Friday, December 27, 2013

No plan, no destination, no worries....

Weather in California right now is beautiful. Unseasonably and for some, worrisomely beautiful. It's been cool to cold at night but in the mid-60s, sunny and dry during the day. More like early Fall or Spring than winter.
The downside is that I still have new skis in the garage waiting for enough snow to take a day off work and go play. The upside is, it's perfect weather for a bike ride....which is what I tried to do on Saturday. Unfortunately I was too busy. (it is Christmas week after all) Sunday though, right after church, I went home, changed, loaded up the ipod and the water bottles and headed out.

I had no idea where I was headed other than a general direction, no deadline other than sunset and no plan other than get out, make circles and enjoy the afternoon.....and that's just what I did.

Most of my rides are either group rides where there's the whole dynamic of keeping up and not making other's wait, or on my solo rides where I have a limited amount of time or someplace to be afterwards which forces me to conform to some sort of schedule.
Very rarely do I get a day like Sunday. I rode as hard or as easy as I wanted letting my legs dictate the pace. I stopped and looked at the view a couple of times just because I could and there were several times where I wasn't quite sure where I was....it was awesome.

The worst part of the ride is from my house south to the Dumbarton bridge. From there, traffic pretty much disappeared and although I continued heading south, the decision at every intersection was made by which road had less traffic. This continued with my mind on autopilot and my legs spinning along smoothly. My breathing was easy and the road continued to disappear beneath me until I found myself in a business park, somewhere south of where I started and north of wherever it was I was going.....

Eventually, as all things do, this mindless spinning came to a rather abrupt end with the sound of a pop followed by a whoosh and wrapping up with a wop, wop, wop as my rear wheel began wobbling. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder knowing immediately I had suffered a pinch flat going over the last set of railroad tracks.

Even this though couldn't ruin my mood. I sat for a moment on the nicely manicured lawn of some companies parking strip and enjoyed the sunshine, a gel and a nice long drink from my water bottle before beginning to address my flat tire. Evidently my relaxed state caused some concern for one of the few cars that drove by though as a lady stopped with a frightened look on her face and asked if I was ok.
It was only later, as I thought about it that I realized with my bike laying on it's side and me reclined on the lawn she must have thought I crashed.

Soon enough it was time to get my hands dirty, change my tube and start on my way home. As I turned around and began the trek home I again disappeared into my head, pedaled along making random lefts and rights until I got back to an area I recognized and worked my way back home.

It wasn't a long ride at only 26 miles and it wasn't a particularly hard ride having less than 400ft of climbing but even at what I thought was a nice easy pace, I was able to average almost 18mph. a decent pace on a beautiful day with nowhere to go and no place to be....California Dreamin, on such a winter's day...

Monday, December 23, 2013

DATMBA Revision 8..or is it 9?

We've been hosting a DATMBA (dayafterthanksgivingmtbikeadventure) ride for the last 8 years...or maybe it's 9, I can't remember. It's not only an excuse to skip the Black Friday shopping madness and ride, but it's an excuse to eat way more pie on Thanksgiving because you know you'll burn it off the next day.

We've done this ride in a variety of conditions including the first year where it rained so hard our bikes wouldn't even roll due to mud and we had to cut it short for fear of ruining the trails (and our bikes).

This year, it was cold as I loaded the truck.
37 when I left my house and in the high 40s as I waited for the group in the parking lot at China Camp. As soon as the sun crested the hills though, things got nice. Really nice. So nice in fact that most of us rode the majority of the loop in short sleeves.

China Camp is a great place to ride. It's got fun fast singletrack and none of the climbs are so brutal that I regretted being on my single speed (even though I'm way out of shape this year).
The other great thing about China Camp is that it's pretty....it's lush and green and the trails follow the contour of the hill in and out and around never allowing you to see much more than just the section you're on. It really is a unique place to ride in an area surrounded by people....

There were a couple of decent switchback climbs which sent me into the red zone a bit, but nothing that I actually had to get off the bike for. In years past even the switchbacks were cake, but as I mentioned, there's a bit more of "me" riding with me this year than in previous years.

Once you reach the top of the climbs, the rest of the ride is an amazing swoopy singletrack that follows the ridges and really allows you to rail along and enjoy the previous efforts. There are enough roots and tight turns to keep it interesting and to keep you focused, but it's all pretty much slightly downhill which makes it a single speeders dream....

Eventually though, as all things do, we reached the bottom of the hill and the ride came to an end. Now it was time for post-ride festivities. In years past this has ranged from huddling under a popup avoiding the rain, to sitting near the vehicles shivering in the cold and even on some occasions enjoying the nice day....never though do I think it's been as warm as it was this year.

I know we need the rain and I know there are all the fears about climate change, but I really did enjoy sitting in the sun at the beginning of December and worrying more about sunburn and warm beer than shivering in the cold....





Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Not a great loop, but it's quick and it's local

I woke up early Saturday, as I always do, but today was different. The weekend before Thanksgiving and I knew we were going to be busy. We're expecting a houseful and had a pretty long list of of shopping, chores and preparation we had to complete.

Knowing this and, knowing I really wanted to get a ride in before the chaos began, meant I had to be up and ready to go early today. Thankfully, with daylight savings time, it was light enough that I had planned on starting about 6:30 for my regular quick 20 mile loop. Not a great ride, but local, and if I could keep my pace up, would allow me to finish right around an hour.

The plan quickly got bumped back a bit when I went out to the garage at 6:30 to get my bike and saw that it was only 42 degrees outside. Maybe I'd have another cup of coffee first...after all, it's not quite light and I really want to be safe (and warmer)

At 7:00 I again looked and it had warmed up a total of 2 degrees to 44...um....I really should be well caffeinated before I start...one more cup of coffee, just to be sure....

By 7:30, I really couldn't put it off any longer and with a base layer, a jersey, a jacket and leg warmers I headed out into the cold 45 degree weather. Granted, for those people that don't live in California, this isn't cold and I'm sure I'm kind of a wimp, but I pay outrageous property taxes and ridiculous real estate prices to live here so that I can avoid cold weather.

The loop is actually a pretty decent loop (more of a big rectangle really) but only if you do it on a weekend and in the morning. The first leg down Union City Blvd from my house is wide and busy, but has no bike lane. Any time other than early on a weekend, it's downright scary to ride. The next leg is a multi-use trail which although there are no vehicles, gets busy with walkers, runners, riders, families and dogs during the day. The 3rd leg along Mission Bl from Fremont back to Hayward isn't bad. It's a really busy road, but has a wide shoulder. The road conditions for most of it are new and pretty good. Unfortunately, as soon as you cross the city limit back into Hayward, the road deteriorates dramatically. The shoulder, while still pretty wide, is in horrible shape and more suited to a mt bike than a road bike. And the last loop down Industrial Blvd again, has a decent shoulder but it's littered with debris. and I've had a few flats in this section which really sucks because not only is it not a great area, it's at the end of the ride when all I want is to be done....thankfully today I had no issues.

