Monday, September 14, 2015

Finding my Mojo

It snuck up on me, really. Tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Here I am. Let's go for a ride." It was a compelling enough invitation that I couldn't refuse. The mojo followed me down country roads. It challenged me to go a little faster. It pulled me into the wind and made me feel strong and capable again.

Two days later, it said, "Let's do something harder." And I said yes again. Off I rode. The mojo luring me ever upwards. Staying just enough ahead to encourage and not so far as to discourage. And then I was surprised by the summit. "We're here already?" I wondered aloud.

In both cases, the rides weren't my best, nor were they my worst. But I was once again having FUN on the bike and relishing challenges. And the fun factor made me say yes again to my first 200k in 6 months. Yes to committing and not flaking, yes to finishing instead of bailing, yes to Rule #5 when I hit a low around mile 85. Yes to taking my turn at the front of the pace line. Yes to the last 3 miles when my quads had nothing to give and my lower back was seizing and my ride buddies were 50 yards ahead of me and there wasn't a thing I could do to catch them.

Who wants to ride?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bee Stings and Broken Spokes

After a demoralizing ride a few weeks ago after a hiatus from the bike after a downward spiral to a burnout after going 19 months riding 200Ks... I saddled up again. Turns out I committed to riding a 200K next weekend and thought maybe another sojourn would be in order. I inveigled a hardy few who would be happy to wait at hilltops as I trudged along in a cloud of self pity about how out of shape I am. (fact: even on my best day I wouldn't be able to climb with them).

Jason set the tone at the meet up: I need caffeination. Where? Woodside Bakery. Ok. I hadn't been. I didn't know. I wish I still didn't. We leaned our bikes outside and entered into the lion's den. This, after I was saying that I'd soon be wearing my cycling mumu because every day the scale has been registering higher. Tray after tray of delights awaited - picture perfect pastry porn. I settled on a cheese danish. The fluffy pillow of mascarpone and who cares what else floated on a flaky pastry that contained an entire stick of butter. Good coffee sealed the deal. We ate, we drank, we took care of bidness.

We started up Old La Honda. It wasn't long before Jason and Jenny were off the front, climbing like they hadn't just done a climbing ride the day before. Denise and I were still together, but soon she pulled away from me and I had only my gasps for air to keep me company. Damn power-weight ratio, I thought. Mine is upside down.

Old La Honda winds through wooded slopes and horse property on the way to Skyline. It's a “pleasant” climb on a hot day because of all the shade. The shade was a key factor in deciding this route. It was gonna be hot and riding coastal was the way to stay cool.

About half way up, I was passed by a cyclist. I looked – a youngster! He doesn't even have hair on his legs yet! A little further along, I saw him stopped on the side of the road. He may have been waiting for someone, or resting, or both. I crept past at an impressive 4 miles per. It wasn't long before he was back on the road. And passed me again. He was breathing a little harder now. I heard his little tiny boy lungs trying to take in as much air as they would allow. I took a wee bit of sick pleasure in that. Twerp. So what he was one quarter my age and probably weighed 80 pounds. I'm not a nice person. But I pedaled anyway because the hill isn't going to climb itself and my companions were probably at the summit wondering how much longer... Another bend. He stopped. I passed. I realized he knows nothing about pacing himself to make the long haul. He was trying a big hill, probably for the first time, and rode hard while his legs felt good and then they turned to crap and he stopped. I started to feel a little more charitable but I couldn't do the work for him. I passed him again.

He was now behind me. We were at the street “Upenuf” - a more aptly named street doesn't exist. By the time you get there, by God, you have gone up enough. I heard a man's voice asking how he's doing and did he stop before. Yes, twice. I was riding hard. The man (his Dad) gave him encouragement about how close he was. He said we go to the left and then to the right and then you'll see the mailboxes. Then you're at the top.

He misjudged it a bit but I wasn't going to spoil that. The kid sat on my wheel. I lapsed into Coaching / Mom mode. I maintained my pace. Dad was happy to ride behind him and I pulled him along. We went left. We went right. He looked up the hill. More climbing! When is this going to end? You said.... Dad replied that the bends all look alike and he was confused. The breeze picked up a bit. I told him when the wind picks up it's a clue you're near the top. Dad said You can hear the motorcycles on Skyline.

I pulled him to the mailboxes and the stop sign on Skyline. Neither acknowledged my presence. Go me.

