January 27, 2013

Toasty Toes

Toasty toes and tingly tips. (Fingertips, that is.) Another chilly day on the bike.

A reasonable person in sub-prime condition would not spend a cold January morning biking up the steep side of Hicks Road. But today was the club's annual luncheon to thank those of us who led rides last year, and it was inconceivable to eat pizza without burning some calories in advance.

Sleeping in seemed like the better option. Cleverly, I had talked a friend into riding with me—I had to get out of the bed.

I was altogether unconvinced that I could power myself up Hicks. Should I declare victory when I reached the dam? Having made it that far, surely I could at least ride to the bridge.

Having lured myself to the bridge, I carried some speed to begin my assault on the steepness that is Hicks. With two short stops to lower my heart rate, I made it. Another rider looked at my rear cluster and observed "That's not really a climbing gear. I add a tooth every year," he joked.

Twenty-five miles, 2300 feet of climbing, and some mighty tasty pizza.

January 21, 2013

Where the Sun Don't Shine

It was a cold morning, and heading deep into a narrow canyon seemed less than enticing; but that was my plan for the day. With the thermometer hovering near the freezing mark, I revised my attire. Wool jersey, wool socks, thermal tights, booties, serious jacket and gloves. [There, that feels better.]

Given a comfortably late start for this ride, and a route that would circle back toward home, it made good sense to bike to the start. Good sense in a frigid-air kind of way.

We met the first deep pocket of cold shortly after entering the canyon. Eyeing frost-coated leaves along the roadside, I focused on the road surface. Bridge Freezes Before Road echoed in my brain. In this dead-end canyon, there is little need for signs. My cycling companions were chattering about the hazards of black ice as I studied the haze of white frost on the bridge. Above us, a patch of snow lingered on the rocks. Snow? In Stevens Canyon?

When did the last storm pass through? Certainly, it was more than a week ago. This part of the canyon must trap some really cold air. Climbing gently along the creek, the rest of the road was wet, and muddy—but thankfully, not icy. December's heavy rains had triggered some large slides. Occasional patches of sunlight were a welcome surprise; I was eager to find more. I was not eager to socialize (and cool down) whenever we regrouped.

I slowed on Mt. Eden as something clambered down the hillside toward me. Too bold for a coyote ... it was a fawn! Mom was waiting on the other side of the road. They calmly looked me over before continuing on their way.

I suffered up the steep hills, but I made it to the top of every one. Endurance, I have. Strength, I have not. Sheer ornery determination, I have.

Thirty-six chilly miles, with 2,350 feet of climbing. One look at my bike and you would think I had been off-roading. So much for yesterday's thorough cleaning. Lather, rinse, repeat.

January 19, 2013

What Am I On?

I am on my bicycle.

Celebrating a friend's birthday. Cruising down a coastal trail, hugging the shoreline of Monterey Bay. Riding through drifted sand, following the paved path up and down the dunes. From the heart of artichoke country, past Cannery Row and Lovers Point. Along the famed 17 Mile Drive, past the unnatural greens and sand traps of Pebble Beach. Into Point Lobos State Reserve, and back again. Sixty-four miles, with a challenging 2100 feet of climbing.

I am the antidoper. I had a pint of blood extracted this week. Not for my own benefit—not to boost my performance on a bicycle on some future ride, but to help save the lives of people I will never know. When my oxygen-starved muscles spiked my heart rate to 189 bpm climbing an unexpectedly steep hill in Carmel, I stepped off the bike and walked the last few yards.

We stopped for a treat at a French bakery, and it was a chance encounter that many of us will remember about this day. A beautiful elderly woman, impeccably dressed, stopped to chat with us. She was spry and quick-witted, and eager to encourage us to keep riding our bicycles. She talked about the freedom it brings, and shared fond memories of girlhood cycling adventures in the Black Forest. Some riders in our group soon engaged her in speaking German and French. We were speechless when she revealed that she is 96 years old.

Riding back to our starting point, I reflected on the cognitive advantages enjoyed by the multi-lingual. I thought about our freedom to ride. No entrance fees for bicycles on the 17 Mile Drive. No entrance fees for cyclists at Point Lobos. We coasted past a line of idling cars waiting for others to exit on an over-capacity day; no entry delay for bicycles.

I basked in the bright sunshine of a California winter's day—on my bicycle.

January 12, 2013

No Excuses

It is cold, not even 40F. The roads are slippery from a short, late-night downpour. The rear tire on my bike had gone flat. I am still a bit congested. My ride buddies shun the cold even more than I do; I bet they will stay home.

But, what if they don't? I suggested the route; I should not renege.

I bundled up: wool jersey, fleece-lined tights, serious winter cycling jacket, thick wool socks, booties. The roads will dry. The tire stayed inflated overnight. I tucked an extra package of tissues in my pocket.

Convinced I would end up riding alone, I signed in with the leader. Much to my delight, both ride partners materialized. We were all a bit dazed by the cold; the temperature never reached 50F. If that does not sound uncomfortable to you, you are not factoring in the effect of wind chill: self-generated, with an assist from Mother Nature.

We agreed to follow the most modest route, 35 miles with a mere 795 feet of climbing. My endurance was well-preserved, but my muscles are sore. (My last bike ride was 49 days ago!)

Oh, and about that flat tire. It had a slow leak, and the last time it went soft I was convinced it was punctured. The replacement tube (supplied by a fellow rider) also had a slow leak—a bad patch. Re-inflated, I could not find a leak in my original tube, which seemed willing to hold air again.

Still, there was a lesson to be learned about my tube. Specifically, about the Presta valve on that tube. It has a removable core. The next time I unscrewed the valve cap, the core came with it. [Accompanied by a rather dramatic release of the pressurized contents of the tube.]

The loose core explained the slow leak. Lesson learned: Know your valves. Make it a habit to point that thing at the ground, lest you unleash this pressurized little projectile in a most unfortunate direction.

[Like, your eye. Or, a roadside thicket, never to be found again.]