As I headed out I realized I probably should have brought my toe covers. Again, for people in the east and the north, 45 degrees is probably pleasant this time of year, but I could immediately feel the cold air blowing in through the mesh on my shoes. Other than that though, I felt pretty good. I hadn't been on the road bike in a few weeks and although I've been riding the mountain bike the higher cadence definitely felt like work.

Once I jumped off the road onto the multi-use trail the ride became pleasant and although I was still trying to maintain a high pace, the scenery definitely improved from asphalt to a nice creek, trees, ducks, geese and the occasional runner.

This path ends at Mission Blvd which is actually the old highway 238 and is still a major traffic road during the week. Another reason I wanted to start early. By now though the temps had warmed up a bit. Not to the point that I was actually warm, but not so cold as it was earlier. I have an issue when the weather turns cold in that my toes never seem to stay warm. I had tried the toe covers and those work for cool mornings, but last year I broke down and bought neoprene boots that go over my cycling shoes for somoe of our nighttime mountain bike rides....pretty sure our Christmas ride last year never got above 35 degrees.

I continued to try to push the pace on the ride. My best time for this loop is just under an hour  which was done when I was in much better shape and although I knew I wasn't going to get near that, I still wanted a good time.

One of the challenges I face when riding alone is pushing myself beyond a "comfortable" pace. I've actually invented little head games for times when I'm just not motivated. I'll race to the next intersection, I'll try to get to the next light before the car coming up catches me, I'll try to maintain a certain pace for the next mile, if I see another rider I'll push until I catch them, and on and on. This morning's game was even better...due to the sun coming from the left and slightly behind me, my shadow was just ahead of me for this entire 5 mile leg of the ride and I spent the entire time "chasing my shadow"...unfortunately it won.

As I made the turn on industrial and then the final leg to my house, I felt like I had had a good ride. Definitely not in the shape I should be, but it seems like my whole season has been that way....nice to get out in the morning and enjoy some road time.....(but damn are my toes cold)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Blowin' in the wind...

I ducked and flinched yet again. Sure that this time the branches I heard crashing down around me were going to land on my head.

Last night was Thursday and since Thursday is the one day I ride lately, ride I would....despite the gale force winds that howled as I pulled up to the parking lot. (the weather man said there were gusts up to 50 mph)

As the hardiest of our group showed up we joked that maybe this wasn't the best weather for a ride, but it was Jon's birthday, I had brought a cake and it wasn't raining...so we really had no choice.
Other than the wind, the night wasn't too bad. The skies were clear and it wasn't very cold...as a matter of fact, I had over-dressed for the ride since as soon as I started up Brandon, I was wishing I had left the jacket in my camelback.

The wind though, played havoc with us for the entire ride. If it wasn't pushing against us on the climbs, or trying to blow us off the trail from the side, it was throwing stuff at us from the giant eucalyptus trees as we rode past. The trail, normally a smoothly graded fire road became an obstacle course littered with branches, leaves and everything that had blown in from a couple zip codes away.

Eventually, we made it back to the paved side of the lake and although the wind actually seemed worse, and the trail was still covered with detritus, at least we didn't need to worry about a eucalyptus tree falling on our heads...As we reach the top of the final climb up the road to the parking lot we were blasted with the full force and ended up riding the last couple of hundred yards directly into a headwind that tried it's best to stop us in our tracks.

Even more challenging than the ride though, was the post-ride meal and birthday cake. We huddled against a building trying our best to stay out of the wind, while balancing a beverage in one hand and a plate full of food in the other.  The heaters, which for the next couple of months will be a staple at every ride, tried valiantly to crank against the wind, but it was a losing battle and soon we were all calling it quits and loading up for the drive home.

Getting back into the truck was a dramatically different environment than where we had just spent the last couple of hours. Suddenly the wind was something I could only see and not feel and the quiet in the cab of my truck was almost deafening. The evidence of the storm continued on my drive home though....a good portion of Castro Valley Blvd was dark and without power and I passed several PG&E trucks as I drove through town....all in all another great ride.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dark in the Park

Several years ago when our Thursday riding group first got started, we referred to the weekly ride as Dark in the Park. It was early Fall and we quickly learned that if we were going to ride, we were going to have to learn to ride in the dark.....and so our group became the nitedawgs.

Obviously Spring changed things and we were no longer riding in the dark, but by then the name was set and the die was cast....we were the nitedawgs and the Thursday ride became known as Dark in the Park among the original group.

Riding at night for most of us with day jobs is our only alternative for part of the year. And to be honest, it's actually a lot of fun. In addition to adding a whole new twist to our regular fire road loop, it completely changes the dynamic of the ride.  Your focus is narrowed to that small pool of light that's either right in front of your bike for those with bar mounted lights or wherever you happen to be looking if your light is on your helmet.

As the years have gone on we've tested, reviewed, updated and refined our lights through a group beta test type system. One or two people will get a new light, everyone else will watch to see how well it works out and then eventually, we'll end up making a group buy and relegating last seasons choice to our backup or loaner lights.

Last year, I thought I had finally reached light nirvana. I had a 750 lumen light on my bar and another, much smaller, 750 light head on my helmet. It was perfect....there was nothing better and I enjoyed riding as fast as I wanted never once outrunning the pool of light cast by this setup. I could see down the trail, I had battery life plenty for even our longest loop and with the helmet mount, I could not only see the trail, but could look around at the wildlife I imagined to be stalking me as I rode.


Last week, we had decided to do the big loop and I was feeling good on the SS. As a matter of fact, I felt so good that there were several times when I'd look behind me and instead of seeing this....


I'd not see any lights from the others in my group at all.  This of course left me with a dilemma....do I stop and wait or do I ride ahead...alone...by myself....

As everyone who rides at night knows, in the dark, out on the trail, live all the monsters and goblins that used to reside under our beds when we were kids. Only now, as grownups, we're supposed to pretend they don't exist. But we ALL know that's a lie....they do exist...and they exist just outside the ring of light cast by our headlamps. (or in the case of camping, just outside the ring of light from the campfire)

Of course, being the manly man that I am (in tights and lycra of course) I would stop and wait....just daring the boogey man and the monsters to try to get me...and they, knowing full well the level of my machsimo...wisely decided to stay away. As a matter of fact, when I stopped, it was so peaceful and quiet and such a beautiful night, that had I not known better....I would almost believe there weren't any monsters out there after all....







Monday, October 28, 2013

Fall-ing On The Bike

Living in California, we're blessed with an abundance of amazing riding weather. Our winters are only moderately cold and wet and it's pretty rare that you're not able to squeeze at least 1-2 rides a week in during even the wettest months.

The downside to such a moderate climate is that we don't really have the traditional four seasons and the dramatic changes between them that other areas enjoy. I've heard from people that grew up in the east that this rates as a negative for us, but to be honest, I'm totally fine with it.

Here in the Bay Area, our Fall is traditionally marked with cool, crisp mornings which turn into sunny afternoons. We'll get breezy and windy weather, but again, the temps are usually moderate.

