August 29, 2012

High on a Hill

The climb was steep, but the view across the valley was worth the effort invested. Following the group on a route new to me, I paused for a brief recovery when my heart rate reached 180 bpm and the end was not in sight. [The end of the road, that is.]

Curiously, the path to the left in the photo appears to be part of the Novitiate Trail on a map, but it traverses private land before entering St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve and was clearly marked "No Trespassing." That was okay, though; hiking, we were not.

My legs protested this after-work foray, but I managed not to fall too far behind the rest of the group. Our route was long enough to press against the limits of daylight; our evening ride series will soon close as summer drifts into fall. On this particular night, it was a treat to slip home through the back streets after dinner in the light of the (almost) full moon.

August 27, 2012

Detoured to Distraction

Some detours are lovely (A Ride in the Park).

And some detours are good for you, like a gratuitous hill climb (not to mention the view).

But some detours are downright treacherous, as I learned today.
New principle of safe bicycle commuting:
Beware the impromptu detour.
A public works crew has been layering a new surface on one of the roads I frequent. Never mind that the new surface is annoyingly irregular, making for a most unpleasant ride. That, alone, is a temptation to shift my route by a block or two.

This morning, temporary detour signs were posted during the morning commute hours as they prepared to work on the next section. Should I just ride through? They were not far along, a bicycle would not be a problem. Should I veer onto the sidewalk and slip past? Or should I do the right thing, behave like a vehicle and follow the detour?

I chose Door Number Three, and I feel lucky to tell the tale. There is a fourth option, which I highly recommend:
Steer clear of the official detour and improvise your own.
The problem with the official detour, even in a low-traffic area, is that the motorists are discombobulated. They are befuddled. Their routine has been disrupted, they are not familiar with the adjacent streets, and they are running late for work.

And thus I was nearly mowed down (twice) by a driver who (1) disregarded my right of way, (2) appeared to be proceeding straight but was not, (3) made a sudden u-turn in the middle of an intersection, and then (4) abruptly decided to parallel-park.

Had I chosen to tap on his window, he would have jumped out of his skin. I am sure he never saw the cyclist [that would be me] in the neon-yellow jacket with the flashing white light on her bike's handlebar and the flashing red light atop her helmet.

I shall not pass that way again.

August 25, 2012

Goats Gotta Eat

And girls gotta ride.

On paper, the road to Henry Coe State Park looks no more difficult than climbing Mt. Hamilton—and it is shorter. Why does it feel so much tougher on the bicycle?

To avoid the unpleasantly busy stretch of the lower climb, we prefer to wend our way along Thomas Grade. From there, the next mile averages a grade of about 4.1%. Here is why the next three miles are so trying: the gradient is about 7.2%. This time, I was mentally prepared for the final challenge, the painfully steep-but-short segment that rises after a cattle guard in the last mile.

Although this was a club ride, I spent most of the day riding solo. After the group pulled away from me on the Coyote Creek trail, my pace was good enough to keep them in sight but not good enough to catch them. When I reached the herd of brush-clearing goats, I threw in the towel. I would rather fend for myself and enjoy the sights.

Before he left me in the dust, I had a chance to chat with a club member who is lucky to be alive after suffering a heart attack out on the road a few months ago and undergoing bypass surgery. This is no average unhealthy American: he has completed the Furnace Creek 508 (look it up) more than once. Then, as today, he was riding his fixed-gear bicycle. "You could ride one too," he encouraged me. "Only if it were geared as low as my lowest gear," I replied. "But then you would spin out here [on the flats]," he explained. Exactly. Later, he gave me a cheerful wave on his way back down the hill; I, of course, was still climbing.

After lunch, I considered my options for returning to the start. Direct-but-congested ride on busy roads? Flat-but-dull route along the Coyote Creek trail? Hilly-but-scenic return past the reservoirs? Oh, why not.

When asked how I was doing by a younger couple on the gentle climb, I responded without hesitation: "Tired." "You don't look as tired as we do," they offered. Once I passed them, they had a target to chase and picked up their pace. As I pushed up the last little hill, they ran out of gas and slipped out of sight. The reward for my hard work was to have the final curvy descent to myself. For the day, some 59 miles and 4,085 feet of climbing.

August 24, 2012

A Ride in the Park

Friday is here, bringing with it the opportunity to join another group commute. Six riders today; alas, we will never rival SF2G in size, but we turn heads nonetheless. For most cyclists, commuting by bike is a lonely affair.

One of the guys probably wished he was alone today, after a rather spectacular crash. I think he took a turn too wide, clipping a pedal on the curb. His bike landed on the sidewalk; miraculously, he disengaged and stayed upright, carrying his momentum across some grass and into the shrubbery. (No bushes, bicycles, or bodies were harmed in the process.)
Now, that's a hand signal!
one of the guys exclaimed, after I stopped a Mercedes in its tracks. Approaching an intersection where we would follow the straight-through lane, this driver was accelerating to overtake us on the left—with his right turn signal flashing. Never mind that we were taking the lane. Never mind that the traffic light was red, anyway.

It is prudent to send a clear message to an errant motorist. I held my ground, firmly thrust out my left arm to telegraph "STOP," and twisted left to stare him down. The dark lenses in my sunglasses shielded him from the full force of my disdain, but he got the memo. He yielded, then took his proper place in the right lane.

Since the pre-dawn sky had treated me to a view of Venus rising, I was surprised when we rode into the fog zone. Blue skies reappeared, though, at the end of our route, and lingered through the day.

Having managed a respectable pace on my return route, I chose to deviate through a scenic county park instead of skirting along its border. As I dawdled on a bridge over the lake to watch some egrets and a black-crowned night heron, the resident flock of Canada geese took flight above me.

