August 30, 2014

Gimme a Lift

There are two sports in which I enjoy going down hills. One involves a lift that brings me to the top of the mountain. As I made my way to the summit of Morgan Territory Road, I dreamed of a rope tow.

We were looping counter-clockwise around Mount Diablo today, which entails a steeper ascent up the front side of Morgan Territory Road. In the full sun, it felt like my shorts were ablaze. It was just a little past 10:00 a.m. and the day would only get hotter. Our small group splintered early. I joined the faction that planned to climb the lower portion of Mount Diablo. That would be challenging enough.

Never a fan of cycling on Ygnacio Valley Road, I had mapped out a shortcut in advance. Heading into the center of downtown Clayton, I stumbled upon the town's Labor Day party, featuring a display of shiny classic cars. This Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria brought a smile to my face, staged with a drive-in intercom next to the driver's window and a burger-and-fries tray perched on the passenger's window. (The car dates back to the year I was born, and it's in much better shape.)

It turned out that the path in my plan headed sharply uphill. No problem, I thought, I have gears. It turned out to be steep enough that a few steps had been placed along the way. [Surprise!] A short hike brought me to the back fence of an elementary school, and the gate was open. Playgrounds have drinking fountains ... I gratefully topped off my water bottles.

The rest of the shortcut was a big win, following a wide suburban street and the deserted campus roads of Cal State East Bay in Concord to cut off most of the unpleasant climb on busy Ygnacio Valley Road. The shoulder may be wide, but the traffic moves faster than the posted limit—including the tractor-trailers. It is decidedly not fun.

Our counter-clockwise approach afforded some splendid views: first, moving slowly up the wide-open side of Morgan Territory Road and later coming around the back side of Mount Diablo. It also meant that our climbs were exposed to the baking sun, while our descents were shaded. [Note to self: embrace the clockwise route.]

The dry hills shimmered in the sun. Look at North Gate Road—doesn't that just beg to be climbed? Mercifully, there was a bit of a breeze. The higher I climbed, the stronger it became. Don't get me wrong: on a hot day, this climb is no picnic. The local high temperature yesterday was 93F. I made a deal with myself to pause once per mile in the nearest patch of shade to hydrate and get my heart rate down. The road is never steep, but in the heat the best recovery I could manage was 137 bpm.

There is a school near the end of Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard. Evidently, there is also a soccer camp. And so it came to pass that a soccer ball flew across the road, from my left. A fluke, or a deliberate act? I heard only the laughter of boys—no warning, no cry of alarm, no apology. Had it hit my front wheel, I would have crashed. Had it hit my head, I would have crashed. It struck my upper arm with enough force that it hurt, then ricocheted high overhead and to the right. I continued on my way without so much as a glance in their direction. I just wanted to get out of there.

For the day, nearly 56 miles with 4,615 feet of climbing. Mandatory stop on drive home: one ice-cold smoothie. Peaches, mangoes, and strawberries—oh my!

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