This past Saturday, was a perfectly typical Fall day in the east bay and I decided to break out the road bike for a ride up through the Oakland Hills to enjoy the weather.

Of course, as anyone that has seen my strava updates lately (or rather lack of updates) will understand, enjoying a ride through the Oakland Hills at my current level of fitness may be a bit of a misnomer. It was more like a suffer-fest in really pretty scenery.

The first portion of the ride up Redwood Rd is about 2 1/2 miles of up. None of it is dramatically steep, but it was warm, in full sun and it is all up. The reward though is that once you get to the top, you have almost the same distance in a nice, fast, swoopy downhill where you can let it hang out there while you recover.

At the bottom of Redwood, you enter a different environment. Where the front side is typical east bay hills with oak trees, scrub oak and dry canyons that thrive in the heat, the backside is like a different world altogether. There are still oaks but because you're in a valley they're surrounded by redwoods, eucalyptus trees and all the fauna that thrives in the cool shaded climate.

In the summer, this area is a wonderful respite from the heat of the east bay, usually staying at least 10-15 degrees cooler than the surrounding areas. In the fall, the difference is even more dramatic in that it looks like a different part of the country. Here, unlike the hills on either side in Castro Valley or Oakland, it was well and truly fall. The roads were covered in bright yellow leaves, the trees were awash in the reds, yellows and oranges of the season and the weather was crisp and cool.

As you climb out of the canyon, the oaks are replaced by more and larger redwoods, pines and eucalyptus trees until you get to the top of Skyline where the temperatures increase again and the surroundings revert to more of the typical east bay area hillsides.

This climb, as it reaches Skyline and turns up continues to hurt, but the views at the top and the solitude make it almost worth it. I've always been amazed at the homes at the top of the ridge. As I sat there straddling my top tube trying to catch my breath I could just imagine how nice it would be to be sitting on my balcony, (and they ALL have balconies) enjoying a nice cup of coffee or an adult beverage.

Instead, I gobbled down a handful of Honey Stinger chews, washed it down with a big drink from my water bottle and clipped back in, knowing I was only at the halfway point and still had a couple of decent climbs ahead of me.

It's interesting how a lack of fitness can completely change the personality of a ride. This loop, the zoo loop, used to be an after work ride for me when I was riding more regularly. It was tough but not brutal and I could bang it out in about an hour and a half. This time though, was a little more than tough, had me in the red zone quite a bit and took me 2 hours with a couple of different photo stops. (uh...yeah...that's it, I stopped to take pictures...not to try to get my heart to stop pounding in my ears)

Eventually, I made it back to the truck, and after loading up the bike, headed in to Peet's for my reward....a large mocha fredo...with whipped cream....pretty sure that made up for any calories I may have burned on the ride....

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Racing Daylight....

Tonight we've got the grandkids so I won't be able to do the weekly nitedawgs ride. Instead, I decided to ride the lake yesterday and invited my buddy Angel to join me. Angel in turn invited Mariano and we agreed to meet and start pedaling by 4:30.
Our goal was to do the loop in the daylight, but knowing how things can and sometimes do go wrong, I brought lights just to be safe.

For the middle of November it was surprisingly warm, almost 80 degrees, and it didn't take long for the sweat to start running in to my eyes. Surely it must be the heat and has nothing at all to do with my current level of fitness.

Brandon, as it always is, was tough but do-able. As long as I took my time, kept my cadence consistent and my pedal stroke smooth, I was fine. A couple of times though I'd circle back to check on Angel, who didn't appear to be having fun, then in an attempt to catch back up to Mariano, I'd find myself pushing harder than planned and would quickly move in to the red zone.

As we continued on around, we got to the half way point and ran into a younger guy that had stopped to read his map. I asked if he was ok and in broken english and with pointing at the map, he explained that he was doing the rest of the loop. I tried my best to explain that he still had over an hour ahead of him, several confusing trail intersections and that it would be getting dark soon. I asked if he had lights and I'm pretty sure he said yes...although my spanish was as bad as his english so at least I hope that's what he said.
With that, I pointed him in the right direction and we parted ways.

About 10 minutes later, we ran into 2 other young guys on what appeared to be brand new bikes and after explaining that this was their first time out there, they asked how much further to get back to the marina. We again explained that they had over an hour of riding, a decent amount of climbing and that it would be dark soon. They said they'd probably turn around after going a little further, and I really hope they did. Being lost out there in the dark would be no fun at all.

One thing about the Chabot loop that always amazes me is how peaceful and serene it is. Especially considering it's less than a 10 minute drive from Oakland. A town known for being neither peaceful nor serene.

We finished the loop in plenty of time beating the sunset by a long margin....all in all a great ride with good friends and just the right amount of suffering to wash all the weekly garbage out of my head and put me back in a good place.

Exercise really is the best therapy....



Friday, October 11, 2013

Niterides.....

I bombed down the trail with my vision blurring from the wind and my entire focus centered on the pools of light cast by my headlamp and bar light.

It's officially Fall. The days are shorter and the mornings and evenings are cooler. Last night's ride confirmed these facts in that I needed both a jacket and my lights for more than half the ride. Thankfully I had actually remembered both.

Night riding, for me, is a completely different animal than riding during the daylight hours. The darkness forces you to focus only on what you can see in the beam of light ahead of you. This is exciting on the downhill sections requiring your full attention and concentration. Looking for debris in the trail, ruts to avoid and trying to find the smoothest lines takes on a whole new challenge and lapses in concentration can have painful repercussions.

Climbing at night is considerably more enjoyable since I can focus on the small section of trail directly in front of me and tune out everything else around me. I'm able to go to that place where my brain checks out and my only focus is making circles, breathing and making forward progress. This often results in the additional reward of arriving at the top of a climb before you even realize you're there. (I'm sure anyone who has suffered a long climb on a single speed will agree this is a very nice emotional boost)

Our Thursday ride loop has two sustained climbs and although the Brandon climb was done in the light and I was forced to acknowledge my painfully slow progress the entire way, the climb up from the stone bridge was done in the dark and allowed me to check out, make circles and arrive at the top tired and huffing like a freight train, but sooner than I had anticipated.

Last night was also my first time back on the single speed having ridden the carbon fiber hardtail for the last couple of months. People tend to assume the SS is harder but to be honest, I really think its just a matter of what you're used to. When I first started riding the geared bike, my legs would be screaming on every climb from the sitting and spinning. And last night going back to the SS my legs felt good but my lungs were screaming from having to stand and pedal on every climb....basically, climbing is hard no matter what you ride. Sure the gears do allow you to back off a bit, but you're still pushing yourself and your bike up a hill. It's always hard.

The other interesting thing about riding in the dark is that your sense of speed and how fast you're going changes. I remember night skiing when I was younger and having the same issue. I'm not sure if it's a matter of, because it's dark I'm willing to go faster or just my inability to judge how fast I'm actually going. Either way, it made for a couple of exciting moments as I tried to slow for a couple of the corners.

