Thursday, May 21, 2009

Riding at Elevation…..

This past weekend the wife and I were in Tahoe for a wedding…..at least that was one of the reasons we were there. The other (and most important as far as I was concerned) was so that I could experience some of the infamous Tahoe singletrack….

We got up there late Friday night and checked into the Marriott Timber Lodge. (VERY nice btw) Saturday morning, I woke early and loaded up the bike. I had a general idea of where I was headed, but having never ridden up there, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had talked to a guy on the mt bike forum and he mentioned a couple of trails and a good starting point.

So, with Mapquest in hand I headed out looking for the trailhead. It was actually pretty easy to find and knowing that the first part of the ride would be a road ride of approx 3-4 miles uphill, I left that arm/leg warmers in the truck and started pedaling.

At first the riding was nice and easy. It was a slight uphill grade and paved so the 34/18 gear on the SS seemed to be working fine…..until I turned the corner and the road headed uphill at a more serious angle.
No problem, I thought, I ride an SS. I’m used to standing and pedaling for long periods….besides, I’m a finely tuned cycling machine…..so I stood and kept grinding…..until it got steeper…..ok….this is…….getting….tough…..I’m….totally…..winded….and have gone…..less than …..2….miles…..


It was about that point that I realized I was kinda hungry…maybe eating something before the ride would have been a good idea…..hey there’s a clif bar in my camelback, sure it’s a couple seasons old, but that’s ok……besides….saying I stopped to eat sounds much better than stopping because my heart was going to explode…..

So, with my heart pounding in my ears and my breath coming in ragged gasps, I pulled over and unclipped….here’s something you may not know…..2 year old clif bars are HARD AS A ROCK!!!
Here’s something else you might not know….trying to chew, while you’re gasping for oxygen is tough….at one point I almost choked on a chunk of my clif bar and started coughing so bad I thought I might actually hurl…..

Well, being the cycling god that I am…..my heart rate actually came down pretty quickly and my breathing returned to an almost normal state so I started off again determined to not stop again until I reached the trailhead…..little did I know I had yet to get to the steep part….

I took my time and drank lots of water/Gatorade from my camelback (still trying to wash down the 2 year old clif bar) and although the road went up and down and up again I was feeling pretty ok. (note – the red face and ragged gasping for breath were strictly a result of not being acclimated to the elevation and is no way a sign that I might not be the cycling machine that I claim to be)

Thankfully a few minutes later my phone started ringing and I had yet another excuse to stop. It was my daughter calling to say good morning. I’m sure I was pleasant and witty on the phone as I always am, but to be honest, things were kinda fuzzy at that point (again a symptom of elevation sickness not a reflection of my fitness level) and I may have actually been a little gruff…
So, the phone securely stashed back in the pack, I was pedaling again…..it’s funny the things that go through your head when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, by yourself, starved for oxygen…I actually started playing rhyming games in my head….poetry if you will….
Gasping and panting
Needing more air
Must keep pedaling
Please God, am I almost there?

Trees and hills
I thought I liked hills
But, instead of riding my bike
I wish I was at Bills
(Buffalo Bill's brewery for those of you that don’t know)

Actually, there were many, many more that I came up with but in the same way a woman blocks out the pain of childbirth remembering only the joy, I’ve pretty much blocked out most of that climb…..

The funny thing about riding a new road or trail is that you’re never sure where you are in relation to where you want to be. Sure I probably could have been more prepared and actually gotten a map of the area, but hey, where’s the adventure in that…..Eventually though, I came to another gate and the sign telling me I was finally at the trailhead. (was that really only 3 or 4 miles?)

Well, the work was over and the fun was about to begin…..

The trail was amazing….granite sand, kind of damp, lots of rocks…..traction was perfect…I hadn’t gone very far when I saw another rider pedaling up the trail. Turns out it was the guy I had been talking to on the forums….what are the chances that out in the middle of nowhere I’d run into this guy….he gave me some ideas for making a little bit longer loop and we parted ways.

After leaving him and being so stoked to be going downhill instead of up, I railed from swoopy, banked corner to swoopy banked corner with the biggest shit-eatin grin you can imagine…..

It was about half way down the hill after launching off a nice little granite rock that it dawned on me that, should I crash, my wife has no idea where to even look for the body….I decided to slow down a bit after that.

After getting to the bottom of Corral trail, I hit Powerline and headed back uphill…..(idiot) I rode up for a while, came across the entrance to what I think was Incense Cedar Trail, took that back up to the intersection with Corral and railed back down that for a second time (same trail, same shit eatin grin) which took me back to Powerline. Powerline btw, is much more fun going down than up and eventually I made it back to my truck….


Total ride time, 2 hours…total fun factor….10+++++

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The value of a bikeshop….

