April 28, 2012

Calaveras Cognoscenti

As we approached the turn to climb "the wall," not one (but two) cars made a U-turn and headed back toward Milpitas. At that moment, I knew that today's trip along Calaveras Road would be one to remember.

Big orange signs warn that the road is closed at the county line. And that is true ... on weekdays. The Powers-That-Be appreciate the popularity of this route for cyclists, and they kindly sweep the construction zone and re-open it every weekend. Spelling out such details on a sign could get, well, complicated. Let's just say that the drivers who turn back are exactly the type of driver with whom we would rather not share this road.

Earlier in the week, my ride partner suggested that we lead an "impromptu" ride today, and we tossed out an announcement on the club's email list. We knew that two other riders planned to join us, and expected a small group. (Surprise! Twenty-one!)

The reservoir shimmered under a vivid blue sky. With the late spring rains, the hills are still emerald green and the wildflowers still in bloom. With the passing of each dry day, the colors will fade; today we would enjoy this valley at its peak.

We invaded downtown Pleasanton for lunch, fanning out to explore the Farmers' Market and blending into the crowd on the plaza. On this day, not a single rider regretted that we would make a U-turn of our own to return on Calaveras.

I dawdled so far behind the group that it seemed I could not catch them, slow climber that I am. A photographer with a very long lens was set up to view the bald eagles' nest; I stopped to peer through his viewfinder. At the base of "the wall," a motorcyclist hesitated; I did not. By the time he chose to turn right, I had enough of a lead to keep him at a distance. Then, one by one, I rocketed past the rest of our group and led the way back to the start.

Smiling, one guy remarked: "I think I know which part of the ride was your favorite! I couldn't catch you. I tried."

One mph over the limit is all it takes to make the electronic sign flash at the base of the hill. Good to know.

April 21, 2012

Hot Ham

Forecast: Unseasonable, with record-breaking high temperatures. pep-cast: Headache, with no appetite. [Could it be ... the heat?] But, I had made a promise to ride up Mt. Hamilton today. And we are tough women.

Rounding the corner to start the climb, a hand-scrawled sign about finding a goat and a dog brought out the poet in my ride partner. Herewith, a collaboration by Taylor and pep:
There once was a goat and a dog
Who went off to find their friend hog.
They found a fritter
But could not twitter,
So they went home instead to blog.
A 21st century limerick for the rural fringe of Silicon Valley.

There were fewer cyclists than usual on the mountain. [What, put off by a little hot weather?] Apart from two stokers on tandems and a mom who rode up alongside her husband towing their toddler, we were the only women.

The heat did exact its toll on me. Over the last six miles, my pace steadily dropped (5.4, 4.7, 4.3, 4.0 miles per hour). One turkey vulture swooped low for a closer look. Suitable lunch? No, still moving. For the day, the usual 39 miles and some 4,805 feet of climbing.

Climbing Mt. Hamilton is half the challenge; for many, descending it is the bigger half. Taylor had only ascended Mt. Hamilton once before, followed by descending the back side. Being an experienced mountain biker, I figured the long, twisty ride to the bottom would not intimidate her.

When we reached the first descent, I had my answer. My ride partner quickly became a distant speck. In front of me. That, ladies and gentlemen, is no mean feat.

April 18, 2012

Wednesday Workout

A fellow cyclist recently confessed her image of hell, which went something like this:

The Devil opens the door to a huge room, filled with stationary bicycles as far as the eye can see—the best models one can imagine, all gleaming and new. "Choose whichever one you want to ride!" he offers, gleefully. [For eternity.]

As I left the office today, I walked past a group laboring hard on their gleaming spin cycles. I was planning a spin, myself: Up some hills.

An after-work ride is not part of my regular routine (unless I happen to be commuting back home). It was fortunate that I faced a short ride to meet the group, because I managed a couple of false starts before I pulled myself together. Oops, forgot my vest ... Oops, forgot my gloves ...

Our route for the evening was a decent challenge that was virtually in my backyard. In other words, I could easily tackle it any evening, on my own (but, I have not). Riding with a group provides the motivation I lack, evidently.

A short ride (17 miles), with a respectable 1,630 feet of climbing. I pushed the pace much harder than I would have on my own. Surrounded by trees pushing out bright new leaves, descending in the warm rays of the setting sun, startling one wild turkey off the road ...

There is no stationary bicycle in this picture.

April 15, 2012

Spring Springs

Spring is the season for Soda Springs. The sun was shining, the springs were flowing, and the late rains had coaxed some wildflowers into bloom.