At the summit, my legs were trembling. Jason, Jenny and Denise were having a chat with another cyclist. I said to them I'm afraid if I descend I won't be able to climb back out.

I descended anyway. Along the way, I thought about the kid and his dad. So what they (the dad) didn't say thanks for the pull. Having him back there was a gift. I focused on something other than my own misery for the last section. That was worth a lot.

The descent down West Old La Honda and 84 is a hoot. The old road is technical and sometimes steep with lovely views. We regrouped at the intersection to the main road and hauled ass towards San Gregorio. The road is well maintained and well engineered. Down we flew and stopped at the market in San Gregorio. The pee stopped morphed into a soda, an admire-that-guy's-Steelman, a snack, an exploration of a long dead fish with a flag stuffed in its mouth dangling on a barbed wire fence.

I said That Little F*cker isn't going to ride itself. Jason said are you talking about Stage Road or is that what you call your bike? He broke out into a That Little F*cker song and My Little Bianchini had a new name which she would obligingly live up to later.

We climbed Stage, descended and climbed again. Denise kindly gave me the illusion I was keeping up with her on the climbs. The final descent towards Pescadero ends in a two mile (?) flat stretch. I was a few bike lengths ahead (The Little F*cker! By a half wheel!) and I heard the three of them squeal (yes, really) Pigs! They're so cute! Piglets! We were on a mission though. A mission from Goat.

A quick left turn before the Pescadero Metro Area put us on the path towards goats. Specifically, Harley Farms - a goat farm I've been visiting since the early 00's. (I held a young kid there and fell in love). The road is gator skin and there are lots of holes to dodge. OW! WTF! I just got stung by a bee! First time in forever and maybe the first one on a bike ride?

We were disappointed that the goats weren't very accessible. There were a few does in the barn but it was long past kid season. Still, we got to scratch a few nubbins and gaze into their oddly slit eyes. Jason became the goat whisperer. We consoled ourselves with a few samples of cheese and rode to Pescadero.
Jason and the ArGoatnauts

At the market, the sandwich line was slow, but no one was really in a hurry, especially us. It's taken us about 4 hours to ride 30 miles. The market has tables and Kybos (Andy Gumps, Porta Potties, Honey Pots...) in the back. Jason took a chance on a cherry red soda thing. He said I hope it doesn't taste like Robitussin. He tasted it – ugh. Like Robitussin. Like cream soda and grenadine. I tasted it. Spectacularly awful. I was content with my Snapple and fun fact (Pelicans can hold more food in their beak than in their belly). Some bored teenagers were enthralled with the yellow jacket trap and the handicap porta potty. I lamented how awful it must be to grow up in Pescadero...

We explored our options back: Which way is shortest? Which way is flattest? We must stop by the pigs! So back the way we came. A dozen or more (too cute to count) pint size pigs – bigger than true piglets but not full bore, um, boars. Black with black snouts and big floppy piggy ears. At first they ran as we approached the fence but then they relaxed and curiosity got the better of them. They trunkled soft little grunts and snorts. Somebody got stepped on and SQUEAL!

We worked our way back up Stage. My amnesia prevented me from remembering how long the second climb was even though I had descended it 90 minutes before. Starting back up Highway 84 to Alice's Restaurant (not that one, but there is an homage to it) we were blessed with a nice tailwind. We rotated the pace line until the road kicked up a smidge and I fell off the back. We stopped at the La Honda market for a tinkle that ended up being another extended stay. Who cares? We weren't on deadline and we didn't need any receipts!!

The Little F*cker's name got cemented here.

Climbing 84 was not nearly as fun as descending it. At 3PM, the traffic was fairly constant but the drivers were mostly respectful. Still, the shoulder was narrow – especially at the steep bits? - and the sun and heat became a factor. Again I was alone but I didn't mind.

I was thinking about how I almost quit at the top of Old La Honda. I realized that I've been having a crisis of confidence for awhile. But climbing the last climb, yes the traffic is unpleasant, yes it's hot, yes it's a slog, I realized that I don't need to doubt myself. I'm not fast, I may never be a fast climber, but I can get it done. Riding with faster people makes you faster over time. Sometimes there's a psychological toll – always being the one someone is waiting for begins to feel like a burden.

