July 30, 2011

Revolutionary Thoughts

One advantage of my chosen route today was that it afforded variations on a theme. Just the thing for someone with commitment issues.

The theme: Mt. Diablo, from the South Gate. I thought I might just make a u-turn at the top, expecting all sorts of adversity. I could be too tired. The weather could be too hot. The rest of the group could be too fast and I would not want to ride alone. The whole enchilada was a route of about 64 miles that looped around the mountain (after climbing it, of course) via Morgan Territory Road.

The climb was surprisingly comfortable. The weather was cooler than expected, and there was barely a breeze at the summit. I conceded that it would be a fine day for the full loop, after all. Once I stopped shaking, that is.

Oh, that dreaded final hundred yards to the summit! From the bottom, it looked less intimidating than I remembered; it hurt as it always does. I rode straight up the middle. Seated, as is my wont. [Yes, that is possible.] My heart rate peaked at 186 bpm, a good six beats lower than I remember. The driver of a large white pick-up truck trailing me was completely gracious. Not only did he never honk or crowd me, I'm pretty sure he put the truck in neutral and waited patiently for half a minute or so.

The fastest members of our group were long gone. Not wanting to hold up the remaining riders, I plummeted solo down the hill to gain some time and took a quick lunch break near charming downtown Clayton. My timing was nearly perfect, as the first rider from the group caught me about a mile short of the summit on Morgan Territory Road.

The group got well ahead of me again after I paid a surprise visit to some friends who live along the route. Far from home, I faced the headwinds and braved the last 15 miles of the loop alone. How radical! For the day, 64 miles and a healthy 6,305 feet of climbing.

July 23, 2011

Bloomin' Gilroy

See the ripples on the surface of Uvas Reservoir? See the direction of travel? Embrace the headwind. Today's route was uncharacteristically flat, climbing a scant 2,220 feet over 66 miles. The wind made up for that. [By the way, if climbing some 2000 feet does not sound flat to you, well ... you're not from around here, are you?]

Heading up Croy Road, the aftermath of last winter's massive slide was still in evidence. While there is no imminent danger now that the hillside is dry, it did look quite menacing.

Given the modest amount of climbing, I was able to sustain a pace that kept me from straggling too far behind the group—despite the occasional photographic indulgence.

Our route also included a stretch of Hecker Pass Highway (aiyeee!). The highlight of that segment—apart from living to tell the tale—was a most colorful flower farm.

July 17, 2011

Training Buddies

Anticipating that a mellow recovery ride would be just the thing for today, I had volunteered to help with a training ride for the upcoming Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Audi and support from the Woodside Bakery, cyclists and other patrons were happily surprised to find that coffee was on us: we were working to recruit new riders.

Our plan included a 20-mile training route for registered and prospective riders; this being Bicycle Sunday, I presumed we would head for CaƱada Road. [Wrong. But I did head there later, for good measure.]

Being familiar with the area, the staff appointed me leader of the pack. We had a range of abilities, they noted. I surveyed the crowd. About two dozen riders, some from Team Tibco. [Yikes.] I looked at the tiny scrap of paper that described the route. It didn't make sense.

Oh, the first turn is wrong. It's fine after that. With the exception of the second turn, which was also wrong. But I got the gist: we were meant to do the Portola Loop.

We streamed out of the parking lot, heading gently uphill. I pushed the pace and they were right with me. Recovery ride? What a quaint idea. I did manage to split the pack, but I wasn't concerned because a staff member was riding sweep. A buddy riding with us was thrilled when he caught up to me and stayed on my wheel for awhile, the other riders cheering him on and dubbing him "Speedy."

The first real climb on the route, a foothill near the bottom of Page Mill, loomed large. My legs begged for mercy. I waved everyone past, then easily caught them on the descent. [Whew.]

As we waited for a green arrow to turn left onto Junipero Serra, we were confused by a vehicle to our right. Despite having a green light, the vehicle had stopped and the left turn signal was flashing. The driver was not responding to us. I walked over, motioning to roll down the window. Politely, I pointed out that it was a straight-through lane, and that one could not turn left from there. No response. Your left turn signal is on, I added. I know, said the driver.

