September 26, 2016

How Accidents Happen

When I bike to and from a commuter shuttle, the most direct route is on a busy thoroughfare with three lanes in each direction.

In the morning, there is little traffic and the biggest threat is from the drivers who run red lights. Every day. During the evening rush hour, biking the same route is a death wish: vehicles dart in and out of parking lots, change lanes, speed, and run red lights. Every day.

In the evening, I go out of my way to travel on low-traffic, residential streets. I do pass a couple of back-parking-lot driveways, always with care.

I saw the woman in the giant white SUV and slowed down. I saw her looking only to her right as she turned left out of the Whole Foods parking lot.

There has been a long thread recently on a cycling mailing list at work about engaging with drivers who do stupid things. The prevailing sentiment is: Let it go. Say nothing.

The woman in the giant white SUV spoke first. “I'm sorry. I didn't see you.”

“Please look,” I replied in a firm, but even, tone of voice.

“I'm sorry,” she said again.

“Please look,” I replied.

“I apologized twice, you don't have to be a bitch about it!”

Now, that's rich.

If she had mowed me down, they'd call it an accident. She probably wouldn't even get a traffic ticket, much less be charged with so much as involuntary manslaughter. And then she'd get on with the rest of her life.

I, on the other hand, would not get on with the rest of my life.

So please look. In both directions.

That's what I learned in Driver's Ed, albeit in the last century.

September 18, 2016

B-Day Ride

The friendly young clerk in the local market asked me what I was planning to do this weekend. [No, it wasn't a pickup line; he's young enough to be my ... well, let's not go there.]

Behind Lick Observtory, Mt. Hamilton, California
“I'm going for a bike ride tomorrow.” He smiled, but when he asked ”Where?” he wasn't prepared for my answer: Up Mt. Hamilton. “To the top?!” he asked, incredulous.

Of course, silly boy.

I had a birthday recently, and climbing my favorite mountain seemed like a good way to celebrate. When a club member listed a ride for today, even though it was much earlier than I would normally start, it seemed ordained. One downside of the early start was that, heading east, we were riding into the sun.

One of my regular riding pals joined me (no small sacrifice, at such an early hour)—and further surprised me with some lovely flowers, which elicited birthday greetings from the rest of the group.

Moon setting above the smoggy valley, viewed from the lower slopes of Mt. Hamilton, California
Sunday is the better weekend day for climbing Hamilton, as it's less busy. I was surprised that a few motorcyclists were also getting an early start, and even more surprised by cyclists already coming down the hill. Did they start before dawn? Maybe; the moon was nearly full, and the skies were clear.

The rest of the group was embarking on a century ride, and we wished them well. It would be a hot day; just doing Hamilton would be enough for me. A fellow cyclist pointed out that “just” doing Hamilton wasn't exactly sitting on the sofa playing video games, as it's nearly 5,000 feet of climbing.

Grant Lake and golden, oak-studded hills, near Joseph Grant Park, Mt. Hamilton, California
There was an uncommon amount of roadside junk: faded sofas, broken furniture, large pieces of rusted equipment. My guess is that some authority has hauled this detritus out of the ravines for pickup. Hopefully soon, since that sort of stuff is a magnet for more.

I've seen a lot along this road, but today I spotted something I'd never found before.

Right there along the edge of the road, its pink ribbon caught on some brush, was a Mylar balloon. A Happy Birthday balloon.

What are the odds?

pep with a Happy Birthday balloon atop Mt. Hamilton, California
I tugged it free and tied it to the back of my helmet. [And no, there wasn't enough helium to give me a lift.] This inspired many more passing cyclists to wish me “Happy Birthday,” making this climb one that I'll always remember.

The usual 39 miles with 4,715 feet of climbing. As someone recently reminded me, growing old is a privilege.

September 10, 2016

Shades of Gray

Mystery solved: The reason I never see two folks I know on the road—the reason I never see them pass me on this ride—is that they start off with a shortcut. Instead of turning right at the start with the rest of the pack, they skip the first six miles and head directly toward the coast.

Tempting. But I have always done the full route, and today is no exception.