Speaking of, as I rounded the bend at the turnoff to West Old La Honda, Denise was waiting. She said she was unsure of whether we were to turn or not, but mostly she was being kind. We rode and chatted between bursts of cars. I heard a TWANG! Felt a little pop. Did I just break a spoke? Denise said, well, you're still rolling. Then, you should check your rear wheel when you get home. It doesn't look true. Yeah, I broke a spoke! Still rolling, we determined that my spoke wasn't flopping towards my drive train or creating any other hazards and we decided to check it at the summit.

We met up with Jason and Jenny at the top. Jason took preventive measures with my spoke. The rim was hitting the brake but the tire wasn't rubbing the frame so a minor adjustment, a wobbly wheel and down 84 towards Woodside we went.

Twas a fun day spent riding with people I don't frequently ride with. Now Jenny is off to Paris for PBP and Jason, Denise and I will ride a 200K next week with more friends.

I broke a spoke on That Little F*cker.

Friday, July 3, 2015

I got nuthin'

I've lost my cycling mojo. My little Bianchini leans against the armoire in the living room and mocks me. Bike number two has become a dog gate to the bedroom and bike number three has flat tires and no seat. It's a sad state of affairs and I find myself inertial. Waistline expands, climbing muscles atrophy.

What's to be done?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Maresy Dotes and Dozy Dotes

I met some 5 day old Nigerian Dwarf Kids today. It doesn't get much cuter.

Video isn't great (sorry).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Permanent with Small Craft Warnings

Davis to Rockville by way of Dunnigan is supposed to be a fun, flat and fast ride. The idea is to start early in the morning so the prevailing afternoon breezes work in the cyclist’s favor. For these reasons, Rob chose this ride as his reentry to Randonneuring after a foot injury. He needed to get his 200K for February continuing his streak to 74, making my 19 month streak seem paltry. Based on his description of beautiful rolling green pastures, tailwinds and a brewery stop (duh), I joined19 cyclists at 7AM in Davis for a 200K ride.

The first clue something might be amiss was a glance at the weather on my phone. Little “gust” icons dominated the hour-by-hour breakdown beginning at 10AM. I hoped this foretold of winds working with us. Driving to Davis at 5:30AM revealed a different interpretation of time as it related to weather. It was already gusty; the trees lining the highway stooped like old men. The wind pushed my car around and my roof-mounted bicycle functioned as a main sail. One does not simply tack upwind at 70mph.

In the parking lot, we prepared for the day. I had dressed for 65 degree weather. Fortunately, I had brought the arm warmers and leg warmers! My brevet card was anchored under my phone lest it become airborne, never to be seen again. Best decision of the day was buying coffee for my start control receipt. At least it was warm.

Off we went. A strong cross breeze kept us alert as we headed west. Too quickly, we turned north. Into the wind. At first it wasn’t completely in our faces but the result was the same. We struggled to maintain 9 and 10 miles per hour. After Woodland, we headed northwest directly in to the wind. I found myself off the back of the pack. I could see a group ahead of me. Like a rabbit in front of the greyhound, just out of reach. I was operating close to capacity and could not catch them. Rob stopped and waited for me – on a fixie with one foot clipped in and his ortho-booted foot on a flat pedal. He started up and I was quickly dropped again. I battled the wind again, trudging head down trying to keep a low profile. A bit later, Jason backtracked for me. He stayed with me and patiently pulled me up to the pack. Once there, I vowed to stay within the protection of the group. Unfortunately, Kurt got a flat. Having fought headwinds alone for 5 miles, I knew I had to stay with the group. If it hadn't been for Patrick, Darrell and Drew doing major pulls....

Three hours and 25 flat miles later, we reached the first control which also marked a change in direction. We sat on the sunny protected side of the building and waited for the riders that had been culled from the herd.

For the next few miles, we would have cross winds and rollers. At times, the road cut below the lip of the hill and we had a brief tailwind. But then we’d emerge from the lee side and be blown asunder, sometimes across the full lane. I had to be careful not to lean too hard into the wind in case it suddenly stopped and I would find myself in a ditch.

At last, we turned south. Glorious south. Our 25 mph headwinds suddenly became tailwinds. I found myself accelerating up hills and wishing I had a 10 tooth sprocket to drop into. The grasses showed silver as they bent with the wind. We flew over the miles. Over time, our group of 19 fragmented. I found myself riding with Denise and Kurt. John and Yogy leapfrogged us but we arrived at the turn-around control together just as the faster group was departing.