Night riding is definitely a fun experience and if you've never done it, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It has a way of making "the same old loop" into a new and exciting adventure. Plus, knowing there are things out there that may want to eat you keeps you motivated to keep the pace high and the rest stops few and brief. (yes, I think about mountain lions when I ride...wouldn't you?)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Getting back out there...

This past weekend was the California Death Ride. A ride I've done a few times but have never actually finished. I was registered to do this ride....unfortunately, due to some general life issues which have led to an overall lack of fitness I didn't do it....as a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure had I attempted it, it would have lived up to it's name and actually killed me.

As I'm sure I've stated in this blog before, my lack of fitness and time spent exercising has a direct and definite affect on my attitude. And not in a good way. It's one of those vicious cycles where life prevents me from exercising, which causes a lack of fitness which leads to an avoidance of exercise because of the pain and suffering involved which leads to a general feeling of meh-ness. (look it up)

The challenge when you're in this state is to break out of it. For instance, although I don't have time for a ride, I could very easily go for a run (which I used to enjoy) but can come up with a million chores that HAVE to be completed instead.

And, on the days when I probably could pull off a nice long road ride, I find myself cranking out a quick lap on the mt bike at Chabot and calling it good. Granted the mt bike ride IS exercise, but everyone knows an hour on the mt bike is nowhere near as cathartic as spending a few hours suffering and sweating on the road bike while your brain processes all the crap bouncing around in your head.

I've always had a go-go-go personality. I've never been good at sitting still and doing nothing for long periods of time, it's just not in me.  Lately though, I've found it easier and easier to do less and less. And this concerns me. In addition to the obvious issues that plague sedentary people, weight gain, blood pressure issues, heart problems, etc., getting older brings with it a whole host of age related health issues that I'd rather not face.

So, this weekend, I'm going to have to find a way to get up and get out on the road. I have to figure out a way to motivate myself to get back on the bike for a good long suffer-fest.  Granted, at this level of fitness, it won't be as long as some, but I'm pretty sure the level of suffering will be high....

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Father's Day Ride...

What do you want to do on Father's Day?
This question came from my daughters who evidently don't know me as well as I thought....The obvious answer is "ride my bike".

Life continues to spin at a frenetic pace and free time continues to elude me. This of course results in less riding which brings with it a lack of fitness, shortness of patience and general dissatisfaction in my mental outlook

So, on the one day of the year in which it's not only acceptable, but expected for dad to do exactly what he wants and to heck with everyone else, I planned on riding my bike...by myself...for as long as I wanted (or for as long as I could)

The reality though is that as much as Father's Day is about what I want, I'm actually blessed enough to have kids that want to spend it with me. As a result, my time on the bike would still need to be balanced with time spent with the kids and the family.

Thankfully, I'm an early riser which allowed me to get up, out the door and over to Lake Chabot in time to get a good long ride in and still make it home in time to shower and clean up before the planned Father's Day brunch with the family.

I knew before I started that I was doing the "big loop" which in adds in Redtail and Soaring Hawk to the nomal route around the lake. This, in addition to taking it from 13 miles and 1500ft of climbing to 16 miles and 2000ft of climbing, adds in some of the only rideable single track in the park. I've done this a few times on the single speed lately and although it hurts, it's definitely do-able.

As I got to the top of Brandon though, an idea started to weasel its way into my head....I feel good...I should do the "big-big loop" immediately I pushed the thought away as stupid and a source of major pain and suffering...
The morning was beautiful with the sun shining and the weather still cool. The fog was hanging in the hills to the east, but I could see blue sky everywhere I was headed. There's something about riding in the morning that seems to make it easier. I don't know if it's knowing you have the entire day to recover or that you're out riding while most are still  in bed, but it's a good feeling and creates a level of energy that belies my current level of fitness.

I continued on the big loop with the thought of extending it continuing to play in the back of my mind.
As I stopped to take a couple of pictures and enjoy the still cool morning, it was decided. I was going to finish the descent to Bort Meadow and finish the big loop. I had places to be after all and there's no sense spending the rest of the day suffering for yet another bad decision.....ok, decided, approved and finalized...no big big loop for me today...

And then, the weirdest thing happened, I finished the Soaring Hawk descent, rolled into and through the Bort Meadow parking lot and began climbing again....despite all the reasons I had for cutting the ride short and getting home, I really just didn't want this perfect solo morning ride to end...

I had forgotten what the climb from Bort Meadow up to Skyline Bl was like and as a result had no idea I was in for almost another 1000ft of climbing before the day was over....although as nice as the morning was, I think even had I remembered I would have made the same decision.

The climb up to Skyline isn't particularly steep, but it is a fairly long climb and provided a perfect opportunity for my brain to check out for a while and my thoughts to reduce to the most basic level. Timing my breathing with my pedal strokes made for a good rhythm while my brain repeated the same mantra over and over again.....make circles, be smooth, breathe, make circles, be smooth, breathe....

Eventually, the trail ends and dumps you onto a road that points up at a pretty steep angle.....from here any rhythm I may have had disappeared and  my cadence went to pieces...my only goal was making it to the top without my heart and lungs exploding out of my chest.  I jerked wildly on the bars as I pushed on the pedals, sucking in as much air as I could, wailing the bike back and forth beneath me in a crude effort at forward motion...and eventually I made it....ugly, but effective.

The reward for all this work is a weird little stretch of really fun single track that sits in the middle of two busy lanes of traffic.....it weaves in and around trees and roots while continuing in a mostly downhill run....I could imagine kids on their full suspension bikes ripping this section up, but on the rigid SS, I continued to try to be smooth and find that elusive flow.

Eventually, this ends and, at the stables and you're dumped back on to the infamous EBRPD fire roads....graded to the width of a Southern California freeway and at this point in the year consisting of the powder over hardpack our regional parks are known for. Still I was riding my bike and not at work, doing chores, or sitting on the couch.

For the rest of the loop I continued to enjoy the ride although my legs were beginning to let me know I was not at the level of fitness I should have been at this point in the season.  The good news was that after a shower, I was headed to brunch with the family to replenish some of the calories I was burning....
Final Tally -  Mileage:19 - Feet of climbing: 2800 - Mental Health Restored: 100%

Friday, June 7, 2013

Beware the Rewards Program...

Today I got an email from my bike shop....a year or so ago, they initiated a Rewards Program which, like most, reward you with store credits based on how much you spend during the previous year.

When I first got the voucher in my in-box I thought, wow it's been a slow year for me purchase-wise. The reality is that after looking at the program to see exactly how it works, that's not the case at all.  It turns out that their program is bi-annual and not yearly and the total I've spent is about $1500.00 over the last 6 months.
This wouldn't be a big deal except that I haven't bought a new bike in 3 years and haven't made any major upgrades to the several bikes I do have.  As a matter of fact I'm not sure what I've bought although I know I've never walked out of there spending less than $100.00.

I don't mind spending money there. They're an awesome shop, run and staffed by good people. Sure I still order stuff online, sometimes the pricing and lack of sales tax make it impossible for the small local guys to compete, but whenever I can I prefer to support my local bike shop.

