June 30, 2012

Deep Blue Sea

The coastal waters of the Pacific never looked so blue. [I was not alone in this observation.]

Five of us opted for a head start on the rest of the group; we knew they would catch us, but were surprised that we did not see them again until we had passed the half-way point. On a route that included roads with names like Smith Grade, Empire Grade, Ice Cream Grade ... you are probably not surprised that we did a fair bit of climbing (5,410 feet).

We paused for lunch in the tiny town of Davenport; with little else along the Pacific Coast Highway for miles, this is a popular rest stop—complete with a roadhouse.

Although we lounged on a patio a few doors away from the roadhouse, the town is steeped in its spirit: We chatted with a couple of women who were biking home to Half Moon Bay, having spent Friday night in Capitola. A curious young woman from Prunedale, with the mien of a lost soul, approached us to learn more about cycling.

But it was the three guys from San Francisco who made the biggest impression. They were on their way to Santa Cruz, having left the city on Thursday. On skateboards.

June 27, 2012

Musical Moonrise

Even a familiar route can play host to a surprise or two. The seasons bring out the blooms on different trees and wildflowers. On every ride, we will surely see a few animals (of both the domesticated and wild varieties). Tonight we expected to see both horses and deer, and we were not disappointed.

We did not, however, expect to hear (and see) a bagpiper—but there he was, facing the waters of the Guadalupe Reservoir near the middle of the dam, his music reverberating through the canyon.

There are occasional rewards for being a sluggish hill climber.

June 23, 2012

On a Clear Day

We couldn't see forever, but we could see the new tower on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, and Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Tamalpais. The sharp-eyed among us spotted the campanile at UC Berkeley. The surface of the bay shimmered in the bright sunshine.

One of our riders had never seen the views from the top of San Bruno Mountain—until today. I have biked up this hill in fog so thick I could not see the edges of the road. On another day, I could see the Farallon Islands from the summit. When I offered to lead this ride for the club many weeks ago, there was no way to anticipate what the conditions might be on June 23.

Another rider, new to this route, inquired about the title of the ride listing (Trains, Planes, and Bicycles). "I understand that you started by taking the train," she said, "but where do planes fit in?" You will see, I replied. One of the things I enjoy most about this route is the element of surprise.

After leaving the mountain, we take a road that appears to head straight for the freeway: 101 South to the left, 101 North to the right? Surprise! The right turn heads south on a narrow strip of land between the freeway and a small body of water backed by hills.

For most riders, the biggest surprise is biking through the airport (San Francisco International). That might sound intimidating, and perhaps a bit crazy. But, we stay on a perimeter road, several levels below the approach to the terminals, and usually manage to enjoy at least one jumbo jet take-off at close range.

Following a picnic along the shore of the bay, we travel south for miles on a paved trail at the water's edge. There are only a few sections, near residential neighborhoods, where we need to cope with people who move unpredictably. I actually enjoy riding this trail. [The brisk tailwind helps.]

June 17, 2012

Straight Up

Ice would have been nice. It was about 83F degrees at the top of Mt. Hamilton by the time I got there. My friends were drawing straws to decide who should be dispatched to look for me.

They know me; they know I am a slow climber. On the way up, I had suggested that they could descend the backside if they got bored waiting for me to arrive, but they were having none of that.

Down in the valley, it was about 10 degrees cooler than yesterday; which is to say, hot. The temperature at the summit was about the same. So much for the forecast.

After yesterday's adventure, what possessed me to climb Mt. Hamilton today? Well, it is past mid-June and I am not ready to end my climbing streak. So far, I have missed only the month of March. (Hmm, I need to double down once before the year is out.)

If you are looking for a good day to climb Mt. Hamilton, mark your calendar for June 16, 2013 (Father's Day). I have a hunch that, like today, traffic will be about as light as it gets on a dry weekend day. Bicyclists outnumbered even the motorcyclists, today.

I was surprised to find some wildflowers, still, near the top. I enjoyed the company of my friends, then lingered a while longer on the patio. After wondering what the SPF rating would be for the salt on my skin, I decided to slather on some more sunscreen of the conventional kind before heading down.