I’ve always enjoyed bike shops….I can remember back when I was in jr high and riding BMX bikes. At the time, Hayward had 5 bike shops within pedaling distance – actually Hayward had 3 and there was one on the border of San Lorenzo and one on the edge of San Leandro….
There was Hayward Cyclery on C St., Cyclepath on B St, Witt’s down on Mission, Wheel-away in San Lorenzo and another one I can’t remember right where Hayward and San Leandro meet on E-14th St.

Back then in 1975 b.i. (before internet) we would plan a Saturday, ride down the hill and try to hit as many of them as we could and be done in time for our parents to pick us up so we didn’t have to pedal back up the hill. Going to a bike shop and looking at stuff was pretty much the only way to find out about new bikes/parts in those days.
We would spend hours just looking at the new bikes, checking out parts to make our bikes cooler, and generally just hanging out. Most of the owners got to know us and generally let us hang out as long as we wanted. (nowadays I think they call that "loitering")

Fast forward 30+ years and of those 5 shops, only 2 remain. Witt’s is still in the same spot with the same owners. Cyclepath has different owners than it did back then and has moved a couple of times.

I frequent both shops but usually for different reasons. If I need something right away, like tubes or tires or a part for some bike I’m working on, I’ll usually go to Cyclepath and chances are they’ll have what I need in stock. If I need work on one of my bikes though, or am building up a bike, I’ll go to Witt’s.

The interesting thing is that Cyclepath has become one of the bigger shops in our area. In addition to one of the largest showrooms and largest inventory in the area, they have stores in San Mateo and Pleasanton as well. They always have the latest and greatest on the floor and their staff can talk about hydraulic disc brakes as well as the latest lightweight carbon fiber road bikes.

Witt’s though, hasn’t changed much at all over the years. Witt’s is one of those shops that is pretty small and totally exemplifies the small, local shop. It’s in an old building and has an inventory of maybe 20 new bikes and a half dozen used or trade-ins. (plus some very cool wooden wheels that Barbara used to race on)
Clarence and Barbara were both avid cyclists, they used to sponsor a race team and they both know their stuff when it comes to bikes. Pretty sure Clarence could build a bike in 10 minutes flat wearing a blindfold.

It’s also one of those shops that makes you wonder how they stay in business. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen other people in there. Although Clarence almost always has a bike in the repair stand so maybe I’m just not in there during the busy times.

I have to say, it’s also my favorite of the bike shops I visit. Probably because I tend to be nostalgic and like things that are old and comfortable more than I like new and shiny and state of the art. I also like the fact that when I walk in they both say hi, they know my name, they treat me well and on the occasion that I’ve needed an urgent repair they’ve taken good care of me. I’ve even had Clarence pull a bike he was working on down off the stand and fix mine while I waited.

Granted, they don’t carry the highest end stuff on the floor and they don’t stock a lot of parts, but when I need something and can wait a day or so, they can always get what I want.
I’ve had Clarence build up the nicest set of wheels I own and now that I’m building (or rebuilding I guess) my brother’s 1982 Miyata road bike, Clarence has been irreplaceable in finding parts that will allow me to upgrade the bike without major modifications to the frame or the drivetrain.

Obviously, I still shop on the web to save money and get some of the more specific parts I need for projects, but I’d much rather support a small local shop that’s been around longer than I have….

Thursday, May 7, 2009

We’re increasing tension….but not everyone….

The other night I went to spin class with Jim, Lynn and Jack at their gym in San Ramon…..(verrrry nice gym btw).

I knew I was in trouble when I realized that just about everyone in the room was thin and fit looking and that 90% of them had their own cycling shoes. My concern (ok, fear) increased when the instructor came in and explained that tonight’s class was going to be “fairly advanced”.

Sure enough, he was as good as his word, my heart rate went through the roof right off the bat and pretty much stayed up the entire 50 minutes of the class….

The funny thing was how he subtly used psychology to make us work harder…..even funnier is how I fell for it so easily….I really thought I was smarter than that…..

It started off with him making the comment about how the class was going to be fairly advanced and if we weren’t up to it, then to take it easier…..yeah, cuz my overworked male ego and insecurities are going to let me admit I’m not up to it and not go all out.

Next, every time he said to increase the tension on the bikes, he said…”ok, increase tension….but not everyone”

Again, did he really think there was any chance at all that I wouldn’t let my ego continue to make decisions my body probably couldn’t support? Of course I increased the tension when he said to…did he really think I wouldn’t?

