October 31, 2011

Ghost Wave

Halloween. Ghosts. Waves? Big, scary waves.

As a cyclist, I can fully appreciate the chasm that separates my performance from that of the pros. I can attack the same hill ... at less than half their speed. I can ski, but you won't find me rocketing down some narrow double-black-diamond chute or dropping out of a helicopter in the back country. I have never tried to surf, but I can extrapolate that a similar gap would separate me from the titans of big wave surfing.

I grew up near the sea. I am comfortable bobbing in the swells and ducking under breaking waves, even body-surfing my way toward the shore. Stand up on a board and ride the face of a breaking wave? No way. Get close to a towering avalanche of water? Absolutely, positively no way.

An armchair adventurer, I relish tales of athletes who thrive on challenges that I would not dream of attempting. Ghost Wave is a fascinating new story that I am finding hard to put down. And I enjoyed a special treat recently when author Chris Dixon visited the Bay Area to talk about the book; a treat that was magnified five-fold by the legendary guys who tagged along.

They completely upended my image of surfers as easy-going, laid-back types. It took me more than half the day to unwind after spending just a couple of hours around those guys. See for yourself ...

You should try paddleboarding, Skindog suggested. [Uh-oh.]

October 30, 2011

Almost, Almost, Almost There

If I climbed this hill every week, would I get stronger? Faster? Both?

For reasons I can't explain, a Cake song started playing on my internal soundtrack—with a twist on the lyrics.
You're almost there
You're almost, almost, almost there.
There was the top of Hicks Road. I completed the climb without stopping, despite pulling my front wheel off the pavement an alarming number of times. Despite having already climbed 1500 feet before heading up the steep grade.

Having come that far, it would be silly not to continue up Mt. Umunhum Road. How else would you get to that climb? Steep in its own right, it seems easier given that one side or the other of Hicks is always the prelude.

The road passes through the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. While biding my time at a re-group with my fellow cyclists, my curiosity was piqued by an official sign featuring the green imprint of a distinctive seven-pointed leaf. In addition to the usual warnings about mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and poison oak, here was a warning for hikers to stay on the trails lest they stumble across an illicit marijuana farm. [There was an early-morning shootout up here in 2005, which did not end well for one of the bad guys.]

I declared victory at the gate, not feeling a need to grind further up the hill to the white-line-that-shall-not-be-crossed. I was not worried about the bad guys; like the mountain lions, I expect they are reclusive and nocturnal. I had simply had enough climbing. At the end of the day, 27 miles, 3,630 feet of elevation gain.

October 27, 2011

Elevator Profile

The shadows grow longer, the weekends grow busier, and the cyclist grows weaker and wider. Opportunities for a round-trip bike commute in (mostly) daylight are vanishing.

It was, shall we say, a bracing start to the day. With the temperature hovering just below 42F, I should have donned warmer gloves. The cold air stung my legs and face. Still, my count of fellow cyclists was typical (more than 30). Notable was a guy wearing perfectly-polished, tasseled loafers and cream-colored pants (with a reflective band on the right leg, to keep it clear of the chain).

Making good time, I included a short gratuitous hill on both trips. My quickest elevation gain was assisted, though. To reach my office on an upper floor, I carpooled. Two people, two bicycles, one elevator car.

Lost in thought on the way home, I heard the clatter of hooves before I saw the deer. Three of them scampered across the road before pausing to study me from a safe distance, uphill. Not much of a threat, this creature, moving so slowly and breathing so hard.

For the day, 39 miles and about 1000 feet of climbing.

October 15, 2011

Are You Slower Than a Seventh Grader?

Photo by Josh Hadley

Slower than a guy on a mountain bike toting his daughter in a plastic seat mounted behind the handlebar?

Slower than a guy on a road bike towing his daughter in a Burley trailer?

In a show of mercy for our selfless Low-Key volunteer crew, the slower riders were ushered to the front of the pack. The announcement went something like this:
Juniors to the front.
And anyone else who thinks they're slower than a 12-year old.
To minimize congestion on the road, we were dispatched in smaller groups at somewhat irregular intervals.

The fastest guys were next; I was about one mile up the road when they sped past. Much of the rest of the field would pass me too, affording more of a sense of participation than I normally get [trailing off the back].

Truth be told, my usual forays up Page Mill Road involve rather wider tires and an enviable level of horsepower. This would be only my third ascent on a bicycle, and my first timed climb. That it would take more than an hour, I had no doubt.

Along the way, my spirits were lifted by so many passing climbers who encouraged me. It's one thing to cheer me along when they are descending, having already finished; it is a true gift to spare even a single word when racing up a hill. This is the essence of a Low-Key Hillclimb, and why I keep coming back for more.