We steeled ourselves for headwinds on the return. We had some exposed suburban riding that paralleled the freeway – always windy but today was a special treat. Where we flew an hour earlier, we again struggled to make forward progress. Turning on to Pleasants Valley Road was a relief. Denise and Kurt and I were spread out, not taking advantage of a pace line to rest. Instead we were each pulling ourselves. We were too far apart and it was too windy to suggest otherwise (in wind, no one can hear you scream). Wind and a gradual ascent depleted my mental and physical reserves. It was now mile 90 and not mile 20. It felt like a 1000 mile march. Just. Keep. Pedaling.

Pleasants Valley Road isn't completely cruel. The first two mile straightaway into the wind was sadistic. The road becomes more protected, although it's still a gradual climb. There is a summit to Pleasants Valley masked by bends and trees. Suddenly, the pedaling gets easier. A last little hurdle and we were to Highway 128, which meant about three miles to BEER!

As I turned into the loose gravel parking lot at Berryessa Brewing, my main concern was not falling over in front of my cycling buddies. But then Sarah handed me a double IPA and all was right with the world, at least until I got back on my bike for the last 15 miles. Denise left before Kurt and me. We, with our red taillights and bright headlights, opted to relax and finish our beers. We pulled back onto 128 in twilight. The wind had calmed itself a little. We ground out the remaining miles as the sun set and the stars appeared. The lights on the horizon were our destination and we monitored them closely to see if they were getting any closer, any brighter.

Twelve hours later, we turned into the starting parking lot and greeted our friends over a beer. Lanterne Rouge.

It was a difficult day. The ride itself was challenging. But I had prepared for a low key ride and rode hard instead. The scenery was lovely, especially when we turned west of Dunnigan. Rural California has its charms. And some really crappy roads.

What I will remember from the day is the wind. Wind. You can see where it's been, but you can't see it. You can hear it though. So many different sounds of wind I heard that day. A headwind is deafening. The roar in your ears obliterates ambient noises. One has to speak purposefully to be heard. Tailwinds are nearly silent. Subtle differences between the whoosh when the breeze catches a mature leafy tree and the rustle in a smaller tree. The whine of overhead electrical wires. The lonely squeal of a rusty gate straining against its lock. The hiss of grass blowing.

What I will treasure from the day is the sense of community. We worked together, we suffered together. We celebrated together. It was epic.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The No-Cheese-Stick-No-Goat-Flatbread-125-Mile-Two-Flat-What-Am-I-Doing-Here-SB2-Birthday-Ride

Woke up. Rear tire was flat. Changed it quickly but the good floor pump was in the car. Arrived on the verge of late. Snap decisions –Reflectorized vest and ankle straps, purple vest… Don’t need the other jacket, it’s not going to rain. Pumped tire, checked food stash. Rode to the Safeway meeting spot. Five minutes to spare! Made a pit stop, grabbed a banana and got my start receipt. Phew!

The low, dense fog was not a warm welcoming blanket. I realized that maybe I should have brought my jacket sleeves; descending Lucas Valley was going to be c-c-c-c-old. I consoled myself with the idea that the sun would break through and it would be a great day.

We took off. I knew I was riding with a fast field. Good mudders, they were. The gates opened and the pack sorted itself. I drew an outside slot and was several lengths behind the leaders by the first turn. Then the climb up Lucas Valley began in earnest; while I could see their blinking tails for a bit, it wasn’t long before the field stretched out. My compadres waited for me at the Rocks. Descending, it was still darkish. Lucas Valley Road is often damp in the summer with some slick shady corners. Although I anticipated wet roads, I was surprised to find it drier than summer conditions with a few trickles crossing the road.

At Nicasio, the reservoir - nearly dry for months - was at last replenished. It shimmered silver in the mist. We got our first taste of the greens we’d see all day; the happy cows hungrily grazing the tender shoots. Next, the long side of Cheese Factory Hill, and the second of many climbs. While I could keep up on the flats, mostly, the climbs were going to break up our group of five all day, with mostly a 4 – 1 result. I inwardly hoped they wouldn’t lose patience with me. The sun shone briefly and we soaked up the warmth of the few rays squeaking through.

photo by Eric Senter @2014
Hicks Valley Road led us to Marshall Petaluma Road – a winding and scenic drawl through Marin countryside, leading up to the Marshall Wall. As we approached the climb, a flock of pheasants trickled across the road making gentle clucks and landing in field below the road. Skies were brighter, but not yet blue. The climb warmed me some, but I was still glad for my knickers and arm warmers. Looking ahead at the group, I saw their fluorescent-pastel jackets muted by the fog. Scott in blue, Sarah in coral, Ann in orange, Eric in yellow, and me in purple. We were a basket of Easter eggs climbing silly two-wheeled machines up a steep hill, allegedly because it was fun. Crows cackled overhead, mocking our foolhardiness. Crowing, really. I reached the others as they made good use of the stop time to grab a quick bite.