Ten minutes or so into my descent, I caught up to a knot of cars. I did not envy the driver of the minivan at the front, who certainly was not having a good time driving down the mountain. Technically, with only two cars stuck behind him (and one bicycle, of course), he was not obliged to pull over. But, still ... be polite, have some common sense, and pull over.

That is what I did, at Kincaid Road. I could not get a clear line of sight to pass all three of them, and I was not about to ride my brakes and eat their brake dust until the first uphill section (where they would, finally, pull away). I gave them a four-minute head start, and that was enough to be clear of them.

For the day, the usual 4,765 feet of climbing over 39 miles. My fitness has improved dramatically. I completed the ride in virtually the same amount of time as I did in April, but my heart rate was 18 bpm lower today (both average, and peak). That is huge! And, I did this one day after riding 53 miles and climbing 5,525 feet.

Average pace? 6.0 mph on the way up, 16.6 mph on the way down. I wonder what my pace is on the pure downhill stretches, excluding those pesky intervening uphill bits (where it dips to 5-6 mph)?

July is right around the corner.

June 16, 2012

Shade and Solitude

Mother Nature turned off the air conditioning today and the Bay Area baked. Flags told the story: the wind was blowing the wrong way—from the hills toward the sea. The high temperature was just under 103F at my house (in the shade).

What better day to head for a state park? California's oldest state park, in fact: Big Basin Redwoods. And, since a Spare the Air alert was in effect, we rode our bicycles to the park. Of course, there were the usual warnings about not exercising in the heat, so we were careful to wear light colors and drink plenty of fluids, and took a somewhat shorter route than originally planned (53 miles, 5,525 feet of climbing, for me).

Did I mention that it was hot?

I weathered it surprisingly well. My bike computer registered an average temperature of 91F. We had the redwoods and oaks to thank for some shade along much of the route, but waves of heat radiated off exposed cliffs (and the road surface). It was hot enough to make the tar snakes sticky; the first time I hear the buzz of my tires on those, it always gives me pause.

Off the back of the group, I did not appreciate how much I cherished the silence of the forest until we came back together at the bustling center of the park. Loud, annoying people. Shrieking, whining children. I ate quickly, wandered off to admire an enormous redwood, and got a head start on the return climb (eager for peace and quiet). I do prefer to hike this park from the coast.

It was a good ride, albeit slow. I did not feel tired, or sore. I did feel hungry and regretted not bringing more food, but never bonked. Climbing back up Highway 9 on the return from the park, I passed a serious cyclist (look at those wheels!) who was stopped at the side of the road. He must have been hurting, but said he didn't need anything. He never caught or passed me—and there was plenty of time for that, at my pace.

Did the heat make me crankier than usual? [Sounds like a good excuse to me.] Probably not as cranky as the folks who hoped Highway 9 would be a faster route to the coast than Highway 17 today (especially those in the cars that overheated and broke down). Traffic signals control access to two one-lane construction zones on the hill. There was little traffic when we climbed up this morning, but in the afternoon there was a solid one-mile line of cars waiting for their turn at the lower traffic light. This was not surprising, with the light cycling so rapidly that only four or five cars could get through. Even at my pace, I believe it would have been quicker to bike than drive, at that point. Or, to have taken Highway 17.

June 13, 2012

Ride Like the Wind

Heading back toward our starting point tonight, a ride buddy asked if I thought it was windy. "No," I replied, "the air is quite still." We were generating the breeze.

Climbing Sanborn Road is anything but a breeze. Steep hills are always more intimidating when the road stretches up straight in front of you. It was a treat to ride it as the evening cooled down, rather than in the heat of the day, even though it meant tangling with the tail end of the weekday commute traffic. Rocketing back down the hill, though, was the tastier treat.

The hill was tough, but tougher still was resisting the urge to indulge in the tastiest treat of all: an ice cream cone. Dinner was enough. Another family strolls past our table. That looks so creamy, I wonder what flavor? More calories in one scoop than I just burned on the bike? Surprisingly, not true! Aha! Next week I'll know better.

June 12, 2012

Giving Back

Once a year, my employer sponsors a week of global community service. Each employee has the opportunity to pick a project and spend part of a day working in the community instead of the office. The projects are diverse; rather than choosing something related to technology, I gravitate toward Something Completely Different.

