February 29, 2016

Leap Fog

Trees silhouetted in dense fog, Saratoga, California
On any given winter morning, it is so easy to decide not to ride. This morning, dense fog. Low visibility. Kinda scary. Should I? Should I not?

Oh, get out of the bed. Don the bright jacket. Switch on the flashing lights (front and rear), and just go.

After persuading my boss to try a different commute, who am I to wimp out?

Day one, last week, he arrived sweaty and sore and somewhat out of breath, but surprisingly enthusiastic. He was already hooked. Instead of stewing, alone in his car, for more than an hour, he had been relaxed and productive on a train. Followed by a few miles of biking (mostly on trails) to the office.

Anxious about the possibility of missing the evening train, which has limited availability, we talked about the importance of working out a Plan B in advance. I shared tips about riding in the rain, the advantage of slick tires (for his mountain bike), and the reason to wear padded shorts and stick with his firm saddle.

Today marked his third trip. “I can't believe I'm saying this, but I can tell that I'm going to want a longer route soon. What if I take the Bay Trail?”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! He's already thinking about picking up a bike more suitable for commuting. Last week, on his second train-plus-bike commute, he arrived home in less time than the trip would have taken that evening by car.

Fog condensed on helmet and glasses, bike in background.
The advantage to following my timeworn route was evident this morning, when the fog was so opaque I worried that I might outpace what I could see. There's a turn up there, somewhere ... Droplets condensed and fell from my visor and rear-view mirror; my glasses were speckled with tiny dots. I looked down to see a layer of mist twinkling on my capri tights.

Hydration is not much of an issue when you can, more or less, drink the air.

Tomorrow? Lather, rinse, repeat. The forecast shows the rains will soon return, possibly spoiling any weekend rides.

A shuttle ride home tonight for me and the bike; in two weeks, daylight savings time will liberate me from the bus. (Cycling the 20 miles home in darkness is just not for me.)

February 27, 2016

The Clean-up Crew

Gray clouds loomed over the hills (where we were headed, of course). It was a leap of faith that the skies would clear. [And they did.]

Field of yellow flowers with distant green hills and puffy clouds, San Benito County, California
I was bringing up the rear, as usual. [Note to self: Ride back into shape. Soon.]

A pond and trees in a small valley, with low clouds lingering in front of distant mountains, San Benito County, California
It was an ideal day to visit some little-traveled roads east of Tres Pinos. Roads that snake through wide-open rolling hills, dead-ending at gates to private ranches. The hills are green, now, and the cattle are fat. Dramatic cliffs pop up in surprising places.

Red rocks and green hills, Quien Sabe Road, San Benito County, California
I regret not pausing to snap a photo of the oh-so-blue sky and green hills reflected on the surface of a pond, with a bull lounging nearby. “I'll stop on the way back,” I thought. But then, some twenty minutes later, a stiff wind rippled the water. A memory, that's all.

Having learned that lesson, I did stop for a peculiar alignment of cloud and hillside.

Clouds rise vertically above a hillock, San Benito County, California
Heading back toward Tres Pinos, I spied not three pines, but three enormous buzzards on the road. One with wings spread wide, the other two picking at a freshly flattened ground squirrel. I slowed; they were surprisingly reluctant to move, and promptly circled back to their prize once I'd passed.

The longest ride I've done in a while: 46 miles, 3,440 feet of climbing. Sleep well tonight, I will.

February 21, 2016


Oak tree with mistletoe, Arastradero Preserve, Palo Alto, California
There is a popular equation in cycling, and it goes like this: Let N represent the number of bicycles you own. What is the value for the number of bicycles you need?

When a friend in our bike club was parting with her mountain bike late last year, I took it for a test ride. The handling, with a front shock, was unfamiliar; so were the shifters. By the time I finished a small loop through the neighborhood, though, it felt like a perfect fit.

The solution for that equation, above? N + 1, of course.

I had been thinking about getting a mountain bike. One could explore more territory, in less time, than on a typical hike. Nice, wide fire roads abound. I had no desire to go bombing down steep trails, sliding over gnarly roots and rocks.

Where to begin?

A few days ago I announced my new steed to a friend who is a mountain biker par excellence. Would she consider teaching me the basics? She pulled out her calendar. Sunday? Game on. [I have the best friends.]

I was nervous. “Don't hurt me,” I pleaded. Herewith, her response for all to see:
@Arastradero, I promise not to:
  1. kill you
  2. lose you
  3. make you feel like toooo much of a newbie
  4. make fun of you for being a newbie (well, maybe)
  5. make you laugh and enjoy yourself; you'll want to schedule the next “session” :)
Remember that bit about fire roads? She led me straight up the Wild Rye Trail to coach me through my first switchback. [Fire roads are boring, I'm told.] I made it. Then I freaked out. What was I getting myself into?

pep on a mountain bike, dirt trail, Arastradero Preserve, Palo Alto, California
Clearly I lived to tell this tale, so she delivered on points 1 and 2. On points 3 and 4, well, I was already thinking I needed a big caution triangle: “First time on a mountain bike, stand clear!” If anything, she insisted that I was more skilled than I thought I was.

