May 27, 2011

Attitude Adjustment

What could be better than a three-day holiday weekend? A five-day holiday weekend, perhaps?

This stroke of brilliance was late in coming, which made the time off even more delicious.

Joining some club members this morning, I had the opportunity for a rare weekday bicycle trip up Highway 9. It was less peaceful than I had hoped, but still far from the typical weekend speedway. A third of a mile from the summit, two Damsels-Not-in-Distress [that would be me, and my ride partner] came to the aid of a Not-So-Charming-Prince behind the wheel of a dead school bus. Having missed his turn, he kept flogging the poor yellow beast up the hill in search of a place to turn around, until it finally gave out. Valiantly, we emerged from the fearsome canyon into which no cellular signal dares penetrate and made a call on his behalf. [No thanks to AT&T, I might add: "No coverage" for me at the summit.]

No cell phone coverage yesterday, either. Visitors from a land without limits could be hard to impress. Two drivers, two passengers, two cars. Four ecstatic grins.

When the working day is done, girls just wanna have fun.

May 21, 2011


Has it been a full year since I last biked up Sierra Road? It does not get easier.

The pro riders climbed it at a considerably faster pace on Wednesday, racing in the Tour of California. The road was still chalked with encouragement for the racers. Svein Tuft, in particular, had some devoted fans. My favorite marking was a well-placed "VIEW→" pointing west. On their way to the finish line at the summit, I suspect that few could afford a moment's glance at the valley floor, carpeted with homes and the towers of downtown San Jose. The cows are jaded.

After reaching the summit on Sierra, today's ride descended the back side and then returned to the top. Having climbed 3,240 feet in less than 17 miles, I was not sure I was in any shape to complete the extended route (another 2,525 feet and 27 miles). But it was a lovely day and I was keen to identify the curve on Mt. Hamilton that some of the pros had misjudged on Wednesday's descent, running off the road onto an unpaved shoulder. And so, I pedaled on; what's the worst that could happen? I could always turn back.

After suffering up Sierra, the mild grade on the lower half of Mt. Hamilton made for a surprisingly pleasant spin. Generally, one can count on seeing more cyclists than vehicles on the mountain. Noteworthy today was a helmet-less guy heading up on a carbon fiber road bike outfitted with platform pedals, wearing a polo shirt, cargo shorts, and a backpack. He would power past me, run out of steam, and stop to recover. Continuing ever upward at my doddering-but-steady pace, I would then pass him. After two rounds of tortoise and hare, I detoured up a side road [for yet more climbing] and left him behind.

On the climb, I spotted an odd-looking snake near the edge of the road: bulging, the tip of its tail almost diaphanous. I assumed it had met with some misfortune and been crushed. Nonetheless, I gave it a wide berth. At the time, I was clueless that I was looking at a young rattlesnake, engorged with a recent meal.

On Wednesday, it was a privilege to see aerial footage of the familiar trip down the mountain. The pros descended Mt. Hamilton with care, and veteran cycling broadcaster Phil Liggett repeatedly described the road as a very technical descent. I complete the descent in about one hour; the pros needed 40 minutes. Of course, they were free to use the full width of the road [which was closed], without a care for the rocks and gravel that litter the corners [which had been swept]. They are also faster than me on the three miles of climbing that interrupt the descent. [Okay, faster on the pure descent, too.]

Now, about that tricky curve (hereby marked on my map). The pavement is smooth, the grade is gentle, and the curves leading up to it have mellowed out. Those who misjudged it were not expecting an S-curve: having set up the wrong line, they missed the apex of the sharp bend to the left and went straight. Into the dirt.

May 14, 2011


Volunteering as a marshal at Turn 5 on the course for the Cat's Hill Criterium, my job today was all about safety. In other words, keep the bicycle racers and the general public from colliding. Adults. Children. Dogs. Adults with children. Children with balls. Adults with dogs. Adults with ... attitude.

This race has been held annually, in May, for 38 years. On the exact same streets, which are closed to vehicles for most of the day.

Most drivers, after turning onto the far end of our street, saw the barricade and people in bright safety vests [me, for example] and backtracked. Some did not.

One woman drove all the way to the barricade to share her indignation with us.
This is a residential neighborhood, not an athletic field!
She then proceeded to back into the bumper of a parked SUV. Bumper of said SUV being higher than the bumper of her car, she was now the proud driver of a dented BMW. After inspecting the damage, she simply drove away. All of this in full view of three people wearing bright safety vests, two of which were emblazoned with the word "POLICE." We made a note of her license plate number and shared it with the SUV owner. Misdemeanor hit and run?

Then there was the absolutely apoplectic woman in a Jaguar.
How many DAYS is this race going to last?
After turning her car around, she blew through the stop sign on the corner and nearly collided head-on with an approaching SUV. All of this in full view of three people wearing bright safety vests, two of which were emblazoned with the word "POLICE."

The evidence was abundant: Money can buy you a fancy car and a fancy house on a hillside with a view, but it does not buy you happiness.