After thinking about it though, the fact of the matter is, I would probably be ahead of the game if I just tore this up and threw it away right now.  There's a pretty popular outdoor equipment store with a 3 letter name that I tend to visit regularly and it's the exact same story.  I earn thirty or forty dollars a year in "free money" then go in and spend a couple hundred bucks.

If I was smart, instead of thinking about the $39.44 I'm throwing away, I'd instead think about the additional hundred dollars I won't spend......unfortunately, my brain doesn't work that way.  What I'll do is use this to justify spending money on something I wasn't going to buy and probably don't really need because it's $40.00 cheaper than it normally would have been. Yeah, I know. It's weird logic and probably wouldn't stand up to any financial planning or budgeting logic, but that's how my head works.

In addition, it's only applicable to "full price" items and I'm pretty sure their regular sales offer bigger discounts......oh well, I guess it's not worth trying to apply logic to things like bike shopping anyway so no sense wasting my time trying....besides, I've got to get by the bike shop before this thing expires....

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Victim of NRSS...

I have a buddy that's recently gotten in to mountain biking. In addition to buying a new Trek and trying to ride as much as he can, he's also become somewhat of an evangelist trying to get a bunch of his co-workers involved in the sport.

A week or so ago, he asked me if he could borrow a bike for one of his co-workers to ride after work.  Not thinking too much about it, I agreed and loaned him the Voodoo.  The Voodoo is my geared full suspension 29er and with me riding my SS predominantly it doesn't get ridden too often so I figured what the heck?

It's funny that after someone has been riding for a while they tend to forget what it was like to be a beginner. Not knowing how to use clips, not knowing how to shift smoothly and not realizing just how hard mountain biking can be both on the body and on your equipment.

Evidently, my buddy's co-worker is a completely new rider and hadn't been on a bike since he was a kid with his BMX bike.  This means that although he knew how to ride a bike, he didn't know how to ride a bike with gears....uphill....in the dirt. A classic example of someone suffering from NRSS (new rider shifting syndrome)

New riders, hills and nice bikes aren't made to play well with each other because when my buddy returned my bike, he mentioned that there was a "little bit of creaking" coming from the bottom bracket. I didn't think too much about it and actually brought the bike to Chabot that week for our Thursday rides.

Immediately upon starting up the Brandon climb, I noticed the "little bit of creaking" he mentioned....it was probably closer to loading up the coffee grinder with a handful of stainless steel nuts and bolts....holy cow what a racket this thing was making.

Over the weekend I decided to tear down the bike, clean, lube and tighten all the pivot bolts and connectors.  Service the bottom bracket and see what else needed to be done. It turns out I was in for some work.  The bike was filthy which was no surprise.  What was a surprise was the fact that there were actually several links in the chain that were twisted and on the verge of failing. The middle ring of the crankset actually had 2 teeth completely broken off and the bottom bracket had quite a bit of fine dust and dirt in it.

The dust and the dirt were probably the main culprits of the creaking and are no one's fault. It's the dry season around here and all the trails are loose, fine dust over hardpack. The chain and the missing teeth on the crankset though are most likely the victims of NRSS.  NRSS usually has two major and oft-seen symptoms: Shifting while under load, and Failing to softpedal during shifts.

Sufferers of NRSS tend to have an inability to look ahead or up the trail. They are usually surprised by hills and as a result, will wait until they are unable to turn the current gear before pushing the shift button while under full load. This of course puts a HUGE amount of stress on the crank, the chain and the derailleur.

It appears that my bike was a victim of NRSS to an extreme and as a result, required major reconstructive surgery. Since everything was torn down anyway and the bike and it's components are about 3 years old, I decided to replace the bottom bracket with a new upgraded XTR model. The chain and the middle ring of the crankset were both going to require replacement surgery and the rear derailleur received a complete soaking, cleaning and reattachment.

Tonight, I'll reassemble everything and restore her to her previous silky smooth riding status.....never to be loaned out to anyone suffering from NRSS again!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Not Riding....

As I'm sure anyone who has read my blog even a couple of times can tell, riding for me is important. It's important for a few different reasons.

The first is that I identify myself as a rider and if I don't actually ride, then I must not have an identity. (I can see you trying to wrap your head around that one right now so I'll give you a moment.....ok, done?)

The second reason is that, as I've stated in more than one previous post, riding for me is therapy, anger management, conflict resolution class and a nice dose of Prozac all rolled into one nice, low cost session. (granted the low cost part of that statement is debatable if you look in my garage)

It's also a place I'm able to safely and in a healthy way, work out my competitive issues. (not that I'm in any way admitting there's a slim chance I may be slightly competitive)

Lastly, riding is pretty much the only exercise I do these days that doesn't leave me with aching knees and a sore lower back so if I'm not riding, I'm also not getting any exercise. This in addition to affecting my long term health, also affects my self esteem and self confidence. (yeah, there's probably a doctoral thesis paper in there for some psychiatrist, but whatever)

So, lately, I haven't been riding much. Life and family challenges have kept me off the bike and although the time off the bike has allowed me to get stuff done around the house, it hasn't been helpful for my attitude. The problem is, I don't see the situation changing a whole lot in the next several weeks....something has to change and unfortunately, I think it's going to have to be my attitude towards riding.

In the past, I've felt like I could do any group ride and although I'm never the fastest, I've been able to complete the ride and usually at a pace that allows me to avoid embarrassing myself. I've worked hard to get to this level of fitness. I normally ride 2-3x per week with at least one of those rides being a long, hard ride where I could pretty much empty my head of all the crap that builds up during the week.

I guess if there's any upside to my inability to ride is that my fitness level will fall off.  How could that possibly be an upside you ask? Well, let me tell you.  One of the things I really enjoy about riding is the way a long hard ride will leave me completely depleted and exhausted but doesn't hurt my back or my knees the way running used to. My assumption is that if my fitness level decreases, and I'm only able to do one short ride per week, that one short ride will become hard and will get me to my desired level of exhausted-ness quicker. (yep, in my head that actually makes sense)

So, as I try to find a new balance between work, home and cycling I realize and accept the fact that I'll be slower, and probably heavier, but still thankful for the time I get on the bike. Time spent clearing out the cobwebs and making circles with my legs while my brain checks out, even if just for a little while.

Who knows, maybe I'll even find a place where it's ok to not be in the lead group and not one of the "fast guys".....(yeah, right)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Passing It On...

I've been mountain biking since the mid-80s and since we were newlyweds at the time (read flat broke) every bike I'd owned was a compromise between what I wanted and what we could afford.

The first bike was a Schwinn Sierra (1985 I think) and it was my prized possession. I remember saving for months to get it, scraping and diverting precious dollars from our already over-strained budget until I had the 289.00 to make it my own.

Not long after though, it was stolen. We lived in an apartment in a less than great neighborhood and I left it on the patio one night to find it gone in the morning....I was crushed but immediately began raiding the budget again until I saved for my next bike. A 1990 Giant Iguana which at 349.00 took a pretty big bite out of the meager savings.