Tomales Bay
Descending the west side of the Marshall Wall is always a treat. Lots of straightaways mixed with some fun turns, a few rises for natural braking and then the last plummet to Highway 1. Right after the turn onto Highway 1, we have a short climb which is always an insult – It’s short, but steep enough to get your attention. As we descended the north side, BANG! Scott’s front tire blew off the rim and down he went. Fortunately, he had a soft landing and a few scratches, popped a tube in and off we went. And rode north to Tomales. And past the bakery. (gasp!) Wait. What? We are riding PAST the bakery? This ride has just become a dirge. No bakery?

photo by Scott Brown @2014
I don't think I've ever ridden up 1 past Tomales-Petaluma road, not stopped at the wonderful Tomales Bakery and just continued up the hill towards Valley Ford. Mentally I had prepared - Sarah had an agenda - something about finishing by midnight - and rode on we did. Although I was feeling the miles without a true break, my legs felt pretty good on that steep little bump.  I'm usually trying to digest a nice buttery cheese twist while climbing. Over the second rise, ahead on the left, cows were purposefully moving towards the road and fence. Black and white bovines began to trot and were picking up speed. Making whipped cream? The ladies broke into a sprint towards the fence. As I got there, I saw. Across the road, the horses had just been fed hay. The cows saw The Man With The Hay and thought it was for them, forgetting about the fence and the road. As much as cows can, they looked displeased and lowed in protest.
photo by Eric Senter @2014

next to the Valley Ford Market
Valley Ford Market offered us warmth, hot coffee and cocoa and sandwiches. And Alvin & The Chipmunks doing Christmas Carols. I said to Ann, “If I lose the Little Drummer Boy game on an Alvin & The Chipmunks version, I think I will shoot myself.” We held our breath as each new song came on. Made it out alive.

On the road again. Last report showed Valley Ford Freestone Road was closed due to flooding. It was dry as we passed through except for some water running across at the top of the rise. We made the left onto Bohemian Highway towards Occidental and the next two climbs. And passed by the Wild Flour Bakery. Okay, this is Sarah’s Weightloss Plan No Bakery Ride today. Up to Occidental. I said to Sarah, “I guess we won’t be stopping for a Winter Warmer at Barley and Hops, either.” Left onto Coleman Valley, past Barley and Hops.

Coleman Valley is a gorgeous road – as in you climb up to the lip of a gorge, drop down into the gorge, and then get to climb back out of the gorge. The flat spot at the bottom gives the legs a chance to rest and the scenery is, um, scenic. Now we were in Sonoma County which meant poor road surfaces. Much of the road was shaded; the recent rains sent small branches, debris and leaves to the road. Picking our way up the climb became a welcome distraction to the 25% grades we were negotiating (too frequently); maintaining traction while pulling myself up the hill was a challenge. I thought to myself, “I’m not sure if it’s good that I know I can stay upright at 2mph on a bicycle.” 

Scott Brown climbs Coleman Valley - photo by Eric Senter @2014
The last nasty pitch I was talking myself up. “This is gonna suck, but you can do this. You’ve done it twice before. It sucks, but you can do it.” About the time I thought my heart would pop, the 28% “leveled” to a reasonable 11%, then a tiny downhill through some trees and finally some rollers. The road broke out into the open. At last, the rendezvous point at the Info control where the speedy kids were waiting. My quads were quivering. I stretched. 
photo by Scott Brown @2014

We did our paperwork and departed. Eric needed to replace a battery. He said he'd catch us; we agreed to wait at the foot of Coleman Valley Road at Highway 1. He's a strong rider. So the four of us took off - Sarah and I in the front and Ann and Scott a little behind. We encountered a small lake (at the top of a very large hill, yes) that we coasted/pedaled through. And then the first cattle grate. I was a little nervous; wet tires + cattle grate = broken elbow. Made it through fine. Sarah and I tootled along at a good clip, passing a Highway Patrol Officer parked on one side, a PG&E worker on the other side. We gaped at the view. I've written about it before, but the top of Coleman Valley Road is a very special place. Maybe because you feel like you're gonna die getting there. But 360 views - we could see the amazing and powerful flood plume of the Russian River pushing mud far out into the Ocean. Luscious green undulations to the East, Ocean to the West. It's why we live here.

