October 28, 2012

Saddle Up

It happened that a fellow cyclist was organizing a group ride today, to support his fundraising for a Light the Night walk. It happened that he chose to send the group up Mt. Hamilton. And it happened that I had not yet climbed the mountain this month.

I will admit some apprehension. The climb? No problem. It was the descent that was on my mind.

As I neared the summit, riders were already streaming down. I caught sight of a pair about a mile from the top and ... where were they? They should have passed me.

I rounded the corner, having just missed witnessing the crash. One rider was down, off the road in a shallow rock-strewn clearing carved out of the cliff. "I looked down," he said, regretfully. "On a curve." Lying on his right side, his hand repeatedly probed a couple of his left ribs. His buddy pulled out a cellphone, and I wished that I were a faster rider to reach the group at the top.

At the observatory, bikes were being loaded onto the SAG vehicle to head to the rescue. I briefed them on what they would find.

The air was clear enough for a rare sighting of the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. It was easy to linger in the warm sunshine on a perfect autumn day.

It was not so easy to banish the fresh image of a crash on the mountain.

How many more curves, how many more descents, will it take to get my groove back? More than 50,000 feet of climbing (and descending). More than 850 miles. More than all of that, to wipe out one single memory—fractions of a second long—the feel of my bike sliding out beneath me.

October 26, 2012

Six Wheels

As the mid-Atlantic coast battens down for a wicked hurricane-blended "Frankenstorm," out here on the Pacific coast we are enjoying some balmy late-fall days.

It was chilly when I dropped off my car for some minor service this morning, but I was prepared. As they busied themselves with paperwork, I busied myself with my bike and was ready to roll out by the time they were done.

Having thus boosted myself forward on four wheels, it was a short and flat 12 miles to the office. Commuting on my road bike has a very different—almost devious—feel. Riding to work is so strongly associated with the heavy feel of my loaded steel hybrid, and my nimble carbon road bike is associated with playful recreational outings.

One look at the wheels on that horse-drawn cart conjures a ride I would not envy. Today, it was just one element of the d├ęcor for our afternoon Halloween party. Some people spend the day in costume (and, in character), which leads to some unexpectedly entertaining meetings. Superheroes, video game characters, zombies, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz ... and one cyclist whose best effort involved colorful bike socks printed with ghosts and candy corn.

October 14, 2012

Progressive Dining

This being election season, I will first point out that a progressive dinner has nothing to do with politics.

Our bike club holds one of these events each fall, taking the aphorism "We bike to eat" seriously. Organized cycling events fuel us with rest stops every 15-20 miles; today's event was all about the food.

For the occasion, I actually cooked (rather than opting for my inherently lazy solution of selecting some creative salad from the take-out case at the local market). I found a well-reviewed recipe for Cranberry Couscous Salad, which I adapted slightly. The reviews were spot-on; it was a hit!

Having just returned from an ambitious cycling tour, the thought of driving to the start of today's route seemed, simply, wrong. It is surprising what can fit into one of those lightweight cinch bags—two 7-cup plastic containers holding a couple of pounds of couscous salad, for example. It would not have been difficult to carry them to the start of the ride (12 miles), but I took advantage of an offer by a nearby rider (5 miles) to drop off our food at her place (for transport by car).

Many of our rides take us into rural areas on remote roads, and wildlife encounters are not uncommon. Cruising the suburban neighborhoods of San Jose today, we were in for a few surprises. A hive of honeybees attached to an orange tree. Two dozen turkeys strutting their stuff.

We picked up route sheets at the first stop (which would also be last), and headed out for appetizers. The club set up bike racks at each home, and they were as full as I have seen at a typical bike event rest stop. Careful not to overeat early, we continued on our way to the next home for salads. At each stop, we enjoyed plenty of conversation and the chance to catch up with riders I have not seen for awhile. Then, streaming out onto the route to the next home, there were always groups to join or follow.

Fittingly, the main course included turkey.

The fourth, and most important course, was dessert. Apple pie. Lemon tart. Chocolate cupcakes. The disadvantage of biking to the start was that I could not afford to linger at the last stop, as the sun would soon be dropping behind the hills.

The advantage of biking to the start was that I could not afford to linger at the last stop.

I took the uphill route home, since that was most direct. For the day, 59 miles and 1,750 feet of climbing.

Bike to eat. Eat to bike.

October 7, 2012

Hard Pressed

You can find the strangest things on the road.

Black Road seemed steeper than I had remembered; was that the aftermath of yesterday's trip up Montebello, or the influence of so many gentle grades in Corsica?

It was on one of the steeper pitches that a long, shiny piece of metal caught my eye. Not good for somebody's tire, I thought, as I passed.

Be the change you want to see. Even when that's inconvenient.

I stopped, walked back, and tossed it off the road. [What, you expected me to pack it out?] It was a sturdy, pointed skewer from a rotisserie—a good 15 inches long. How did it land in the uphill lane of Black Road?

There were more helping hands at the cider party this year. Ravenous when I arrived, I sampled many of the snacks that we had all contributed before taking my place at the table, trimming apples for the crusher. The crusher kept ahead of the press, and the slicers kept ahead of the crusher. Plenty of cider, all around.

