October 18, 2014

My Buddy Cameron

October 18, 2014
The day that shall ever be known as:
The Day I Passed George Hincapie 
Staging at the base of the Washington MonumentOn a bicycle. At speed.

There was a price to be paid for this, and that was the price of a crash. [More about that in a bit.]

I had a special opportunity to ride a second time for Best Buddies this year, and so I found myself in Washington, D.C., staging with the rest of the pack near the base of the Washington Monument before dawn on a loaner Cannondale bicycle.

We rolled out and turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, paced by a lead car at a nominal 12 mph. They told us that the roads would be closed for us for the first 10 miles. They didn't tell us that one of the first roads was under construction.

Cameron Wurf approaching in the unpaved lane, seconds before I crashed. (Narrative Clip photo)
It was a small group, and the pack was spread out. I made a turn onto a surface that was prepared for paving, ground down and rough. The lane to my right was paved. In the pre-dawn light and pre-dawn brain fog, I decided to cut over to that lane.

Bad idea. Bad, bad, bad idea. The edge of the fresh pavement was too high and my angle of approach too shallow. My front wheel caught the lip and I was summarily slammed to the ground. Before I could get up, a second rider mirrored my mistake 20 yards ahead.

Shouts rang out. “Rider down! Rider down! Another one!”

As luck would have it, the Narrative Clip affixed to the back of my helmet captured the scene a few seconds before I crashed.

“Are you okay?” At least three guys stopped to help; a medic confirmed that I didn't need his attention. A tall rider in full Cannondale kit took charge (Cameron Wurf). My cell phone and water bottle having skittered away, it was the proverbial yard sale. My body cushioned the bike; apart from scuffing the tape at the end of the bar and dropping the chain, the bike was unscathed. My body fared less well: one shredded arm warmer and skinned elbow, a few scrapes, and ribs that would hurt more as the day progressed. Bruises would appear later, but nothing was broken.

Horses grazing in a Maryland pasture.
I climbed back onto the bike. The pack was long out of sight. “They won't wait for us,” Cameron said. “Do you mind if I push you?” With his hand on my back, we were off in side-by-side tandem. I was pedaling moderately hard and he was hardly breathing. “I wish I had a power meter on this bike!” he said with a laugh. He related a story from a (fallen) European pro, who had said this is what it feels like to be on EPO. [Being pushed.] Wow. We were moving, soon reeling in the stragglers. When the back of the pack was in sight, I thanked Cameron, expecting him to pull off.

Bird flies overhead after I pass on a long straight road in Maryland. (Narrative Clip photo)“I want to get you to the front,” he insisted. We passed some guys who knew him. “Hey! She's helping you! That's cheating!” they joked.

The closer we got to the front, the more tightly packed were the riders. I can ride in a pack, and Cameron has experience in the peleton, but these were riders of unknown provenance. “On your left!” I called out as we whirred past.

How did Cameron, who started the day at the front, end up behind me in the first place? [Evidently, he crashed, too.] And when he said he wanted to deliver me to the front, he meant The Front.

As we edged into the gap between the pace car and the lead riders, George Hincapie was at my right elbow and then ... he was somewhere behind me.
Maryland Scenic Byway C&O Canal Tour sign with Best Buddies route sign
Those early miles through D.C. and along the eastern shore of the Potomac were a blur. I lost any advantage at the first rest stop when I visited the medical tent for some attention to my raw elbow.

Before mile 20, the bike's bottom bracket was making a racket. It sounded like a loose ball bearing clattering inside with every turn of the crank. [Ugh.] Would I have to abandon? I wasn't confident that a quick repair was possible, and the time lost would force me to be sagged forward. I soldiered on, and for much of the ride the errant ball settled into some happy place and fell silent.

Sunlit yellow leaves on a distant hillside under a gray sky in VirginiaBy mile 30, the wind became a factor. It was blowing hard from the west—the general direction for today's adventure. My ribs hurt on the side that took the impact. I had been nonchalant about this century, which involved less climbing than September's. What was I thinking? The prospect of another 70 miles of rolling hills suddenly seemed daunting. I kept going.

Rolling rural road with changing leaves in VirginiaWithout a cycle computer, I had no way to judge my speed. Without a route map, I had only the yellow signs along the course to follow. My sole reference points were placards at each 10-mile mark, and the rest stops. I calibrated my effort by my heart rate and cursed the headwind. I couldn't drink while riding—the impact of the crash had shattered the hard plastic lid of my water bottle.