As we descended, a team of cyclists was coming up the "hard way." I held my steel bianchi in check down that monster wall, only to let it go towards the flats. So much energy was held back that the Little Bianchini charged ahead nearly out of my control. I reined her in, the frisky filly. Not without a tad of adrenaline. Sarah and I waited at the foot of Coleman. Scott arrived next and Ann shortly after. And then we kept looking up the road. And checking out the ocean view. And looking up the road. What if. Do you think? Who's going to? Then a woman popped her head out of her car window. "Eric's ok. He had a flat. We offered to give him a ride down, but he said, 'No! I won't get credit if I do!'" We laughed and thanked her and settled in for a little wait. It was chilly, though. We walked to the cliffs. Then we dug the mud out of our cleats. Chatted some more. Finally, Scott said, "What if he had another flat and he doesn't have a tube or something? I'll ride back up and see if he needs anything." We sent him with provisions (a tube anyway, it wasn't  Donner Pass after all) and he bravely rode back up Coleman Valley towards the Wall. Twenty seconds later, he reappeared with Eric in tow. Bullet dodged, boyscout points logged. 

Once on the road, I realized I was quite chilled and called for a stop in Bodega instead of waiting for Valley Ford for a water stop. Coffee warmed and energized and off we went again down Highway 1. 

Out of Bodega, Highway 1 is a long gradual climb for quite a ways before it turns to rollers. Some times of year there's a nice tailwind to accompany it, but we were happy to not have a head wind. We were tight together at this point, trudging along on a mild grade. Even I felt like I could keep up. A car passed us. A straw hit my face. Cold. Chocolate. Ice. Someone had thrown the remains of a chocolate milkshake at us. Yes. Really. I caught most of it. We decided to have a Rorschach moment later. Having stopped in Bodega, we bypassed Valley Ford and headed up 1 again. Ann dropped her chain; Scott waited with her. I knew I needed to keep riding, being the slowest of the group.
But at the top of the hill, I stopped anyway. Took a picture. The greens were calling to me all day. Brighter than emerald. Shamrock, someone said. Yes. The color of the grass at Tinturn Abbey in September. My tiny phone lens didn't capture it.

My legs were pretty toasted at this point. Fat girl on a heavy bike. GREAT for downhills. SUCKS for uphills. Flats were fine once I got the freightrain moving. We headed back towards Petaluma. Once Coleman Valley Road was out of my way, I was free to have anxiety about the next climb, which was Red Hill out of Petaluma. Technically, Petaluma - Point Reyes Road, but sheesh. On a bike who has time to say all that? So another shorthand, along with Wilson Hill, Marshall Wall, etc, is Red Hill, which precedes Cheese Factory Hill. I mean, duh! So this beast. Red Hill. Done it a few times. Once feeling pretty good. Once feeling pretty bad. Today, going into Petaluma at a snail's pace and feeling pathetic... Looming. Looming. Insurmountable. Who can I call. Then I ate. Had more coffee! (Coffee! did someone say coffee?). We mounted our steeds. Left the parking lot. Oh, wait! I forgot to turn on my helmet light. Crap! I don't have my reflector vest on! The party of four moves up D, unawares. I fumbled, hurried, got the jobs done. As I approached the first bump, I saw that one of the blinking lights ahead of me wasn't moving. Waiting. Eric. Thanking him, I explained what happened and we chatted for a bit about how we got into the crazy sport of randonneuring. He pulled ahead. I caught up to Ann on the descent; her lights didn't have the power mine did and she didn't want to outrun her headlight. We rode for awhile, til the road kicked up again and off she went. I was fine climbing alone. I had lights, I knew there weren't any 28-effing-percent-grades and I'd get there. At the top, the Fab Four were waiting for me. They had taken a vote: I had the best lights, I should go first. And, besides, I was riding a tank. Finally, I felt like I could contribute something and pulled for a wee bit.