Just as the rest of our little group reached the top of Black for our descent, a truck turned onto the road. They went ahead; I gave the truck a five-minute head start, not wanting to ride his bumper all the way down.

Halfway down the hill, I found our ride leader on her cell phone at the side of the road. A car was parked nearby; the driver and his son had corralled a stray dog. Evidently I had seen his buddy, a skittish black Lab, weaving up the hill. At that point, I was more concerned about being chased than I was about attempting a dog rescue in the redwood forest, and I did not intervene.

Dog number two had a collar, but no tags. Damp and muddy from playing in the creek, he was also trembling a bit. He was well-fed and well-behaved, wagging his tail enthusiastically in response to "Good dog!" After many phone calls ("Animal control doesn't work on Sundays." "That's not in our jurisdiction."), it seemed the county sheriff might dispatch someone to pick up the dog. Eventually. They were kind of busy.

And so we waited. Our leader hiked up the road a bit, checking to see if anyone knew the dog. One woman had seen them in her yard earlier in the day (but called no one). A passing motorist delivered an unflattering opinion of the sheriff and suggested we let the dog run free.

The sheriff did not let us down. He called a county park ranger, who made the long trip on back roads to find us. Ranger Flint was a kind and friendly man; he would take the dog back to the park, where they have a couple of kennels and even some dry dog food.

Be the change you want to see.

Even when that's inconvenient.

October 6, 2012

Monte Bello

What attire could be more fitting for the first Low-Key Hillclimb of the season than my newest jersey, Mont Ventoux?

The last time I set out to climb Montebello, my rear derailleur cable snapped. New cables stretch, they say; these have stretched, and stretched, and stretched some more. The net result was that I had few usable gears (again); I fiddled with the barrel adjusters as best I could, to ensure that my lowest gears were attainable. I need to enroll in Bicycle Mechanics 101.

Over the years, I have accepted that the best way for me to support the Low-Key Hillclimbs is in a volunteer capacity. I was persuaded, though, to ride today. My bicycle was delivered earlier this week, with plenty of time to reassemble it. No excuses.

The only rider I caught and passed was a guy on a mountain bike who was not part of our event. [Sigh.] My finicky front derailleur would not shift onto the big chainring, which meant I could not use the less-steep segments of the climb to full advantage.

Coming out of the initial steep section, a rider in a team kit passed me and commented "Wow, you could pop a wheelie on that!" With my heart rate at 182 bpm, I was breathing too hard to emit even one syllable in response; he laughed. "I'll take that as a yes!"

Why am I doing this, again?

Photo by Luther Pugh
Nearing the summit, I enjoyed a steady stream of encouragement from descending riders. Some recognized me and called out my name; at least a dozen cheered me on. "Good job!" "Bravo!" "Well done!"

That is why I am doing this, again.

The Low-Key crowd includes some of the finest people you would ever want to meet.

October 3, 2012


There are some things I had never considered doing—until I did them.

Visiting Corsica, for instance. It is a place I had simply never thought about.

Or, pounding hot steel on an anvil. I have seen demonstrations, but never imagined that one day I would get some hands-on experience.

With some colleagues, I had a lesson in blacksmithing at a place called The Crucible. There, you can learn to create all sorts of things. I had been hoping for the class on neon, but that was not to be.

And so it was that I applied myself to the fabrication of a wall hook, with a decorative twist.

For the brute-force elements of this project, I was disadvantaged on two fronts. First, I lack serious upper-body strength. Second, even a small amount of hammering will aggravate an old injury to my right arm; being right-handed, blows delivered with my left arm hit the mark only approximately.

It was impressive to watch how quickly our instructor fashioned his hook. A few whacks with a hammer and the point of his hook was tapered. Many whacks with a hammer and the point of my hook showed some evidence of deformation.

How did our Bronze and Iron Age ancestors figure out how to do any of this?

I had help with the brute-force parts, but had no trouble executing the finer tasks—curling the tip, forming the curve of the hook, twisting the shaft.

I am proud to report that no body parts were harmed in the process: no smashed fingers, no bruises, no burns. I am even more proud of my finished product!

Responsibility for planning our next outing falls on me. Where should I take the guys? [I have threatened them with a quilting bee.]

October 1, 2012

Back to Work

After a multi-week cycling adventure, what is the best way to return to work?

Why, on a bicycle, of course! Is there a better way to catch the setting, almost-full moon in the early morning sky?

It has been a bit disconcerting to come home and find that things are not as I left them. Leaves are changing color and falling off the trees, and an autumn heat wave is blasting us.

Still in thrall to jet lag, last night I only half-heartedly prepared for a regular morning commute. Would I be wide awake at 4 a.m., again?

Jet lag, be gone! I woke up at a normal, but still dark, hour. On the road, after a month away, I even remembered some of my latest route optimizations.

Upon arriving, my breakfast choice would have been all-too-familiar to my fellow cyclo-tourists: yogurt with honey and granola, croissants with strawberry jam.

I did not expect to see my road bike before Thursday; FedEx delivered it before noon. Should I reassemble it and ride it home? I could ride the commute bike home on another day.

The temptation was great, but I resisted. There was work to be done.