Then, of course, Bike to Work Day itself. Finally, on some other random day. Pathetic.

The price of such laziness is fading fitness, and I am none too pleased with that. The sun is rising early enough, the temperature was a comfortable 43F: no excuses! Dust off the sturdy commute bike, pump up the tires, and get moving.

As I labored up the hills that mark the beginning of my route, I was reminded that the heavy commute bike makes for good cross-training. At my first key checkpoint, three miles into the ride, my pace was slower by a full minute.

Approaching a stop sign, I spotted a sheriff on his motorcycle. Rear view mirrors are indispensable. I know that particular stop sign is a notorious enforcement spot. I would have come to a Full Stop anyway. Really.

I was encouraged to see some trees already in bloom, and imagined their petals falling like snowflakes in a few short weeks. Then I remembered that heavy snow was falling on the east coast at that very moment, for the seventh time this season.

I don't live there any more.

January 22, 2011

Redwoods and Ridgelines

January in California. Back east, they are preparing to plow more snow off the roads. Up on the ridge, we passed mounds of rock and dirt that had been plowed off the roads. Both tend to wreak havoc with the pavement.

I was much happier with today's route, climbing a mere 2,465 feet over 31 miles, in contrast with last week's 52 miles and 3,910 feet. Nonetheless, I was the caboose on the climbs.

On a day like this, it was a struggle to remember that spring is still two months away. We followed the ridgeline, with sweeping views of the canyons of The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, and passed through the watershed of Soquel Creek.

It was a day to enjoy blue skies with wispy clouds, rushing creeks with little waterfalls, and biking (of course) with good friends.

January 16, 2011


I discovered the Low-Key Hillclimbs when the series resumed in 2006, curious to see whether they really meant that everyone was welcome. (They did.) In 2007, I rode most of the climbs, and served as a volunteer for those I dared not attempt. On the final steep curve near the top of Welch Creek, I snapped this photo of Thomas Novikoff. A gifted Category 2 racer, he finished third overall in the series that year.

From my position near the tail end of the field, I would naturally see little of the guys at the front. I would still be climbing the hill after they had finished and begun descending; many would cheer me on as they whizzed past.

I last saw Thomas on Thanksgiving Day. The interior of his car was packed, from the floor to the bottoms of the windows, with cycling gear that he would haul to the top of Mt. Hamilton for our fellow Low-Keyers. Just as he was about to pull away, I dashed up to the car with one more bag ... he snatched it through the window, mock exasperation on his face.

Waiting for cyclists to cross the line at the snowy summit, that's Thomas striking a "thumbs up" pose in this photo by Bill Bushnell:

Our vantage point afforded a preview of the finishers. We expected Ryan Sherlock to be first across the line, but were surprised to see another rider on his wheel. How was that possible? "Who is that?" I asked. Thomas knew: "Eric Wohlberg."

A couple of weeks later, Thomas was hospitalized. A bicycle crash? An inattentive driver? No. He was gravely ill. Most of us had no idea.

He had raced up Portola Park in the third week of the series. I dragged my sorry self up East Dunne Avenue yesterday in the warm sunshine; in far less time, he had climbed it on a wet, miserable day in October. He had been eager to see Palomares on the Low-Key calendar in 2011.

Thomas kept living his life with the conviction that tomorrow would come. Racing up mountainsides. Spending Thanksgiving morning on a freezing mountaintop, cheering at the finish line.

Today there was a memorial service for Thomas at the top of Mount Tantalus in his native Honolulu. On his blog, he had quoted T.S. Eliot:
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
Thomas, you deserved to go so much farther.

January 15, 2011

A Crushing Coe

It has been a while since I set out on a long bike ride. Quite a while. Look back three months on the calendar, to Levi's King Ridge GranFondo.

Why, then, did I think a 52-mile route with an extended climb would be a good idea today? Quite simply: I wasn't thinking.

The first time I ascended East Dunne Avenue to reach Henry Coe State Park, I was a passenger in a car. A budding cyclist, I knew this was a popular route. I quickly recognized that it was beyond my ability.

The first time I climbed it on a bicycle, I had raced up Mt. Hamilton the day before. I took it easy that day, but it was not a struggle.

Not so, today. My fitness has withered, and I could have used those red blood cells I donated ten days ago. The steepest pitch is uphill of the lone cattle guard on this route. On the downhill approach, I gave it my all. I flew over the metal rails and made it most of the way up the steep grade. (Most. Not all.) I dismounted. I looked at the hill. I did not want to pedal one more meter uphill.

What remained was not so steep. With a few minutes to recover, I certainly could have remounted and continued. I ... just ... didn't ... want to.

Suddenly it seemed like a lovely day for a stroll, and I did something I have not done on a bicycle outing in years. I walked.

January 9, 2011

Dream, dream, drive

Approaching the pumps, my gaze was magnetically drawn to one vehicle in particular. An unexpected rendezvous with the shiny black car?! Headed in opposite directions, imagine the odds that we would both turn up to refuel at the same place at the same time. My Sunday drive was coming to a close; his was just getting underway. The rest of the pumps were occupied by assorted models from Mercedes Benz.
I almost bought one, I thought about buying one.
Surprisingly, not an uncommon comment. [Right. But you bought that Mercedes station wagon, instead.]

Not that there is anything wrong with that. If I needed to haul kids around, a station wagon or a minivan would be just right. If I needed to haul stuff around, a pickup truck would do nicely. If I wanted to drive to the slopes, a small SUV with four wheel drive would be a fine choice.
What kind of mileage do you get?
Another common question. “That depends entirely on how I drive it,” I smile. “Yeah, I guess that's not the point,” he observed. [Hardly.]

From the driver of the very nice Mercedes behind me:
Your car is beautiful.
The Silicon Valley International Auto Show was wrapping up today, and the local section of the newspaper featured an article from the esteemed Mr. Roadshow:
Why buy a car when you can dream for free?

I can assure you of this: dreaming is not driving.

January 8, 2011

Not Gonna Happen

In the last week of December, after dropping off some post-blizzard groceries and shoveling some snow for my elderly uncle, his parting words to me were:
Stay off that bicycle!
Seems like "thank you" would have been more appropriate.

Back on the west coast, January means it is time to reset that odometer before setting out on the first ride of the year. This one was damp and cold, with the cloud layer hanging just above our heads. (We could have climbed into it, had we wanted to get wet, but we opted for a lower elevation.)

Despite my cold-weather gear, I traveled a full six miles before I could feel my fingers. Later on the ride, I found that a sustained heart rate of 172 or more would bring them back to life. My toes, however, were a lost cause. When I returned home, I took my cue from the cat and cozied up to one of the heating vents.

Thirty-five chilly miles, 1,165 feet of climbing.

Stay off the bicycle? Not gonna happen.