When I was shopping for this bike, front suspension was starting to be a lot more common on bikes.  I unfortunately, having 2 young kids was forced once again to settle for something less than what I really wanted. The giant though was leaps and bounds ahead of the sierra as it had 21 speeds and the "new" rapidfire shifters which were a big leap over the friction thumb shifters on my Schwinn.

I rode this thing all over the place, rigid fork be damned. Chabot, Garin, the Hayward Plunge trail....nothing was too tough.....It's too bad I didn't save the money to move to a nicer neighborhood because I still had to keep the bike on the patio. Even though I had installed an eye bolt in the concrete and locked it up, my cable lock was no match for the commitment of our local hoodlums.

Ok, upgrading again....this time to a pretty nice 1996 Diamond Back. Still no front suspension, because after all, that was at the $500.00 level and only pros spend that kind of money on a bike...right?
It was about this time that my life and career were taking more time and riding was getting less attention...to be honest, the bike pretty much sat after that first year....

In 2003 though, I was fat and out of shape and although I wasn't healthy, my savings account finally was. I began to shop in earnest. Deciding I would no longer cut corners and settle for a bike that wasn't what I wanted.  The problem was, I had no idea what was available any more and no idea what I wanted.

The good news is that when it comes to bikes, I actually enjoy shopping....and shop I did. Finally ending up with a full suspension, disc braked aluminum bike made by K2. It wasn't a common brand in the bike industry, but I figured I'd get more bang for my buck..and I did. Of course when the minister of finance found out I spent almost $1000.00 on a bike, she considered having me committed....I mean what kind of lunatic spends that kind of money on a bicycle???? (those of you reading this and knowing what my current stable of bikes looks like are probably laughing right now but that's why I discourage her from going in the garage)
I loved the bike and rode it like I stole it. She's ridden pretty much all the good trails in the bay area, from the local loops like Chabot and Joaquin Miller to some of the more popular place like China Camp, Demo, Henry Coe and Skeggs. I've raced her at Sea Otter, and Harvey Bear and she's even been to Tahoe on a few occasions.


It's on her that I finally became a regular cyclist and she eventually became a gateway drug for me, leading me into road biking, singlespeeding and as of a couple years ago, 29ers.

Sadly, over the last several years she also became a donor for some of my other bikes until last year, with nothing left but a frame I rebuilt her to her former glory. New front shock, crankset, F&R derailleurs and wheels and tires.....and there she sat in my garage....having only been ridden twice since and now hanging from the rack and gathering dust.
See, the days of heavy, full suspension, geared 26ers has passed for me and now my go-to bike has bigger hoops and neither gears nor suspension.  It's sad really....but the truth is there's a new gal in my life and I just enjoy spending time with her more

Well, today all that changed....  A friend of a friend is a newly married guy that wants to get into mountain biking. He has a limited budget and a kid on the way....and as of this afternoon now owns a very affordable, better than average, entry-level mountain bike in almost new condition.

Hopefully she'll do for him what she did for me. Introducing him to the joys of time spent together, pushing him beyond his comfort zones and if he's not careful, she may show him how tough she is as she lays next to him on the trail unscathed while he wipes the dust and blood off after she enticed him to try something he should  have known better than to attempt...

Good bye old friend...hopefully I'll see you on the group rides....

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bling-a-riffic for the SS

I bought myself the Jabber as a Christmas present in 2008 and built it up nicely, but on a budget. It had XT brakes, some e-bay Mavic wheels on XT hubs and some nice tires. I did add some red bits and pieces  in the form of a headset and seatpost clamp and some custom Groovy Luv bars which was my attempt at bling-ifying my ride.

Other than that I've done nothing to the bike except ride the heck out of it. This has been an awesome bike and with the exception of some rides at Demo, Skeggs or Tahoe where I knew either our route or my fitness level required the gears, it's been my main ride.....and it's been bulletproof.

I think for me, the simplicity is one of the main attractions of riding SS. There is very little maintenance, no tuning or adjusting of derailleurs or suspension and as far riding it goes, it forces a level of honesty that reminds me of riding my bmx bike as a kid.  If there's a hill you can't climb, you walk, if you want to go faster, pedal harder, if you head over a rough bumpy section, pick the smoothest line, flex your arms and legs and hang on....

Sure, the reasons that gears and suspension were invented and have become so popular is so that you can climb steeper hills, ride faster and descend smoother without beating the crap out of your body, and I definitely like my geared bike when I ride it, but for me, the SS really is my favorite ride.

With that in mind, I've been lusting after a newer, sexier SS. Maybe a lighter, custom steel frame. Or possibly even a carbon fiber wonder-bike with sleek lines, carbon fork and so light it practically pedals itself...the problem is, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Jabber. It does everything I need it to with no complaints and any drawbacks with the performance are more than likely due to the motor and not the bike.....still bike lust compels me to look and to shop.

So, what's a guy to do? Well, the goal is to slowly upgrade everything that I can so that if someday I do find and buy that dream frame I've been searching for, I can just move all the components over.  To that end, I've invested in some nicer wheels which should not only save some weight, but will be perfect for a future carbon or custom steel frame.....the fact that the hubs are red and match the other red bits, only adds to the bling factor....

Now, if I could just upgrade to a stronger motor I'd be all set....


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's like a drug....

This past week, the stars aligned and my schedule worked out such that I was able to join the group for the Tuesday evening Diablo ride.

As I left work I noted that it was a perfect 76 degrees with only a slight breeze...couldn't have picked a better evening for my first ascent of Diablo this year.  The only problem was, as I headed up the Dublin grade and then down the other side, I noticed that the temperature continued to climb....until eventually stopping at a decidedly warm 87 degrees when I pulled in to the parking lot where we were to meet.

Evidently, I wasn't the only one motivated by the nice weather. Jim showed up along with Larry who not only hasn't been up Diablo this year, but hasn't been riding much at all since last year.  They both stated that their goal was modest, Larry wanted to make it to the first ranger station and Jim was keeping him honest...I mean keeping him company.

I on the other hand, known for making bad choices and stupid decisions, had decided I needed to make it to the summit even if it killed me.  Diablo, in my mind anyway, can be broken down into 4 distinct sections.  The first section to the ranger station/entry gate is not only tough, it's pretty much full sun the entire way.  With the breeze that had picked up, I'm pretty sure the temps had gone down from the 87 I saw on the dashboard of my truck, but it was still hot and I had finished almost an entire bottle of water by the time we got there.

At the beginning of the second section, after the ranger station, you enter an almost flat (4%) area that is in the shade and allows for a nice recovery. This doesn't last too long though and soon enough we were climbing again and although we were in and out of tree coverage, I still sweat like crazy and by the time we hit the junction where the north and south roads meet, I had almost emptied both bottles.