We climbed Cheese Factory, descended the fun part and turned onto Nicasio. We were now on the home stretch. Once I got over Red Hill, my brain shifted. Oh, I can do this. I've done this part a 1000 times. I know what's left and I can do it. May not be pretty, but I've got this. For a tad, I kept up with Sarah and Eric. At Nicasio, they rounded the bend and were just tiny red lights in the distance. I turned around, saw white lights trailing me. I love riding at night! At the turn onto Lucas Valley Road, Sarah and Eric didn't stop to regroup. Okay! I'm the weak link, Scott and Ann will catch me. If I waited , I'd be struggling to keep up. So I plodded up Lucas Valley. Frogs frogulated. Kept pedaling. Turned around. No lights. Hmm. Well, they're together. Kept pedaling. Whiff of skunk. Oh. Must be a skunk around somewhere (thinking I was in my car going 50 mph). Interesting, I thought. Til I saw this black and white creature trundling along the side of the road with its tail up. Now a skunk's maximum speed is about 10 mph. I was probably going around 8.5. I was tired and it was a mild incline. When the skunk registered, I crossed over into the other lane as far as I could, thankful for lack of traffic, and rode on, not knowing (at that moment) how fast skunks could run. Fortunately, they are not predators who chase down foe. They dig for grubs and do hand stands for defense. Still, riding the next 10 miles smelling of skunk was NOT on my agenda. Sorry, no pictures. Behind me - still, no lights. Hmmm.

Finally, the last little pitch before Big Rock Hill (the, er, top). Turned around. Saw a light. I'm doing my best caterpillar impression as Scott graciously called out how nice I was to let them catch up. Me, a wheezing caterpillar with legs like jelly after 120 miles. I said I was stopping at the top for a second and that I take this descent v-e-r-y slow. They went ahead. My light was on bright. I went slow. Hit a rock. Something hit the deck. Shit! What was it? I stopped, realized it was just food in my bento box and not my phone or wallet, and continued on. 

Scott and Ann's lights beckoned and teased me from afar. I tried to catch them. Saw Bambis on the right. Thanked them for not bolting in front of me. At last, the turn onto Galindo. I climbed that last little bump hoping to latch on. Descended towards the Safeway. They had been caught at the light. It was green. I powered forward to catch up. Just before I entered the intersection the light turned yellow - red as I crossed. I had caught up. We finished together. 

When you are chilled to the bone? Irish Coffee is the best post ride beer. Just Sayin'. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Right Church, Wrong Pew

A Series of Unfortunate Events (apologies to Mr. Snicket)

8:30PM Saturday

I shouldn't be writing this right at this moment. I should be sitting with the other randonneurs who participated in the Dart, a team event in which teams design their own 200k route to converge on a meeting place at a specific time (namely, 13.5 hours after they started). Teams must not exceed 5 bicycles and of those, at least 3 must finish together.

Team Will Ride for Beer started with four riders, one with a hinky back. For a change, I was first to arrive at our meeting spot - the Martinez train station. From there, our filed route was up to St. Helena and then over the ridge at Lake Berryessa to drop to Winters and then on to Davis for the convergence on Sudwerks.

We rolled out shortly after 6. Almost immediately, Kurt exclaimed (well, maybe something less family friendly), and stopped to examine his bike. His rear shifter wasn't working and he only had two speeds--slow and slower. Or spin and spinnerer. Levers were flipped and released, cables examined. Kurt knew he couldn't ride 125 miles with two gears. None of us could blame him.

 6:15AM and then there were three.

After obtaining our start control receipts at Safeway, the fearless trio was underway. Phil set a challenging pace up Franklin Canyon. We turned on to Cummings Skyway as the sun appeared. The clouds had a Wild West, high chaparral feel to them and were daintily pink-tinged. One of the Richmond refineries pumped out pink steam. The parched hills glowed in the donzerly light, appearing far more lush then a closer inspection would reveal.

After a wicked descent down Crockett Boulevard, we turned our attention to the Carquinez Bridge. The light was still muted, the Strait calm and reflecting pastel blues and pinks far below us. A small craft headed south, its wake disrupting the reflections.