By mile 50, I calculated that I was flirting with the edge of the ride's 4 p.m. cut-off time. If you were still on the course at that time, the broom wagon would sweep you up (and drop you off near the finish, so you could ride ceremoniously across the line).

Colorful leaves on tall roadside trees in VirginiaThe course rolled along back roads through the woods of Maryland and Virginia. Autumn was changing the color of some leaves, but the theme of the day was green—an unfamiliar sight for those of us visiting from parched California. There were vast green lawns, meticulously trimmed in patterns by men on riding mowers. You don't see acreage like that in the West unless it's a ranch.

By mile 70, I was winning the endurance game. Few riders had chosen the 100-mile route, and they were mostly the fast guys. There weren't many fading riders on the course for me to catch, but I did pass some. A couple of ride officials trailed me at a courteous distance, but I got a gap when one flatted. SAG vehicles cruised by, some loaded with bikes and riders.

W&OD trail in VirginiaWhen I reached the W&OD trail around mile 89, I knew I was golden. I would follow this for some 10 miles, turning off close to the finish. The broom wagon couldn't touch me now! I relaxed.

I crossed the line at Morven Park around 4:30 p.m. The announcer was there to greet me. “She crashed in the first mile,” he explained to the people standing nearby. “Where's my buddy Cameron?” I asked. “He's been worried about you. I'll find him for you. You need a hot shower. Right now!” he commanded, assessing the chilled bare skin alongside my knee.

101 miles and some 4,560 feet of climbing, approximately 3500 Calories burned (and fewer consumed).

My buddy, I expect, had left the party hours before I arrived.

Thanks, Cameron, for one of my top ten moments on a bicycle.

October 17, 2014


Where in the world is pep?

Not California—someplace green. A city with mass transit that works: Minutes from the airport to my hotel downtown. A city surprisingly popular with cyclists, with a robust bike-sharing program. A city with walk signals timed to allow a full 60 seconds to cross a street.

U. S. Capitol building with its dome under restoration, Washington, D.C.
A city of monuments: Our nation's capitol, Washington, D.C.

Best Buddies tent next to the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
Given the opportunity to bike another 100 miles for Best Buddies, I packed my bags and headed east. I spotted the staging area from the air as our plane descended past the Washington Monument. From the hotel, it was a comfortable walk to check in and get fitted on the loaner Cannondale I'd ride tomorrow.

In the late afternoon light, the walls of the Smithsonian's Castle were redder than red. I haven't visited D.C. in more than a decade, and now I regretted that I didn't have some time to be a tourist.

October 12, 2014

Hunting and Gathering

Cyclists loading their plates with the main course in a shady backyard.
It wasn't all about the bike today. Instead, we were on a treasure hunt of sorts—traveling from one spot to another for a multi-course meal. Each rider contributed a dish: appetizer, salad/side, or dessert. The club provided an assortment of dishes for the main course: ham, turkey, lasagne, green beans, corn.

The route for this annual progressive dinner changes a bit each year. After dropping off your contribution at a central location, you pick up a route sheet and pedal on to reach each location at the right time.

Turnout seemed a bit lower this year, perhaps because it was another hot day. Those who normally stick to the flat routes were surprised by a bit of a climb to earn their salads. Perched high on the hillside, we could peer down through the trees to a popular trail along the creek and the busy highway below us.

The last stop always presents a challenge. The desserts are set out in waves: If you're too eager about the first wave, you might not have room for something special from the next ... like the cake with burnt almond frosting emblazoned with the name of our club.

I covered 38 miles with a scant 1000 feet of climbing—about the same as a normal round-trip commute day. Unlike a normal commute day, I was not calorie-neutral ... not even close. [Yum.]

October 11, 2014


Out on this coast for business, my brother dropped by for a brief visit. I've often felt that he's not particularly impressed with California. We don't share many interests; how would I entertain him?

Flipping through the weekend listings, I realized it was Fleet Week in San Francisco. Heavy traffic, big crowds ... two reasons I've always steered clear of this event.