The first year, I joined a large group helping out at Sunnyvale's Full Circle Farm. This being Silicon Valley, we had no shortage of ambitious engineers. The group that tackled the irrigation task quickly optimized the trenching and laying of pipes; the rest of us mulched seedlings and planted corn (by hand). We did a month's worth of work in half a day.

The projects expose us to new local places and services. In later years, I weeded and mulched at Overfelt Gardens and cleaned cat housing at the Humane Society.

This year I felt it was time to turn it up a notch and lead a project, and I had an organization in mind: the Youth Science Institute. My colleagues made it easy for me: I had a full team (and a waiting list) as soon as we opened registration.

Students will show up next week for YSI's summer camps; our mission was to clear the grounds of weeds and (of course) spread some mulch around. I felt discouraged as we surveyed the area; weeds have a way of making a place look shabby, and I thought we could make good progress today—but not complete the job.

"We get a field trip, too!" exclaimed one volunteer, as we started with a short tour of the facility and learned about YSI. Then, we set to work.

It is easy to lose track of the time, outdoors. How many afternoons have I spent in my own yard, thinking I would work outside for an hour? Taking a break to rehydrate, I checked the time—only an hour and a quarter had passed? It wasn't even close to noon.

I underestimated the enthusiasm of my hard-working volunteers. We ran out of weeds before we ran out of time, and moved on to spreading mulch and relocating picnic tables for the upcoming campers.

The first time I saw acres upon acres of strawberries along the California coast, with the ripe fruit being pulled by the hands of a dozen or so workers, I had a new respect for the food on my plate. Tired and sweaty, dirty and sore, we had much to be grateful for today: we helped a deserving local institution, we work for a generous and thoughtful employer, and we normally get to exercise our brains at work and our bodies at play.

Did I book an afternoon nap on our calendars?

June 11, 2012

Homeward Bound

I made it home safely, despite meeting an unusually high number of dangerously clueless fellow humans. First, the trail: The guy holding a cell phone to his left ear, pedaling slowly and blocking the lane. The cyclist who planted herself in exactly the worst place on a sharp curve with poor visibility on a bridge; my wrist brushed the tip of her flat handlebar as she stood there saying "Oh! Oh! Oh!" (Had I stopped, the guy behind me would have taken us all down.)

Then, the road: The two drivers who turned right across the bike lane at traffic lights (cutting me off; one without signaling). The cyclist in the bike lane who paid no heed to the red traffic light at a T-intersection (yes, dude, it applies to you) as a green arrow granted me the right-of-way. The guy on a mountain bike (helmetless, of course) who unpredictably veered off the sidewalk into the bike lane without regard for a red traffic light or the approach of another cyclist (me).

Nearly home, the road was too crowded to negotiate the merge across three lanes of traffic for my customary left turn. Having faced enough challenges for one evening, going straight held a certain appeal. Nothing wrong with a little more climbing, is there?

My morning ride was as peaceful as the evening was perilous. As soon as school lets out for the summer, the number of vehicles on the road plummets.

I held up remarkably well, in both directions, considering that I was short on sleep. 11 p.m., midnight ... why I am still awake? Barely dozing off, then snapping back to full awareness. It is fire season ... I smell smoke, but hear no sirens. 5:15 a.m. ... beep beep beep; some vehicle is backing up.

For the day, the usual 39 miles, 925 feet of climbing (having skipped the gratuitous hill climbs en route). Almost back to a normal pace: 14 mph average, this morning! Regular riding pays off.

June 9, 2012

Biking to the Beach

Call me a curmudgeon, but why do I have to wake up at 4 a.m. every year when the DJ for the local high school's all-night graduation party cranks up the amplifier to 11? (I live a mile away and my windows were closed.) This year it was David Bowie and Queen's Under Pressure. Really? A 30-year old song for partying teenagers? "This is our last dance ..." [I wish.]

The song looping in my head on today's ride was a tad more contemporary: OneRepublic's Good Life. We were headed to the beach on a breezy, crystal blue sky day.
This has gotta be the good life ...
Thoughts drifted back to my high school days, and a faded memory of biking to the beach one summer's day with a boy who was ambiguously not my boyfriend. That would have been my longest ride: a flat 17-mile round trip on a different coast. Today's ride would have been unthinkable: 63 miles, none of them flat (4,680 feet of climbing).