Barely halfway across the bridge, I heard a familiar voice muttering something about silly cyclists who are willing to ride 13.5 hours just for beer. Don't they know you can buy it in stores? Mr. Hawks, our illustrious RBA, and his team of three rode with us for a bit. We visited and discussed our routes, potential meeting places for the final (beer) control in Winters. And then he apologized in advance for not leaving any tomato basil pesto pizza at the Model Bakery in St. Helena. Hmmph. We stopped at our control and off they went.

Our route took us through familiar territory. First, Lake Herman Road. It's a series of rollers that starts with a modest climb that is over rewarded by the following descent. Then a few little steep bumps that can be powered over with accumulated momentum. Finally, a last little climb and fun downhill to Lopes Road.

Lopes Road is one of those roads that has headwinds in every direction. No matter which way you ride, the wind is in your face. Or maybe blowing you sideways. This morning, the wind was absent. Strange but true. We appreciated the favorable conditions as we rode towards our next control. I spotted an American Kestrel (male, for those keeping score at home) and pointed it out. "Kestrel?" Jim quipped. "I thought they just made bikes."

After Cordelia, our next hurdle was Wooden Valley to Highway 128, which takes us up and over (and down) into Napa. I have always enjoyed the scenery in Wooden Valley. Vineyards and goats. What's not to like? But the road itself has always sucked my soul. It seems flat but climbs at 1 or 2% and sometimes 4. Nothing huge, but when a road looks flat but still feels hard, I question my abilities, acknowledge that I must indeed suck at this bike thing and whine a little more inwardly. My riding companions may differ with the "inward" statement. Whatever.

But recently, I had the chance to do Wooden Valley in reverse. And experienced a really fun and fast ride back to the flats from 128. I realized the net downhill on the segment and forgave myself for past and future suckiness. This mental shift made Wooden Valley downright pleasant  today. And there was no headwind.

At the T of Wooden Valley and 128, we stripped, denatured, and prepared for the climb to Napa. It was cool, but not too, breezy, but just enough, and travelled, a bit too much. Cars passed briskly and a bit too close, but then a good citizen would come along and remind us that not everyone is a freaking douchebag.

At last we hit the Silverado Slog - I mean Trail. It's pretty and smells nice. Wine fermenting, lees and must composting near the vineyards. Vines decked out in their Autumn best, creating a patchwork tableau of oranges, greens and yellows depending on the grape variety. In the morning it's fairly pleasant. The wine tourists haven't arrived yet.

Things were starting to go South with Jim. He kept falling back. We realized his back must really be hurting. We got to St. Helena and he fessed up. He couldn't put any pressure on the pedals and could only spin. He was done.

1:45PM. And then there were two.

We all had lunch - or cupcakes - and, yes, I got a piece of that pizza, and discussed our options. The two of us could finish the ride and not receive credit, or we could ride back to Martinez and call it a day. We decided it was 125 miles either way so we opted to finish at our car instead of in Davis, which meant missing the bike party.

We saddled up and started down the Trail, taking turns pulling and maintaining a robust pace. We elected direct over scenic. Traffic and urban was our game. We got a tour of Vallejo. Our plan was to ride the revamped bike path along the Carquinez Strait. It's flat and along the water, they said.

It's not, and getting to it isn't either. Then Phil mentions the road might be closed and we may have to ride the short steep section of McEwen. I say, if the road is that bad, can we walk it? We arrived at the barricades and shined our lights at the closure. Let's try. What's the worst that can happen? We turn around? We made it through and continued on to where the road closed for the bike path. We carried our bikes over the one-way spikes. I tripped and gave myself a flat shoe - damn spikes. We started (up and) down the road. Past the bollards and onto the path. A dream surface. The lights of Martinez shimmered on the water. A few small lizards warmed themselves on the pavement's retained heat. They didn't run - the path was just opened and they weren't conditioned to the lights and sounds of bicycles. We were not perceived as a threat, and we did our best to dodge them and not become a threat. Leaving the path deposited us on some crackly road and a few more little bumps.

6:46PM. And then we were finished.

12 hours, 26 minutes and 120 miles later, we were back at the train station. We did the distance, ended with a beer, but didn't end up in the right place. Two November attempts at my 200K (R-16) and now the real test is on to maintain the streak.

It wasn't the ride we planned, but it was a great day on the bike. I'd never ridden to St. Helena just for lunch, but I'd do it again.There's something satisfying about being under your own power and self-determined in your pace and destination. As I said to Phil on the home stretch, I keep doing these rides so I can keep doing these rides.