It's not like I haven't been riding at all this year. I've done a couple of 40+ mile rides and had been trying to make sure every ride had a decent amount of elevation, Diablo though is a different beast. It's basically an 11 mile ride that gains 3500ft with almost no relief.
After regrouping, resting for a couple of minutes and filling our bottles at the junction, we faced the third section.  For me, this is usually a lot harder than the first portions.  This evening though, I felt way better than I expected and although my heart rate definitely stayed high and my legs were feeling the effort, I actually felt pretty good.  I'm sure the fact that the temps had dropped and I wasn't cooking in the full sun helped, but I was able to get in a rhythm, shut off my brain and disappear inside my head for a bit.

There's one part that I always dread. It's a consistent 8+% and although it's probably less than a half mile, it always kicks my butt.  This evening though, as soon as we got to the beginning, I actually upshifted, stood and concentrated on trying to make smooth strong circles with the pedals.  I wouldn't say I attacked it, because that would imply I was fast, I wasn't.

I did though give it a good solid effort and by the time I turned the last corner where it mellows, I had worked in the red zone for a few minutes and was both puffing like a freight train and sweating to the point that it was running in to my eyes.  The best part about efforts like that are when they stop.  And sure enough, as I sat back in the saddle and backed off, I could feel the flush of endorphins flooding through my system. 

I remember this feeling happening a lot more frequently when I used to run.  There was almost always a point where you would be making long easy strides, your breathing would be smooth and you'd feel the endorphins flowing into your system as if you were on an IV drip. They call this the runner's high and for many, it becomes a drug forcing them to push farther and faster in an effort to get there.

On the bike though, this feeling is rare. I'm not sure why, you're putting good effort into both, both are exercise and both push your body.  With biking though, it seems like the efforts have to be much more extreme to get the same level of endorphin kick.

The rest of the climb is more of the same. A mix of steep, fairly steep and just kind of steep sections until you make the turn at Devil's elbow. From here you know you only have a few more turns before you get to what I'm referring to as the 4th and final segment. The driveway....(I put it in italics because it's supposed to impart drama...and believe me, the driveway IS drama. I would have put the "duh, duh, duh" sound effects if I knew how)

If you've ever been p Diablo, you know the driveway as the last hundred yards of hell. If you've never been up Diablo, you need to. The driveway is a short, narrow section that ranges from 15-20% and knowing that if you stop, you'll never get started again, forces you to either continue or arrive at the top walking.

Today though, knowing that I had burned all my matches on the way up, I, for the first time (probably ever) made a good decision and skipped the driveway.  I knew, had I tried it, I would have cramped up and I just wasn't ready for that level of suffering today.

Of course, as soon as the decision was made and we began our descent, I regretted it. I've never ridden up this mountain and not finished. Not done the driveway....today was the first time. And, while it may have shown good judgement and could even be seen as a sign of maturity, it bugged me.

Of course, the reward for any climb comes in the descent and today didn't disappoint. The weather was perfect, the views were amazing and I do love me some downhill....descending, along with the endorphin rush from ascending has once again left me feeling sane and almost normal....

One of my  favorite quotes is by Bill Phillips that says,
Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant

Monday, April 22, 2013

No Jacket Required....

The title of this post has more to do with last night's ride than an oblique reference to one of my favorite albums in the early-eighties....

The usual suspects showed up for the Thursday ride and it was so nice that most of us were in short sleeves which was a very nice treat. That combined with doing the entire long loop sans lights made for a really nice evening to be out on the bike.

Several of us decided to do the longer loop and while I started out strong and felt good for the first few climbs, my legs eventually began to protest as the climbs didn't let up and the pace remained higher than I would have liked.

Eventually, as we reached the top of Soaring Hawk with the views of the bay and a nice breeze, I realized again just how blessed we are to live in the SF bay area. It never ceases to amaze me that within 10 minutes of a major metropolitan area like Oakland, we have access to good riding trails.

After a brief rest to catch my breath, we began the descent that was to be the reward for our efforts. The downhill portion on this part of the ride is fast, narrow and although somewhat rutted, is a great little hidden gem in our area. Actually, it's not even that it's hidden. It's just that there's quite a bit of work that goes in to getting here and even many that are aware of it, are unwilling to put the required level of effort in to enjoy it. I think that in all the times I've ridden this section, I've only seen a couple of hikers and never any other riders.

The last little bit drops you off on Redwood Rd and is REALLY rutted out. So, not only are you listening for oncoming cars and the crotch rockets that race up and down the canyon, you're required to put a large amount of focus into staying on your line and keeping your rear wheel from launching up and over your front wheel.

This section is followed by a nice slightly downhill fireroad run back to the lake loop. This is also the only section on the ride where I wish I had gears. I spend most of my time either pedaling like a hamster on a wheel or tucked and trying to draft off one of the guys ahead of me.

Bort Meadows is also where Jack and I separated from the others in doing the long loop. They were adding in another little sideloop, but the truth be told, I wasn't sure I was going to finish this loop without cramping. There was no way I wanted to have to walk the last section of road back to the parking lot so I decided that discretion truly is the better part of valor and Jack and I headed back without the added detour.

As we pedaled up the road to the parking lot, my legs were definitely tired, but I wasn't quite as spent as I thought I might be. So, with the last 100 yards left to finish, I taunted Jack and he and I raced in to the parking lot with him cranking a big gear and me spinning again like the proverbial hamster.  Afterall, while discretion may be the better part of valor, stupid is as stupid does and I'm always game for another really dumb idea.....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

3 miles is a long way....

when you're running instead of riding....

On Sunday I took the pup out to the Bay Trail for a run.  It was a nice day and to be honest, we all like her just a little more when she's exhausted. She's mellow and cute and doesn't drive us insane jumping all over us.

I didn't bring the GPS but I'm guessing we ran/walked at least a couple of miles.  Well, I think I did a couple miles...with all of her insanity, running here and there and back and forth she probably had at least double that amount.  It's a pretty nice area, the wildflowers are in bloom and we didn't see too many people so I was able to let her off the leash and she was free to go crazy.

Yesterday, my wife had a doctor's appointment so after dropping her off, I took the puppy to the Alameda Creek trail for a run. With life being kind of crazy right now and me feeling fat and lazy about not having time to ride, I figured I had about an hour and could get a good workout in before picking her up.

The Alameda Creek trail goes all the way from the Bay to Niles Canyon which is about 13 miles. The south side of the creek is a paved trail and we've done a bunch of bike rides out there. I've never been on the north side, before since it's all dirt so I decided to give it a try.

We parked and as soon as we left the shelter of the lower parking lot and got up on the trail, I knew the wind was going to be an issue. I'd guess it was blowing at a pretty consistent 20+ mph with gusts that were much higher. The first part of the run is due west, or directly IN to the wind. It was a long 1.5 miles and I felt like I was struggling the entire way.  the pup on the other hand didn't seem at all fazed by it and once off lease proceeded to run ahead, lag behind, sprint to catch up and generally just bounce around like the energizer bunny on crack.

After hitting the mile and a half mark and turning around, life got much easier.  The winds that had fought me the entire first half of the run were now pushing me along nicely. They seemed to energize sasha that much more as well as she continued to sprint around jumping and chasing leaves as they blew down the trail.