Floral centerpiece, Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challege opening ceremonies, Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley, California
Last night I broke with routine and attended the opening festivities. The invitation said “cocktail casual,” so I turned to the Interweb for fashion advice. I forgot how cold it was likely to be; my nice dress ended up hidden under a less-than-cocktail jacket. [Most of the guests paid far less attention to their attire.]

The marine layer was thick in the morning; with that, we trade a visible sunrise for warmer temperatures. The gray fog, however, would shroud us all day. Around Big Sur, we climbed high enough to feel the tiny droplets ping our faces. The yellow flower that adorns my saddle bag was often the only spot of color in the landscape, and it drew many comments. “It makes people smile,” I'd say each time. And that's true. One rider recognized me from last year (well, he recognized the flower).

Dense fog hangs over the Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur, California
The route down the coast is up and down, with a just a few extended climbs. Big Sur is the first, and that's where I begin reeling them in. Riders from flatter places, or those who haven't sufficiently trained, start blowing up there. One was already off the bike, walking up the hill. [That did not bode well for the tougher climbs after lunch.]

There were a few short stretches of pavement that had been scraped and grooved, as if in preparation for re-paving. I took extra care on each of these, wary that I'd catch a tire and go down. Later I would learn that at least one rider required a trip to the emergency room to get his arm stitched; his bike was damaged and his helmet destroyed, but he had no broken bones or concussion.

The Soberanes fire was still burning; having consumed more than 103,000 acres, it was only 60% contained. There was a hint of the sour smell of damp ash as we reached Big Sur, and signs for firefighter staging areas and encampments. The fog denied us great views of the coast, but I knew it could only help suppress the fire.

Hand-drawn and colored sign: "Thank You Firefighters, We ♡ U", Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur, California
On the east side, near Fernwood, the fire had burned down to the edge of the road. Homes, and the life of one firefighter, have been lost. All because some selfish fool lit an illegal campfire on July 22.

Charred trees and hillside near Fernwood, Pacific Coast Highway, California
Hearst Castle itself was closed just 10 days ago, and some of the Hearst Ranch property was scorched by another wildfire (dubbed “Chimney;” cause, as yet, still under investigation). Battalions of firefighters defended the historic property as the flames advanced to within a mile or two.

We were quite fortunate indeed to be able to proceed with this ride.

Foggy view of the coast with yellow flowers, Pacific Coast Highway, California
Today marked my tenth foray down the coast for Best Buddies; by now, the route is very familiar. The speed sensor on my bike was acting up (as in, not functioning), which meant that I needed to rely on memory (and the event signs placed at 10-mile intervals) to gauge where I was, between rest stops. I focused instead on the elapsed time from one stop to the next, and tried to keep each stop to a minimum. Ten minutes at the first stop, fifteen at the next two.

A patch of blue sky along the Pacific Coast Highway, California
Past Rocky Point, where we used to descend a steep hill to our first rest stop. Past the private home that hosted us, one special year. Over the Rocky Creek Bridge, the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. Past Andrew Molera State Park, closed as a staging area for firefighters. Through Big Sur, past Ventana and Nepenthe. Over the Big Creek Bridge, through Lucia and Gorda. Past the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, to the finish line at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach.

Elephant seals facing off at the Piedras Blancas Rookery near San Simeon, California
100 miles in all, with 6,205 feet of climbing. My legs were a bit sore afterward, despite my recent 500-mile tour of Greater Yellowstone (more, and steeper, climbing on this route).

This year, after several moving speeches, we were entertained by The Beach Boys. [A subset of the original band, of course.] They rocked us with one hit after another, projecting images of the sixties on a giant screen at the back of the stage. Pictures of their own youthful selves, of cars and surfer girls. Their music is just fun ... [fun fun fun till her Daddy takes the T-bird away ... ]

Projected image of a sunset with palm trees, performance by The Beach Boys, Hearst Ranch, San Simeon, California
The sweetest moments came when a very talented Buddy, Marlana VanHoose, joined them for vocals on “Help me Rhonda” and “Barbara Ann.” And when Maria Shriver (and more) flooded the stage for “California Girls.”