A red Pantera with an out-of-state plate was extremely patient. Without a clear sight line, he hung well behind me on a grueling stretch. As soon as it was safe, I signaled him to pass. Given that there were some 140 cyclists on the road, I imagine he regretted his decision to drive up Page Mill this morning.

A dropped chain at mile 3.5 cost me close to a minute. Nonetheless, I was quite pleased with my finishing time. I ascended 2,035 feet over 8.3 miles, finishing in a tad over 69 minutes. My heart rate averaged 171 beats per minute, peaking at 180 bpm. Evidently I am unwilling to flog myself as hard as I did two years ago.

I know I can do better. The series isn't over yet.

October 8, 2011

Stress Test

Last year, I was a dedicated volunteer for the Low-Key Hillclimb series, having had the good sense to sit out. Consequently, it has been almost two years since I last pushed myself to the limit; once-vivid memories of intense suffering have dissipated.

Sierra Road. It was time. Time to reacquaint myself with the pain. What d├ębut could be more fitting for my Giro d'Italia Maglia Bianca?

I admire runners who can perform at the limit. Maybe, if my life were at stake, I could run that hard. Otherwise, my brain would intervene: This is too hard. Stop. Now. On a bicycle, I must keep moving to stay balanced on two wheels. If I stop on a steep hill, I might not be able to start up again.

Racing up a hill has taught me many things: I can push myself much harder than I had ever imagined. The same hill will be a joy to climb every time I approach it at a recreational pace. And, it is worth having a go at it, even if I will be the last rider to cross the finish line.

Technically, I was not last. One of the able-bodied young men in the field flatted, which put him about ten minutes behind me. I take my victories where I find them: today, I caught and passed a guy in an orange jersey. Evidently he was a ride-along (not registered). Just the same, I dropped him, fair and square.

What is this suffering of which I speak? Panting and sweating for a solid 48 minutes and 10 seconds. Sustaining an average heart rate of 174 beats per minute during that time (peak, 179 bpm). Burning Calories at the rate of 569 per hour. All of that to travel a mere 3.6 miles. Oh, and climb 1,815 feet. [Roughly 500 feet per mile, for the math-impaired.]

If you haven't tried something like this, believe me—you don't know what you're missing.

October 2, 2011

Apple Cider Time

I am beginning to wonder if every ascent of Highway 9 will be memorable.

Late on this Sunday morning, I was passed by a posse of sporty Nissans and a souped-up Miata (bedecked with a truly hideous spoiler). The speed limit is 30 mph and they were behaving nicely ... paced by a pickup truck, as it were.

Evidently they did not behave so nicely once they took the lead.

There are some lovely curves on the way from Saratoga to Skyline, including an enticing pair of 180-degree hairpins. The final hairpin, however, is a bit different. It is sharp and short and marked with a sign that recommends a speed of 20 mph.

When I rounded that bend, the posse was lined up on the opposite side of the road, facing downhill. [Odd.] Six or more young men were standing alongside one car, off the road with its hood up.
Why did the Nissan cross the road?
The punchline would be supplied by the cyclists I met at the top. They heard the screeching tires. They saw the car off the road, in the dirt, after it spun out. Fortuitously, no one was in the reckless driver's path.

We continued along Skyline to attend to some pressing business.

Club members and friends pitch in each fall: apples are picked, washed, trimmed and quartered, crushed, and pressed into fresh cider. With picking and washing well-tended, I tried my hand at the remaining tasks. [With the exception of the pressing, upper-body-weakling that I am.]

That watery stuff you can buy in cartons each fall? Bah! Nothing like the real thing. Not even close.

October 1, 2011

I Will Remember You

I will remember your goofy faces, your sharp wit and exquisite puns, the ease with which you would ride alongside us and snap photos—no hands on the bars. I will remember the joy of shadowing you down a curvy, unfamiliar road at speed, without a care, knowing that you would alert me to any oncoming traffic.

I remember when you flatted on one of the earliest rides I led for the club. You were the president, and a far more experienced rider than I was; I doubled back to stay with you. Never leave a rider behind. You were struggling to add another patch to your tube, on top of what appeared to be a stack of patches. [I did not laugh.] When I offered you a spare tube, you revealed that you had one. [I did not laugh.]

There are so many dimensions to a life. Today, those united in remembrance of you. Wife, sons, mother, sister, brother, college classmate, fellow fans of science fiction and gaming, former co-workers, and so many cyclists. Alternately, we laughed and cried.

We were reminded to remember the whole of your life, which was not defined by the irrevocable choice you made in a dark night of the soul.

Paul, I will remember your friendship.

In desperation, never abandon hope. Seek help. 1-800-273-8255