The stunned bee that pelted my forehead and briefly clung to my sunglasses did not sting me.
This has gotta be the good life ...
The coast was clear, redwood trees shaded the climbs, a strong breeze kept me cool, the rushing waters of the creek soothed my ears.
Oh yeah, good, good life
A beautiful day, with friends old and new.
Please tell me
What there is to complain about?

June 6, 2012

Transit of Eden

Bicycles traversing the mountain; not nearly as dramatic as yesterday's passage of Venus across the face of the sun. You did not miss the chance to witness that, right? Venus will not pass that way again in your lifetime. It was a thrill to see—with the naked eye (well-protected, heavily filtered) and close up, through a proper telescope. When you spend most of your day staring at a computer screen, watching the transit "live" on the web just does not have the same power.

As many times as I have paused at the summit of Mt. Eden Road, I am not sure I understood it offered a clear view of Mt. Umunhum (until tonight). In the evening light, the Doppler radar sphere and the concrete monolith were plainly visible.

Tonight's after-work adventure attracted two out-of-town guests. Strong riders, they were sharp and funny and very outgoing. My hunch was spot-on: sales executives. Visiting the area on business, they found our ride listing and joined us. That is the power of the web—not to mention a high level of commitment to cycling: They traded their suits for bike gear and joined us for the ride and post-ride Mexican fare, when you might imagine they would spend their evening kicking back in some hotel lounge.

Twenty-three miles, with 1,695 feet of climbing. I struggled up the hills as my legs rebelled at being stressed for the fourth ride in five days. Shape up, I say!

June 4, 2012

Even Odds

4:15 a.m. At just the right phase of my sleep cycle, I woke up. Wide awake. At a most unnatural hour. Despite my best effort not to engage my brain, eventually I could not deny that the sky was getting lighter and the birds louder.

Another unnatural occurrence: Fifty percent chance of rain showers. I peered at the radar map before setting a foot on the floor. A bright green band was approaching the coast; in all likelihood, I would stay dry. Almost as an afterthought,I donned my rain jacket. [Which ensured, of course, that I would not get caught in the rain.]

With my building in sight, a few sentinel drops arrived just as I exited the trail. As I expected, the real downpour came later. First, there was breakfast: Greek yogurt parfait, fresh melon and strawberries, and a mini croissant with freshly ground peanut butter. Next, a videoconference: Here, it is completely unremarkable to be clad in sweaty bike clothes. Finally, time to clean up: A hot shower, soap and fresh towels provided. Elsewhere, any one of those benefits would be treasured by the typical bike commuter. I fully appreciate this, and more.

The cold front having passed through, my evening ride was actually chillier than the morning—and briefly, wetter. A mysterious burst of rain on the trail was, thankfully, short-lived.

A pleasant pair of rides to bracket the workday: the usual 39 miles and 1,000 feet of climbing, including one gratuitous morning hill climb (for the view across the valley). Traffic was light ('tis the season), and there were surprisingly few fellow cyclists on the road. Put off by the threatening skies? Ha! Fifty percent chance of no rain.

June 2, 2012

Resistance Training

It is possible to find some straight, flat roads in the Bay Area (though, mostly this is a hilly place). My average pace on a long, flat stretch today was slower than 10 mph. If you think that sounds more like a hill-climbing pace, you are right. Wide open spaces are windy.

Near Uvas Reservoir, a cyclist heading in the opposite direction recognized me and called out. That explained the steady stream of cyclists on the road—a triathlon event was in progress. With their tents and gates set up, the parking lot was closed (much to the dismay of some passing motorcyclists).

Our club is large enough to support a few distinct subcultures. The long distance riders comprise one such group. As they train for their double/triple/quad centuries, they rarely cross paths with the rest of us. By biking to the start of our ride, they could almost stretch today's 68-mile route into something suitable.

Even though we claimed a head start after lunch, they caught us. Wistfully, I watched their train go by; if only I could hang onto the end of that paceline! Unable to match their speed, 22 miles of headwind was my fate. Determined as I was to head northwest to San Jose, the wind was determined to push me southeast to Gilroy. I was sorely tempted to hop on a number 68 bus ... but I resisted.

The temperature was perfect and the breeze felt good. [Really.] It was refreshing. [Honestly.] It builds character.