I was happy, and I didn't spend a dime. Fast Freddie Rodriquez was happy, too; he won the final race of the day (Pro/1/2 Men).

Walking home, I paused to let a car turn in front of me. The wind was picking up with an advancing storm front, and I heard some loud rustling in a tree across the street. To my wide-eyed amazement, a large branch crashed down to the sidewalk and split into pieces. The sidewalk where I would have been at that moment, had I acted like an entitled pedestrian and forced that car to wait for me to cross the street.

Let me mention that part about being happy, again. Really happy.

May 12, 2011

Double the Fun

Every year around this time, employers reach out to the cyclists in their ranks for ideas that will encourage people to give bicycle commuting a try. There are plenty of practical perks that we all need at the office: a safe place to park the bicycle, a place to get cleaned up and change into a fresh set of clothes. Stepping it up a level, a guaranteed ride home (in case of emergency).

Bicycle commuters must fend for themselves 364 days a year. Bike-to-Work Day rolls around but once on the calendar, with ample opportunities to refuel along the way at Energizer Stations stocked with food. It's not every day that we arrive at work to roll under a balloon arch into a festival of cycling. That day was today.

If a sizable chunk of your employee population already cycles regularly to work, and you already reward them with generous benefits (food, a fully-equipped bicycle repair station, donations to charity earned for each commute), you might need to do a bit more to draw them out.

Breakfast burritos. Massages. Smoothies. Baristas brewing potent coffees. Travel-sized bottles of shampoo. Colorful "I biked to work!" stickers. And of course, some cool schwag. A nice touch this year were booths recruiting riders for upcoming charity cycling events. Since I will be riding for Best Buddies again, I wore my 2010 jersey to show my support.

There were plenty of grass-roots efforts leading up to this day. Experienced cyclists offered help with planning safe routes to work. One prepared a lunchtime talk to cover the basics and answer questions. Early in the week, experienced volunteers held a clinic where they performed simple repairs. Regular commuters planned friendly routes from towns near and far, leading "no rider left behind" groups to work. That's where I come in.

Along with a colleague, I guided 10 people on a 23-mile route to the office. Our group ran the gamut from first-time commuters to guys who would ordinarily leave me in the dust. Every year, some of those first-timers get hooked; at least two from last year's group have become more active cyclists (and bicycle commuters). Maybe we converted some this year, too.

Given the distance, some coworkers were surprised to learn that I would bike back home at the end of the day. What could be better than a nice bike ride? Two nice bike rides!

May 7, 2011

Green to Gold

Evidently the local BMW motor club decided to head up the mountain today. I parked my four wheels near the base instead and headed up on two. Given how reluctant I was to forgo a couple more hours of sleep for this morning's early start, I had a remarkably strong day. And eventful.

Not even one and half miles into the ride, my ride buddy for the day dropped out with a mechanical on her still-pretty-new bike: broken shifter. She turned back, I carried on.

Since I was a bit low on red blood cells [having donated just a few days ago], I needed a rev limiter. Anything higher than 160 beats per minute felt hard, so I rode at a comfortable pace.

Halfway up the hill, I chatted with a guy [who weighed a little more than two of me] riding on a very fancy bicycle [which cost four times as much as mine]. Already panting, he was disappointed when I assured him that Mt. Hamilton is not high enough for altitude to be a factor and turned his attention to a sprightly young woman who caught up to us. Accelerating to stay with her, he quickly ran out of steam. She vanished, he stopped, I carried on.

Around mile 14, I approached a cyclist at the side of the road. Broken frame, he said; his chain (and rear derailleur) drooped in defeat. Not an auspicious day for Specialized bicycles.

At the summit, I felt surprisingly ... fresh. I was not ready to be done, and it was a perfect day to venture down the back side of Mt. Hamilton. Soon it will be too warm for that approach to the summit, which is steeper and more exposed. Now, about that helicopter ...

As I descended, a steady stream of Team in Training cyclists warned me about an accident ahead, cyclist down in the middle of the road. More than 20 twisty mountain miles from the edge of San Jose, medical support out there is not straightforward. [Hence, the helicopter.] The first responder (sheriff) passed me. Passersby had stopped a car in each lane to protect the injured rider. I dismounted and walked slowly along the edge of the road, dismayed to recognize a guy who had passed me on the long climb to the top. Very fit, very capable, wearing the team kit of one of the regional racing clubs. Feeling rattled, and unsure where the hovering helicopter might land, I carried on.

The climb back up was less difficult than I had remembered; perhaps, because the temperature today was cooler. Reverend Hamilton's sunny courtyard was mine to enjoy in solitude, allowing me to relax for the long descent. For the day, 7,100 feet of climbing over 50.6 miles. I should feel tired.

Along the way, I stopped and tossed off the road: one foot-long strip of metal, one super-sized pine cone, one substantial D-shaped iron ring, and one large nasty nail. I did not, however, stop to study the small snake curled in a divot on the center line.