June 25, 2011

Time for Tam

Having climbed three of the four major peaks in the Bay Area (Diablo, Fremont, Hamilton), today I conquered the fourth: Mt. Tamalpais.

I was riding in the second annual San Francisco Cycle for Life event, raising funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. At registration, the number they assigned to me just happened to be the year of my birth (an auspicious sign).

This was a very small event—about 150 riders spread over two routes, 35 and 75 miles. I saw only three other women tackling the long route. (The woman in the leather shoes, knickers, and blouse evidently opted for the shorter route on her pink bicycle with the fenders, racks, and basket.)

Fast Freddie Rodiguez led us out, and what a good sport he was. Having learned the importance of starting near the front in an attempt to stay in contact with the pack, there I was, riding with Freddie.

Cruising past Crissy Field, Freddie fished his cell phone from his jersey pocket and drifted left. Phone call? No. He wanted to take pictures of us!
I can do this, I'm a professional.
We all laughed.

On my way up the mountain, an elderly passerby remarked:
You've got big ones.
In that compliment, he was referring to a particular anatomical part that I (of course) do not have. A sensitive part that some of the guys around me were complaining about, when they thought I was out of earshot, as we bounced along the rough and bumpy roads.

Alone with the fog and the towering trees on my slow ascent, I heard the loud buzz of engines approaching from the other side. It was a sound not pleasing to my ears. I switched off my video camera, expecting a string of motorcycles to fly past. In that, I was wrong. I switched the camera back on. Some were part of a group that is organizing to raise funds for a good cause, too. But my ears are tuned to a deeper roar.

Ostensibly doing this ride with a team from work, I wore my logo jersey. A cyclist from Wells Fargo started chatting with me.
I love Google Maps on my phone!
He stayed with me until we reached the summit road, then diverted to a restroom. I descended toward the coast.

In Stinson Beach I met a couple of cyclists from our club, heading south on the last leg of Sierra to the Sea. I knew I was having a great day, despite a fitful night's sleep, when I saw the road sign "Jenner: 45 miles" and thought "Hey, that's not so far ..." But, I stayed the course.

Biking up Mt. Tam at a recreational pace? Not difficult. Negotiating a safe route through busy little towns? Much more challenging. Farmers' markets. Tourists. People parallel-parking SUVs, more or less badly. In the tiny hamlet of Nicasio, I supplemented my rest stop fare with a cupcake from a bake sale benefiting the local fire department (our first responders), but left before seeing the bride and groom emerge from St. Mary's church.

The route back to San Francisco snaked through one charming town after another, largely following Bike Route 20. Fairfax. Ross. San Anselmo. Larkspur. A passing cyclist greeted me:
Hey, I know you!
Not well enough to know my name, thankfully, since I was drawing a total blank on who he might be. In the population-dense Bay Area, what are the odds that you will cross paths with anyone you know on a bike ride, miles from home?

The greatest challenge of the day loomed ahead. Not the strong cross winds gusting off the Pacific. Not the short steep climb out of Sausalito. It was ... the bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge. The west sidewalk, reserved for cyclists, is presently closed during construction. Traversing the west side against the flow of wobbly tourists on Blazing Saddles bikes is hard enough. On the east side, add pedestrians to the mix, walking in every unpredictable direction and stopping randomly to snap photos. In picture-postcard weather, it would be best to dismount and walk.

The only turn I missed was the last one. I zig-zagged around buses, cars, and people to exit the parking lot at the other end of the bridge, but had to puzzle out the proper way back down the hill to our starting point.

Another beautiful bicycle ride. With the same amount of climbing as last Saturday's route (4,280), but spread over some 76 miles, I managed an average pace of 12 mph. Not too shabby.

June 18, 2011

From the Middle

Some leaders lead from the front, some from the back; today, I was somewhere in between. Faster riders were off the front, slower riders trailed at the back. With a group of 16, I could barely keep track of everyone (much less remember names). Luckily, familiar faces conferred some advantage. I was amazed when we all came back together at the final re-group point, especially given that some riders had bypassed the toughest climb of the day.

There were more vehicles and fewer cyclists on Old La Honda Road than usual. On narrow, twisty roads it can be wise to play traffic cop. I thrust out my left arm at a key moment to discourage a pickup from passing me as another vehicle approached from the opposite direction. Collision averted.

A collision was perhaps not averted somewhere to the south on Skyline, though. Heading north at 30+ MPH, I was focused on an SUV waiting to pull out from a side road. Did she see me? Could I stop? Just then, a pair of emergency vehicles sped past in the opposite lane, sirens wailing. When the third one appeared, the traffic ahead of me pulled over to stop and my braking skills were summarily tested. On a wet section of pavement, to add to the excitement.

Always follow at a safe distance. And do not panic.

Bear Gulch West was longer, but less daunting, than I remembered. Maybe it was the onshore breeze? No bears, but we did find longhorn cattle lounging among the redwoods; happily, they were on the other side of a fence.

4,280 feet of climbing over 46.7 miles on a gorgeous day for a bike ride. Maybe I can retire the down comforter, at long last; summer may be here soon.

June 11, 2011

Chillin' on Calaveras

What a relief to trade the hazy, hot, and humid northeast for cloudy, cool, California.

We headed straight for Old Calaveras Road, and without a warm-up I really struggled up the steep grade. Once I reached the top, the toughest challenge of the day was behind me; climbing the renowned "wall" of Calaveras Road was nothing in comparison to that.

The ups and downs, twists and turns of this route never fail to delight. No sign of the resident bald eagles, but I did see (and hear) a Western Meadowlark at close range, perched on a roadside fence post.

We also saw a freight train at close range, providing ample time for an impromptu re-group on our way to lunch in Pleasanton. Later, loading my gear into the car at the end of the ride, I would leave a curious dad speechless when I described our route for the day. If 48 miles sounded impossible to him, imagine what he thought of my response to his question about my longest ride.

In the end, the sun broke through and a fine time was had by all. My biggest smile of the day, though, was reserved for the electronic sign that registered my speed near the base of the last descent: 35 mph. That was precisely the speed limit, and I was oh-so-pleased to comply.

June 6, 2011

Predator, Prey

The waves were alive, with the splashing of fish. Which mandated that we chart a new course, post haste.

We had set out for a nice summer boat ride, with a plan to venture out of the river and into the Atlantic Ocean to watch the salvage of a fishing boat that had wrecked a month ago. Approaching the scene, we were surprised at the number of boats bobbing offshore on a Monday afternoon. Why were they paying little heed to the tall crane on the large barge that was lifting a ragged hull from the water?

The salvage operation was not the main event. There were thousands of fish around us, a massive school swirling and breaking the surface of the water. Which meant one thing: they were desperate to evade something bigger, something that was driving them toward the shoreline.

We sprang into action. Fishing poles and net were pulled from the cabin. Tackle boxes were liberated from a cabinet. No need for bait: Cast a line into the swarm and enlist a live one.

The next plan that changed was dinner. Main course: Striped Bass in Agrodolce Sauce. The recipe calls for farm-raised fish, for which we happily substituted our fine wild specimen. Approximately 28 inches in length, it weighed in at 28 pounds.

The local newspaper featured a story about fraud in the fishing industry, where inexpensive species are deliberately mislabeled and marketed as higher-priced, more desirable types. These days, it is a rare privilege to look your food in the eye. I know what I ate.