Having spent Saturday as a Tierra Bella volunteer, Sunday was my day to ride. Before tackling Soda Springs Road, we headed up Aldercroft Heights—unexplored territory, for me. The public road ends at San Jose Water Company property, protected by the usual loops of razor wire atop a chain link fence festooned with the usual warning signs.

Inexplicably, there was also a streetlight planted among the trees (in the dense shade, illuminated). The base of Wrights Station is little more than a mile away, on the other side of the fence, but you can't get there from here. A security guard in a pickup truck headed down the road as I climbed back up. Did we trigger a camera somewhere? How disappointed he would be to find a bunch of brightly clad, middle-aged cyclists loitering at the end of the road.

The public portion of Soda Springs is another dead end. The top of Loma Almaden is little more than a mile away; you can't get there from here. The grade of this road is amazingly linear, essentially uninterrupted at 8.2% for a five and a half miles. The lower slopes offer the best vistas; the road ends in the trees at a surprising altitude of nearly 3,100 feet.

With few landmarks, Soda Springs feels like the climb that will never end. Trees, blind corners, more trees ... repeat. I was ready to be done long before I reached the "500 feet to end of road" sign. With less than 200 feet to go, I discovered that I had unintentionally completed the climb without shifting into my lowest gear. Incredible!

The ascent is a test of willpower; the descent is a test of braking power (and nerve). For the day, 21.1 miles, with 3,575 feet of climbing.

April 7, 2012

Tierra Bella Redux

It is almost that time again: the annual Tierra Bella bike ride is a week away, and today was the day to pre-ride the course (for fun, and to take note of any problems along the way).

With my normal ride routine disrupted by illness and bad weather, I seriously doubted whether I could complete the 100k route. My usual ride buddy has similarly suffered, and I was relieved when he suggested that we should pause after the first loop to assess whether we should tackle the second.

Under the watchful eyes of the sheriff's department, a community service crew was hacking at weeds in the parking area at Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park. The porta-potty was evidently in need of some serious whacking. While I was in it. Whatever their particular crimes, they were quite the motley crew. It seemed prudent to look the other way; they, however, stared at us without compunction. Hmm, any bike thieves among them?

At our rest stop near Gilroy Hot Springs, how could I not think of Paul? I can still see him there, last year, feeding us cookies and puns. Memories can be sticky, that way.

I trailed my ride buddy for most of the morning, but as we headed down a long straight toward our decision point, he became a distant speck. [Uh-oh. Running out of steam.] He was done; I was determined. He turned left; I turned right. Another 25 miles, or so? The pedals on the bike go round and round ...

In the last stretch, I passed a woman like she was standing still. Not bad, she had been ahead of me all day. Soon some century riders whizzed past, inviting me to hop on their train. With traffic lights ahead, I calculated that I could conserve my energy and still catch them, at my own pace. The payoff was a nice draft, for a mile or two.

My longest ride of 2012, to date: 64.7 miles, with a mere 2,230 feet of climbing. I hope the weather will be as lovely for our guests, next Saturday!

April 1, 2012

Ped Power

There were plenty of soggy Cinderellas yesterday, but I was not among them. With strong winds and a 100% chance of rain, I stayed indoors.

I was looking forward to biking on one of my favorite roads today, but that plan fell apart. Short on sleep, I was not up for an early-morning start some 65 miles away.

Still, I could not waste such a gorgeous day. I set out, on foot, to polish off some errands. Herewith, I share some sunny Sunday afternoon mysteries.

  • When pulling over to fuss with your navigation system, why would you choose to block the entrance to the local police operations center?
  • Behind the wheel of an Audi R8, why would you choose to drive through Vasona Park?
  • Out for a stroll, why would you choose to carry three identical pens in the pocket of your Hawaiian shirt?

    The park was teeming with people, and the trail was as chaotic as ever. People strolling, roller-blading, cycling. Dogs on long leashes. Kids on scooters. I intervened to help a dad who was struggling to moderate, simultaneously, the downhill speed of one child on a plastic trike and one child in a stroller.

    Canada geese are a year-round nuisance, making a mess of the fields. One scofflaw's [off-leash] little dog gave them a run, but the effect was fleeting. Send in the coyotes!

    I felt like royalty, commanding traffic to obey my every whim. Press the big button and post haste, all the drivers endure a long red light while the walk signal counts down. Pedestrians rule in California.

    Errands accomplished: 7.7 miles, four stores, one ATM machine, one county park, and lots of sunshine.