I am confident that the commuters idling in the Friday-evening freeway-jam had a less rewarding trip home.

August 18, 2012

The Following Leader

Unable to lure any of the usual suspects to Mt. Hamilton for the August Ascent, I decided to list it as a club ride. The schedule for today was light; I managed to attract a convivial group of 14, including a pair of Frenchmen and two riders who were climbing Hamilton for the first time. Not to mention the guy on the "three-speed" single-speed bike. (1: Sitting. 2: Standing. 3: Walking.)

I warned the group about my slow uphill / fast downhill pace, but another rider called dibs on being the last one to the top. (He won.)

There is always something new to discover on the mountain, even when you are biking up for the seventh time in eight months.

Surprise #1: Road construction signs. Some stretches have already been re-paved; most of the problem spots have been marked for repair, including my particular (least) favorite. This year, I finally figured out why I never miss it on the descent: it is a nasty little gully that extends diagonally across the entire lane, right past the apex of a sharp switchback. Now it is labeled "3A." Hurray!

Surprise #2: Fire damage. A large grass fire had blackened the hills about halfway up, near a ranch. Closer to the summit, a smaller fire claimed trees and brush on a steep drop right next to the road. A survey marker has been driven into a small boulder at this spot.

Surprise #3: Lick Observatory has kindly modified their public drinking fountain: It now includes a spigot that is the perfect height for re-filling our water bottles. Less fuss, no muss!

For me, the tricky part about leading this ride is the descent. I need to look after my riders, which means I should really be the last one down the hill. The solution? Give them a generous head start. The last three riders included a couple who would stay together, and a very capable guy who insisted that I need not wait.

The couple left first. I lingered, chatting with the last rider until he left. I refilled my water bottles. I had a pleasant conversation with a couple enjoying a picnic on their way to Livermore (for his 40th high school reunion). Despite growing up in the Bay Area, she had never been to the top of Mount Hamilton until today.

On my way down, I passed an ambulance and a paramedic hurrying up the hill. At that moment, it was a huge relief to know that all of my riders were ahead of me. I did not see any incidents along the way, so the emergency must have been on the back side of the mountain.

About halfway down the hill, I caught up with my last rider. I was convinced that I would not catch the other couple ... until I did. They were stunned to find me back at the starting point; they had not seen me pass. Now, that's fast!

August 15, 2012

Sleepy Ride

I confess that I felt more like taking a nap than climbing on my bicycle at the end of the day (which explains why I felt even more sluggish than usual). Or was there something in the air? A glance in my rear view mirror at one point caught a fellow cyclist in mid-yawn.

A short and moderate route attracted a large and varied group; several of the more capable riders graciously backtracked on the hills to look after our stragglers.

Daylight fades faster now, and the sun slips earlier behind the hills. We visited the century-old estate of a former senator, given for all of us to enjoy as a public park. With more hills to climb before sunset, though, we could not linger at Villa Montalvo tonight.

We were tired and we were slow, but we were out there on our bicycles.

August 12, 2012

Perspirate, Evaporate

Eons ago in Biology class, I learned that the human body produces perspiration to cool off; at the time, that seemed like nothing more than a puzzling theory. In the summertime, this east coast empiricist observed that perspiration dripped off her face and ran in a river down the center of her back; it drenched her clothing and made her feel sticky and miserable.

When the humidity is 90%, there is not much evaporating going on.

For the west coast empiricist, perspiration is a textbook experience. There were no water boys on Metcalf today, but a slight breeze on the exposed climb helped lift the moisture off my glistening skin. Despite the blazing sun, the core of my body felt cooler as an underlayer wicked the wetness away. Coasting down a stretch of road at 44 mph felt like a veritable blast of air conditioning. Theory in practice!

The southernmost segments of the Coyote Creek Trail (officially designated COY14 and COY15) were new to me, and I was glad to follow the leaders. Without local knowledge, good luck staying on the trail: intersections, spurs, and road crossings are unmarked.

Our ride leaders, training for an upcoming excursion, bracketed our small group on their low-geared touring bikes—complete with fenders, racks, and loaded panniers. The rest of us were just riding for the fun of it. [Really. Climbing Metcalf is fun. Really.]

Will I embark on a bicycle tour some day? Decidedly ... maybe.

August 10, 2012

Let Me Eat Cake

With back-to-back bike-to-work days, I earned it. [The cake.]

Today's jubilation was not related to biking, but one of the parties was conveniently located along my homeward-bound route. There were two county Paramedic vehicles standing by, and since the guys were not busy I finally satisfied my curiosity: Why are the Paramedic vehicles so large, closer to the size of a fire truck than to an ambulance?

It is simple, really. They are fire trucks. (Back on the east coast, the fire department and the first aid squad are typically separate organizations.)

With fire stations located to respond to calls within five minutes, they can get to the scene of an emergency faster than an ambulance might. First, they added EMTs to the fire crew; later, they switched to paramedics.

Speaking of the east coast, I recently returned from a short visit. I enjoyed the fireflies and thunderstorms; the mosquitoes and humidity ... not so much. When I stepped out of the air-conditioned car at the airport, my glasses fogged up.

Pleased to return to my regular routine, I was eager to get back on the bike. After a leisurely solo commute yesterday, this morning I fell in with the Friday crowd. Averaging 14.5 mph, I did my best to hang with the boys without pushing my limits. Two days, four rides: 80 miles, 1,725 feet of climbing, some 2100 Calories burned.

Happy 125th Birthday, Los Gatos! Thanks for the cake.