Which brings us to point 5, and the time I had to stop because we were laughing so hard after I took the (evidently more difficult) inside line downhill on a switchback. “You're a natural!” she exclaimed. [No way. Not me.]

“This is probably steeper than anything you've been on today,” she explained, as we headed back toward the parking lot. “You'll be fine.” Only when we reached the bottom did she reveal that she'd wiped out on that very descent, cracking her helmet and whacking her head hard enough to be carried out by EMTs. On her first time down that hill.

There was a crash today, and it wasn't us, and it wasn't on the trails. As we approached the road, we hung back behind a woman with a stroller and several kids, and a girl on a horse. Don't spook a horse. We heard the unmistakable clatter of a bike skittering on the road, and my friend shot ahead to help. The horse spooked a cyclist, who hit a bump in the road and went down. Cars stopped, cyclists waved to slow traffic. He was shaken, but not broken; his companions congratulated him on falling well. “You'll have to ride home after all,” I joked. “Best way to flush all the adrenaline out of the system,” he smiled.

Ms. T biking along a dirt trail at the Arastradero Preserve, Palo Alto, California
Quite the workout, it was, for a mere 7 miles ... with 1,040 feet of climbing. Perhaps that was a factor? Just maybe?

Thank you, Ms. T, for coaching me through my first mountain biking excursion!

February 20, 2016

Nature's Way

I sense a letter theme developing: today I bring you the letter “V” (more or less). And a tree that grew, for years and years; a host for moss and other clinging plants of the damp forest. Until it shattered, falling away from the creek. There it will rest, slowly breaking down, long past the day when I might visit no more.

On a day like today, it can be hard to get the layers right. Jacket, or jacket-plus-arm warmers? I shed the latter, but as soon as we were moving I regretted that decision. Nothing a few more watts of exertion couldn't improve.

At the upper end of Alpine Road, our group gathered in the shade. I decamped to a sunny spot a few yards away, but they stayed put. [Go figure.]

Watching some mountain bikers emerge from the trail at the end of Alpine Road, a fellow rider started spinning tales of doom and danger. To which, at the moment, I was not particularly keen to listen. She mentioned being a nervous descender, afraid of crashing. “Don't focus on that,” I advised. “If you're thinking about crashing, you'll crash,” I offered as I accelerated down the hill. Really. Focus on where the pavement is wet. Focus on the slick grime near the roadside construction. Focus on taking a clean line at a safe speed around a blind corner. Focus on staying upright.

1,939 feet of climbing over 24 miles—enough to tire me out.

February 13, 2016

Seasons Change

Daffodils bloom at the base of a giant artificial wreath, Patchen, California
Today's tale is brought to you by the letter “O”. (No, not really.)

The entrance to one of the local Christmas tree farms features a giant artificial wreath, year round. Most incongruously, daffodils were blooming beneath it today. In this break between storms, we're having some (lovely) unseasonable weather.

Yet, just about the time I was overheating and thinking about shedding my jacket, I rode into a downright chilly dip of air. Procrastination has it rewards.

A simple ride in familiar territory, with friends; nothing strenuous or eventful. Apart from the sad carcass of a doe in the middle of the road, that is. Looked like something of a mountain-lion feast, but I'll spare you the details.

A comfortable ride, 31 miles with 2,460 feet of climbing, before the welcome rains return.

February 9, 2016

Blue Sky Daze

Mother Nature smiled upon me and delivered a fresh foot of snow for my first day on the slopes.

But first, there was the matter of getting fitted with new boots. My old ones were, well ... old. Very old. With (at best) a handful of days per season, I don't wear them out. The master fitter at The Sport Loft joked that the new pair would need to last 20 years, as well.

There's nothing like that new-ski-boot feeling, crushing the bones in your foot and leaving you to wonder if you will, in fact, be able to pull the thing off.

No worries. The master knows his trade. K2's Spyre 110 was the boot for me. Low-volume edition.

New boots. New skis. First day on skis in four years.

What could possibly go wrong?

I gently glided downhill to the chairlift. [Whew.] Would I remember how to do this? [Yes.]

I've spent so much time with ski instructors that it seems they are always with me. If only my performance would measure up to their expert coaching! But no matter, I made it downhill. And by the end of the day, I had the confidence to tackle a black diamond trail. (It wasn't pretty, but I got down. Without tumbling.)

Alta is my favorite place to ski. [No snowboarders.] Rock 'n Roll. Challenger. Rollercoaster. Corkscrew. Staring down the steep and narrow Extrovert, my bravado faded fast. [Repeat after me: You're a better skier than you think you are.] Definitely outside my comfort zone, and that's important.

“What's the plan today,” I'd ask my friends in the morning. “Ride up. Ski down.” I haven't heard the familiar words in years. All is right with the world.

Uncharacteristically, we even spent a day skiing together (they're much more skilled than I). They led me on a grand tour of Deer Valley, from Jordanelle to Orion, and back—over and under bridges, past lodges and chalets, and ... wait for it ... no snowboarders!

Sunshine, stillness, snow-covered peaks. Yes, I do remember how, and why, to ski.