The arrow turned green. We turned left. The driver turned left, too, nearly running into left-turning cars from the opposite direction. We stayed safe. Most egregiously, this was a car-for-hire that was transporting a passenger. That company, and the CHP, will hear from me soon. I have a photograph to share.

July 16, 2011

Tasty Toppings

I wanted to stop, of course. On the steepest grades, I pulled my front wheel off the pavement many times. I did not stop.

I tacked across the hill, in places. I watched my heart rate level off. 183? How long could I sustain that? I did not stop.

I kept moving, forward and upward: 12% grade for almost a mile. Just a little farther, I coaxed myself. Tough it out, it's not so steep. Fellow riders encouraged me: That's the crest of the hill, another 200 yards!

When the road is named Scenic Vista, you might guess that you are in the high-rent district. The personal tennis court at the top would be another clue. This climb was our appetizer.

For our main course, we moved on to Hicks. After Scenic Vista, it seemed less steep. Steep, yes. But, less steep. When the power lines came into view, I knew the summit was near. This was, perhaps, the first time I have climbed that side without stopping. Definitely the first time I have passed, and dropped, another rider on Hicks.

My next challenge was dodging a dingbat driver in a deteriorating red Miata. If she passed me once, she passed me four times—repeatedly stopping in the bike lane to play with her iPhone. Put it down, and drive! Or park somewhere, shut off the engine, and text to your heart's delight.

My heart's delight was dessert: rocky road, cookies 'n cream, chopped nuts, chocolate sauce, fresh strawberries and blueberries. A nice offset for the 1600 calories expended on my way to the club's annual ice cream social. That's what I call a balanced budget.

July 9, 2011

Back on Black

Setting out this morning, I was reminded that today was the big day for the riders in Markleeville. In solidarity, I was determined not to falter on my little steep climb and reminisced about 2009. While it did not rival the Sierras, my view was a satisfying reward for climbing one tough hill.

I started with a group of stronger riders; knowing that I could not match their pace, my intentionally abbreviated route diverged within the first few miles. Moments after I crested the summit, a large truck turned down the narrow, curvy road. Timing is everything.

I lingered in sunny solitude before cruising along the ridge to complete my short loop. A small herd of alpacas masquerading as poodles brought a smile to my face. With our recent heat wave, I can imagine that they were grateful to have lost their shaggy coats.

As I returned to the start, I overheard two cyclists on the opposite side of the road:
Hey, didn't we see that woman earlier?
Evidently they were looping in the clockwise direction.

This short excursion (a mere 2,325 feet of climbing over 18 miles) afforded time for afternoon errands, including lunch at a local treasure: The Falafel Drive-in. The line stretched to the street when I arrived. The line stretched to the street when I left. They are the best.

July 4, 2011

Melting on Montebello

The heatwave settled in for the long holiday weekend; summer really has arrived in the Bay Area. One local thoroughfare was so clogged with traffic yesterday that a motorist called out to me:
Is there a parade, or something?
Sort of. A parade of beach-bound cars cutting through town, hoping to save time by detouring off the clogged freeway. And that is why I walked to the farmers' market, and back home with a basket packed with fruits, salad fixings, and flowers.

Then I took a cue from my cat, and napped. When I donated blood earlier this week, my hemoglobin level was running somewhat lower than it has been—and my body balked at the deficit. Correlation? Probable. Uncontrolled experiment? Totally.

I was determined not to miss our club's traditional Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast today, followed by a traditional bike ride to burn off those calories. Despite the heat. Despite running low on red cells.

My goal: slowest time up Montebello Road, ever. With a watchful eye on my heart rate, I ascended at a snail's pace. I did not pass a single rider, but many passed me. Surely they thought I was pathetic. It is especially humbling when the guy riding his fixie passes you like you're standing still. On a good day, I climb the steepest sections in my lowest gear.

Satisfaction at the summit turned triumphant when a couple arrived in a white convertible and saluted us.
You ladies are amazing, biking up this hill!
I want your autographs!
Before crossing the five bridges deep into Stevens Canyon, I envied the families picnicking in the shade and the children splashing in the creek. Maybe I should sign up for How to Relax: Introductory Level. It probably does not entail climbing 3,370 feet on a 50-mile bike ride in 90-degree heat. [Just guessing.]