Then at the end he even warned us that we were going to be increasing tension and wouldn’t be taking it off…..he also threw in the comment that if were tired to not feel compelled to increase the tension every time…..
So, I of course tried to keep up and kept wrenching on the tension knob when he said to… I must be some sort of idiot

Needless to say, by the end of the class I was pretty well whupped… I emptied an entire water bottle and sweat more than I’ve ever sweat in my life...for a minute or two I was afraid I might be revisiting my lunch in a spectacularly embarrasing fashion....thankfully he ended about that point...….


What fun....can't wait to do it again....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

60 miles, 7 hours and 5 rest stops……the Chico Wildflower….

I haven’t been writing much lately….it seems like work and life have just gotten crazy busy lately and I don’t have time for much of anything….last weekend probably would have been a good day, but I decided a nap with my grandson was a much better way to spend Sunday afternoon.

A couple of weeks ago now, my brother, my sister, my brother in law and I did the Chico Wildflower. Actually we did the Flat Flower which is the 60 mile/no hill version of the Wildflower.

This is a pretty special ride in that the Chico Wildflower was the first time in my life I had ever ridden 100 miles. That year, my sister and her friend actually came down from Tahoe and did a portion of the ride with me. It was a total blast!


So, last year, after talking to my brother about how much fun Maureen and I had, we convinced him to join us on the Flat Flower. Evidently the bad decision gene runs in our family, because Bob agreed and not only did he agree, he thought it would be even more fun to go out and do it with absolutely no training. And he made it

This year, Bob actually called me a couple times over the winter to make sure we were doing the ride again.
The crazy part is that since he was able to finish the first year with only a moderate amount of discomfort, he’s decided that not training and just suffering through, is the best way to deal with this once a year ride.

So, on Saturday afternoon, I picked up Bob in Fairfield and we headed out for Chico. (figured if I picked him up, there was no way he could bail at the last minute) We got into town that afternoon and hooked up with Maureen and Craig.

Downtown Chico is a cool little town with some nice bars and restaurants and tons of people out walking around town. We immediately found a cool little bar with outside seating that had Sierra Nevada on tap for $1.50 and proceeded to get the carbo-loading underway….afterall, we are riding tomorrow, we should stock up ahead of time.

After a few beers it dawned on me that we should probably eat something. Afterall, breakfast was early that morning and too many Sierra’s on an empty stomach is never a good idea. So, we made a loop through town trying to find something to fill our bellies…and we hit the motherload….the Madison Bear Garden.

This place is really cool. The d├ęcor is crazy with the most eclectic crap hanging from every wall and the ceiling….granted, this being a college bar in a college town, we were probably some of the oldest people in the place, but it was still fun and the Sierra kept flowing.

I had The Great Bacon Burger – yes, that’s the name and why it’s capitalized. It was fantastic. Maureen kept raving about how amazing the Turkey Burger was, but to be honest, I don’t think any of us really believed her….turkey burger? Seriously????

Well, after dinner we found the truck and following Craig I was able to find the hotel where we finished off the evening with a Corona and were dead to the world by 9:00pm….yep, definitely getting old

Now, I don’t normally drink very much. Two beers on a Friday night with my pizza is a pretty typical weekend….so, several pitchers of Sierra and a Corona as a nitecap left me feeling a little um…..fuzzy... on Sunday morning. And, when our neighbors at the Motel 6 decided to get up early (5:00am) and wake the whole floor…well I was less than happy.

So, a nice hot shower and Bob and I went in search of coffee….and greasy bacon. Luckily for us Denny’s is right across the street. A few cups of coffee, a waffle and some nice greasy bacon and I was almost feeling human again.

Turns out Craig wasn’t going to be able to do the whole ride with us as he had their dog in the truck and didn’t want to leave him there all day. So, he and I rode together for the first section and it was great. I haven’t sat and chatted with Craig in years and I really enjoyed the time we were able to spend together.

After parting ways with Craig, Bob, Maureen and I proceeded on the route. As I’ve stated, the route is completely and totally flat, but the scenery is really quite pretty.
For the first part of the ride you’re riding among orchards and ranches. It then changes to rice fields…..miles and miles of rice fields, before switching back to orchards, then some lowland river areas before finally heading back into town. We took our time, discussed everything from our kids, to the politics of the world. It was really nice to be able to talk ands spend time together.

The Chico Wildflower is actually known for being a very well supported ride and this year didn’t disappoint. Over 60 miles there were 5 rest stops. All with fresh fruit, snacks, trail mix, and some of the best raspberry and apricot bars I’ve ever had in my life!

At the end of the ride we hooked up again with Craig who had loaded up the truck and trailer, they actually picked up a couple cords of wood this weekend as well, and had a beer in the parking lot before saying good bye to Maureen and Craig.

Bob and I went in, where we had a delicious tri-tip lunch and reluctantly got on the road for home. Once again, Bob did fine this year, further reinforcing his training theory of ride once, suffer once.