Coit Tower, Fleet Week banner, and a palm tree, San Francisco, California
Research suggested that BART was the way to go. From the Embarcadero station, we walked along the waterfront. After peering at the not-yet-commissioned U.S.S. America (from afar), we wandered through the farmers' market at the Ferry Building. For lunch, we found the vendor with the longest line [deservedly so] and enjoyed some fine porchetta sandwiches. He managed to overlook the arugula.

HMCS Brandon and HMCS Yellowknife, Pier 19, San Francisco, California
Apart from the U.S.S. America, and one ship being towed through the bay, we were puzzled to see more Canadian than U.S. naval vessels. People stood patiently on epically long lines to tour some out-of-sight ships, and we guessed those must be some of our own.

The airshow was underway as we made our way along the waterfront, seeking a good vantage point. We paused at Aquatic Park to marvel at the acrobatics. I expected the lawn to be packed; it wasn't. We slipped into a gap at the water's edge, inching forward into the second row as others moved away.

Patriots Jet Team in formation over San Francisco Bay, California
Trailing red, white, and blue smoke, the Patriots Jet Team warmed up the crowd. As two jets split into opposing arcs, I smiled. I realized they would trace a heart in the sky, but a third jet surprised me by piercing it through.

Three Patriot Jets trace a heart and pierce it, San Francisco, California
To the east, the Blue Angels cruised by in the distance as another acrobatic interlude was wrapping up. “They're gonna come straight at us—watch!” We had scored perfect seats. I saw the smoke before I saw the jets; all six soared right over our heads.

Four Blue Angels streak across the sky, San Francisco, California
They flew straight at each other and rolled sideways to pass. They flew high. They flew low. They flew straight up. They flew upside down. [How long can they do that?]

Blue Angels fly inverted over San Francisco Bay, California
And then, as a couple of them distracted us with some tricky low maneuvers over the bay, a pair of Hornets flirting with the speed of sound roared low over our heads.

The expression on my brother's face? Priceless.

October 8, 2014


I'm not keen on biking long distances in the dark.

Vasona Lake, looking toward the boat dock in early morning light.With daylight savings time still in effect, I have felt discouraged by the ever-later sunrise. At the far end of the day, there isn't much light left for the long ride home, either.

I could afford the luxury of a slightly later start today; no rush to get cleaned up in time for a morning packed with back-to-back meetings. [Yay!] In the afternoon, I could leave early enough to arrive home at dusk.

A later start, though, means heavier traffic. What if ... what if I cut through the local park, instead? Having optimized my route, and being a creature of habit, I had never tried this variation in the morning. It would add some distance and subtract some climbing.

Trees with red and yellow leaves along the shore of Vasona Lake.
How did it turn out? Well, you be the judge. [I'm biased.] The surface of the lake was as smooth as glass, and the changing leaves [yes, in California] were vibrant in the early morning light.

Tradeoff: traffic for tranquility.

October 5, 2014

Loop de Loop

We returned to the neighborhood we visited last week, this time tracing a pair of loops instead of a pair of dead-ends. I looked forward to a peaceful climb through the redwoods on a hot early fall day.

I didn't expect to share the road with a steady parade of cars heading up Black. But then, if I wanted to avoid the single-lane controls on Highway 9 and the beach traffic on Highway 17, I might drive up Black to Skyline, too.

Little water left in the Lexington Reservoir, Los Gatos, CaliforniaA driver coming down the hill in a white pick-up truck reinforced the stereotype by blaring his horn. Because he doesn't like cyclists? It made no sense, we were going up the hill in the opposite lane. Similarly, he leaned on the horn again when he returned to pass us as we were still climbing. One cyclist in our group put a positive spin on it: If they're honking at you, at least you know they see you.

Having completed our first loop, we circled the Lexington Reservoir. The water level was alarmingly low, and it will get lower still. [Keep watering those lawns, people.]

At some point in the Eastern Sierras, my bicycle started putting out a loud creak with every rotation of the crank. “Is that normal?” my fellow cyclists would ask. Post-ride, I sought out a recommended mechanic at a bike shop in town. He no longer worked there, and the shop didn't have the right-sized part (bottom bracket) in stock. [Why is this so hard?] I had better luck at a second recommended shop in a nearby town: Not only did they have the part, they fixed it on the spot and applied our club's discount without my asking for it—they saw the affiliation on my jersey.

Taking stock of the day: 20 miles with a mere 2,520 feet of climbing, one quite happy cyclist, and one quiet happy bicycle.