September 29, 2013

Beauty Sleep

One tree, one head of cattle, golden hills
Why is the ride called “Sleeping Beauty Sunday?” asked a curious cyclist. “Because we're lazy,” someone replied.

Lazy ... yes ... if you think a 44-mile bike ride with some 2,315 feet of climbing is for slackers. We are a bunch of lazy cyclists who sleep in on Sundays and start riding at the decadent hour of 10:00 a.m.

We stretched out like the proverbial elastic band, snapping back together at the top of each hill. At the final summit, I parted ways with the group. Choices, choices ... headwind, or hills?

Along the way, I found a long feather shed by a hawk; I tucked it alongside my saddle bag, but it took flight somewhere on Uvas Road and sadly was lost.

I came upon a motorcyclist, stopped at the side of the road. As I would for a fellow bicyclist, I asked if everything was okay. He had removed his helmet, and was rooting around in a rear compartment. He smiled and confirmed that all was well; he passed me later, with a friendly wave.

Why take a straight, flat route along a busy road (into the wind), when a curvy, scenic route with rolling hills is nearby?

September 21, 2013

Short and Steep

Puffs and streaks of white clouds in a blue sky above the trees
With a 50% chance of rain today, I was glad that the ride I planned to lead was short and local. We picked up riders along the way, heading out with an atypically tiny group (three) and ending up with six. Our starting point made it easy for the other riders to predict where they would find us: we tackled the hardest hill first.

I explained the first climb to a strong newcomer this way: At any junction, go up. Less than halfway to the top of Harwood, she joked “Can I turn around, now?” Ah, but then you will miss the view, I smiled.

Overcast sky, with huge puffy clouds above the Diablo Range
And what a view, today! The skies were dramatic. When I first moved to the Bay Area, I knew that the summer would be dry. What I did not expect was that the skies would be cloudless for months. Uninterrupted blue can be ... well ... monotonous. Not much chance for Bay Area children to lie in a field of green grass, to let their imaginations drift to find whales and dragons in the sky.

Looking at the route we followed, you might think we were repeatedly thwarted in our efforts to find a through way over the hill. But that was not the case—our Sisyphean route was deliberately chosen. Our goal was to climb four little-traveled, dead-end roads, and we took the steepest way to get there. [Of course.]

Our guest rider noted that she could think of a word that aptly rhymes with Arnerich ... I was reminded how steep it gets when I pulled my front wheel off the pavement a couple of times.

The toughest climbs were first, the longest climb was last. After riding through a field of green glass left by some miscreant, one of our riders gallantly posted himself above it to warn the rest of us to steer clear. [A great bike club is the sum of its members.]

As we descended the last hill, the winds were swirling and the clouds were beginning to spit on us. A block from home, raindrops were sprinkling in earnest. The downpour held off, though, until I was comfortably indoors. A perfect day for a short ride.

September 13, 2013

Losing the Light

Moon above Vasona Lake as dusk approaches
The autumnal equinox is nearly upon us; in a few weeks, my round-trip commutes will go on hiatus.

Dark mornings are less stressful than dark evenings; the sky will grow lighter on the way to the office. Dark evenings slow me down—it is too difficult to see, and avoid, rocks, potholes, and sharp pointy things on the road. It is also impossible to establish eye contact with motorists and negotiate the right-of-way. Being lit up like a blinking Christmas tree is still not good enough to prevent a driver from misjudging my speed and cutting me off.

For me, traveling a few local miles in the dark is tolerable; the full 20 miles from the office ... not so much.

This week, I packed in four days of commuting, including today's group ride with six co-workers. They promised to take it easy. “Easy” turned out to be my fastest pace of the week, averaging 14 mph.

I really should push myself harder.

September 7, 2013

Shadows and Fog

Some years ago, the time had come for my mom to downsize. The house was sold, and the utility company sent a representative to shut off the water and record a final meter reading. Looking at the name on his work order, he asked “Do you have a daughter named ... ?”

Bicycle next to ice plant on a Pacific coast cliff at Granite Canyon
Flash back to [a long time ago]. There was a student in our 8th grade class, “M,” who was old enough to drive. He had some sort of learning disability; there was no place for him in our high school, nor did he belong in the special education classroom. He was mainstreamed with us, though the age difference must have made it awkward for him.

There was another student in our class who was ... bored. Insufficiently challenged. Our teachers understood this, and so it came to pass that I tutored M. My best friend and I developed lesson plans, and part of our education was teaching M.

That same M who now stood before my mom, with a decent job and a family. I had made a difference in his life, and he remembered.

Light fog above a rocky cove along the Pacific Coast Highway
There was no organization called Best Buddies then, but that is who we tried to be. That summer, I did more tutoring and worked with special needs children. I would choose a different path for my career, but with the indulgent support of my friends I now ride each year to support the work of Best Buddies.

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge—the seventh ride for me. With some racers and former Olympians at the front, the century riders set off at a blistering pace. I lost contact with the lead group by mile five, despite sustaining an average speed of 18.6 mph over the first ten miles. At the one-hour mark, I had covered 17 miles and climbed some 580 feet. Only 83 miles and 5,750 feet of climbing to go ...

Distant hill pokes through the fog along the Pacifc coast
The fog toyed with us as we approached Big Sur, casting shadows as it drifted across the road. It filled the canyon at Bixby Creek, obscuring the iconic bridge. By mile 60, it hugged the coast and swallowed the view. For the last 13 miles, I regretted two things equally: the lack of a taillight and the lack of a tailwind. I hammered that stretch as best I could, averaging 15 mph and sweeping past four very tired guys. As I closed in on the fourth, he rose out of the saddle in a vain attempt to defend his position; the other three never gave chase. [You know a guy is spent when he lets a woman pass, unchallenged.]

Nighttime swimmers in the Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle
Yet, I was speedy only in my own mind—I was a full mile per hour slower than last year, and well off my best pace (14.3 mph in 2009). I managed to roll across the finish line in time to claim a quick massage before getting cleaned up and heading for the traditional barbecue at Piedra Blanca Rancho. I was fortunate again to close out the night partying on the patio behind Casa del Monte. And of course, frolicking in the Neptune Pool. One of the Castle's resident bats circled overhead before dropping down for a quick sip of the pool's fresh spring water.

There is no better way to see the California coastline than from the seat of a bicycle. Next year, I'll be back: same charity, same coast.

September 5, 2013

A Day on the Bay

A day away, a day to play, a day on San Francisco Bay.

Winged road bike atop the Bike Hut.
We boarded our boat near the Bike Hut.

Sailing toward the Marin Headlands
For some, the first time on a sailboat.

The Sea Wolf, a Santa Cruz 50
For many, a first visit to Angel Island.

Team New Zealand's America's Cup catamaran
For most, the first close encounter with a crazy hi-tech
America's Cup boat.

Original eastern span of the Bay Bridge (left), replacement span (right)
For all, the first passage beneath the newly-completed eastern span
of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

A day to unwind with a team that works (and plays) well together.