And now, a word for my sponsors ...

I wouldn't be here for the tenth time without the generous support of all the friends who respond year after year when I reach out for donations (and my employer, who matches them). I learned a valuable lesson about fundraising years ago, when I was too timid to solicit a single contribution. A more gregarious colleague, with experience in sales, counseled me: “Just ask.”

Even then, I agonized over the list of people I would approach. There was one, in particular, that I almost skipped—someone I knew professionally, but hadn't seen in years. “What's the worst that could happen?” I thought. “Someone might tell me never to ask again?” Okay, I could handle that.

Not only was he the very first person to donate—less than an hour after receiving my email message—in later years, after I started riding for Best Buddies, he went on to hire a Buddy.

There is no better outcome than that.

September 5, 2016

The Full Monte

I turned out of the parking lot, leaving the group to head home after our post-ride snack. My rear wheel felt squishy and slipped—did I just ride over something I hadn't seen, or ... was my tire flat?

Bad karma. After being dismayed at the sight of five discarded CO2 inflators and two empty inner tube boxes on Montebello, I had a flat. Note to the unknown rider who left the trash behind: You carried it there—carry it out.

It was a day for mechanical failures. One rider had met us at a rendezvous point, Cupertino Bicycles, with a broken spoke. He had tried to repair it with duct tape (which, MacGyver, does not solve all problems). This being a Monday, and Labor Day to boot, the bike shop was closed. Another rider in our group flatted (twice); the cause had not been found. (Hence, the second flat?)

It's been a while since I've gone up Montebello, and today it hurt. Whoa, that lower section was steep. I kept watching for the landmark mailbox (American-flag themed); the grade eases up at that point. Did I miss it? Maybe it's gone.

Whew. There it was. A welcome break, till the crux stretch near the top.

We had a large group today, and the men were outnumbered! (A nod to our ride leader, another woman.) Apparently one of the guys appointed himself ride sweep and kept me company on the climb. People charged past, panting and gasping for air, and I was just spinning along. My sweep was surprised when I rode strong up the the steep bits at the top, nosing ever so slightly ahead of him. “I'm impressed at the effort you put in up there!” he remarked. [Uh huh.]

There wasn't much of a view today; there was so much haze across the valley that the Diablo range wasn't visible. Wildfire smoke, still? I could smell it. The sun reflected off the hangar at Moffett Field and the white peaks of Shoreline Amphitheatre. That was about all you could distinguish.

I was relieved to discover my flat tire after turning away from the group; otherwise, some of the guys would have felt obliged to stay and help me fix it. I found a shady alcove and set to work.

The cause of my flat wasn't obvious, either. Ah, well. Plenty of time to sort that out later, at home.

39 miles, with 3,435 feet of climbing

September 4, 2016

A Pair of Peaks

Calero Reservoir, San Jose, California“I like Country View, the road is in great condition and there's no traffic,” commented our ride leader.

Those are words I never expected to hear in the same sentence (“like” and “Country View”), but that's what she said.

Fortunately I'm not required to climb this punishing little hill, as just desserts for having introduced it to our club. There were a few first-timers on the ride today, including one who was in way over her head. [She bailed out before the midway point.]

Seemed like I should be able to pedal up the whole way. Without a break. Having done that before, I know I can do it again. [That sort of self-talk helps.]

There is a driveway where I've paused before, and that's where I passed our ride leader. Because I remember that although the road keeps climbing after that, it's ever-so-slightly less steep around that next bend, I can make it. [And I did.]

The reward at the top is a clear view of Mt. Umunhum to the west and much of the Santa Clara Valley and Diablo range to the east. Calero Reservoir is visible only from a lower point. There is also a view of the IBM Almaden building at the top of the next bump we'd tackle, though that part is private and off-limits. Bernal Road has its uphill moments; after Country View they felt like small moments indeed.

I spotted a hand-made “deer xing” at the bottom, alongside the Santa Teresa Golf Club's greens, and looked to the right. Well-placed.

46 miles, only 2,410 feet of climbing ... so you see, much of it was flat. More or less.