Eventually, we made it back to the truck and although I was tired and sweaty, she immediately grabbed the tennis ball I keep in the truck and started batting it around the parking lot.....damn dog wasn't even tired....
When we got home I realized her willingness to play was just a ruse to make me feel old.  She immediately lay down on the floor in the family room and nodded off to sleep.  As the evening went on, I could tell I succeeded in wearing her out.  She was mellow and relaxed preferring to lay on the floor chewing on her bone instead of running through the house like a caffeine riddled psychopath...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

It could happen to anyone....

I logged on the to the mountain bike forum this past Monday and saw the headline that gave me pause. "Rider Down"... 

We all know crashing comes with the territory when we ride and I've been intimate with both the pavement and the trail more times that I'd like to admit. This time though, it was someone I knew and the news was bad....really bad. He had been airlifted and was in a coma at the regional hospital.

A buddy I've ridden with several times and seen at the trail as well as various races a lot, had crashed pre-riding the Sea Otter Classic when his front wheel went in to one of the myriad of ruts on a long fast downhill.  Jerry is an extremely strong rider and a tremendous bike handler so it's not like he was a newb that made a dumb move. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what happened other than he hit a rut, went over the bars and landed on his head.....

For me, crashes usually happen in one of two ways. The first is the kind where you're out of control, know things are going south and actually have time to think of just how much the following events are going to suck.  The one that sticks in my mind is the time I was riding down a fast flowing trail, saw a creek, pulled up too late and knew my attempt at a bunnyhop wasn't going to carry me across.
My rear wheel hit a rock mid-creek. The back of the bike launched up and over my head as I slowly headed face first for the ground.  Luckily I was able to tuck my head, complete the airborn somesault and land flat on my canelback in the middle of the trail.  Thankfully, my rear wheel and my camelback were the only real victims in that case.

The other type of crash is the one where you're grooving along loving life and the next thing you know you're wadded up in a heap wondering what in the hell just happened.  This is pretty much exactly what happened both when I fractured my elbow at Demo and more recently, when I crashed my road bike.  One minute I'm thinking about how awesome the day is, tucking in to a nice fast downhill right hander and the next thing I know, some guy is standing over me saying "dude, you just slid all the way across the road, are you ok?"

There's an old saying that riders fall in to two categories, those that have gone down or those that will go down. all we can hope for is that when it happens, it's not major and it doesn't keep us off the bike for very long.

In Jerry's case, it is major and chances are it will keep him off the bike for a while.  All we can do is continue to pray and hope he comes out of the coma quickly and completely and with no lasting effects.

As we used to say to the moto riders, be safe and keep the rubber side down.....

Monday, April 8, 2013

St Mary's Loop...using the reset button...

I've been trying to do this ride for the last couple of months. Unfortunately, every time I've started out to do it, time has been against me. the first time, I forgot my helmet and half way to the start, I had to turn around and go home to get it. The next time, I and my buddy were both having off days and by the time we got to the decision point we were already way behind schedule.

This time though, Jack and I met at the start on a Saturday morning and with nothing on the calendar for the day except chores, I was in no hurry to get back home.  The morning started out cool, but the climb up Redwood Rd quickly gets the core temperatures up in to the "slightly warmer than comfortable" zone.  This of course leads to a cool descent to the bottom of Pinehurst but by now the temps outside had gotten into the 60s and the sun made for a cool but comfortable ride.  Of course the descent on the backside of Pinehurst is almost comletely in the shade of the redwoods and by the time we turned on to Canyon Rd and towards Moraga, I was ready for a climb.

Today's ride was shaping up differently than most of our group rides. With it jsut being Jack and I and with both of us at similar fitness levels, there was very little stopping and waiting and we ended up pushing each other pretty well for most of the route.

Life lately has been a challenge with my wife's health issues, balancing work and home and trying to maintain some semblance of balance when I'm habitually over committed with the various boards and committees I'm on.  One of the best treatments for the chaos bouncing around in my head is to force myself into the red zone on every hill I can find.  Putting my head down, pushing my heart to try to pump enough blood into oxygen starved muscles and forcing my lungs to expand beyond their normal daily limits allows my brain to check out for a while and focus on nothing more than getting my legs to make circles. 

Invariably, at the top of the climb, as my heart rate and breathing start to return to normal, my brain slowly re-engages and a feeling of well being washes over me.  Scientists say this is caused by the flood of endorphins into your system or the massive influx of serotonin into your brain and they're probably right.  For me though, it's much simpler, it's like hitting the restart button on your computer when it hangs.

Eventually, we made it though Moraga, Lafayette, Alamo and into Danville where we had decided to stop for a snack and coffee.  I really enjoy my coffee, some would say I'm addicted, and that may be true, but evidently I'm not the only cyclist that thinks coffee and riding go well.  As we pulled in to Peet's in Danville,there were so many people walking around in spandex and so many high end bikes, that it looked like a stage of the Tour of California. 

With a mocha freddo, a granola bar and a gel in my belly we began again. The next section along San Ramon Valley Blvd. from Danville to Dublin is good after lunch section. It's not really long and rolls up and down with a good shoulder. 

Where climbing forces me to shut off my brain and check out, long grinds like SRV Blvd alow my legs to check out and my brain to work over some of the crap stored up there.  It's on sections like this where my legs just keep spinning in higher cadence circles that I can work through some of the things at work, come up wiht ideas for the TurningWheels for Kids Foundation or update and clarify my mental to-do list for the upcoming week.

 The really nice part about this section is that it heads mostly north/south as much as I'd love to say my fitness allowed me to maintain the 22-24mph per pace on this section, I'm pretty sure the tailwind had more to do with it than anything.

As is always the case, all good things must end and SRV is followed by Dublin Canyon which is a long, unshaded climb and while it's not brutal in terms of percentage grade, it ALWAYS has a headwind.  Honestly, I don't think I've ever ridden this road when the wind wasn't in my face.

With the last major climb in our back pockets, we enjoyed the steep fast descent to Old Dublin Canyon where thanks to the headwind we had to work all the way back to Ccastro Valley even though it's almost all downhill.

As we rolled up to the truck, unclipped and congratulated each other on our awesomeness I felt good.  A decently long ride with a respectable amount of climbing and we finished strong.  More importantly though, my reset button worked, my brain was no longer hung up and I was ready to face yet another week.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pescadero for Lunch....

What a week! I almost  bailed on the ride, but decided my mental health required a good flushing and nothing clears the cobwebs like a bit of climbing and suffering on the bike.

It almost went bad right form the start as I waited for everyone to arrive. With 20 minutes still to go, I decided I just had a feeling I'd better check out Jerry's website to make sure I was at the right spot....um...nope!
I assumed we were doing the Pescadero/Tunitas Creek loop when in fact we were doing the Half Moon Bay/Pescadero loop.

Despite the fact that I now needed to hustle over the hill to the Half Moon Bay starting point, I was somewhat relieved to find out Tunitas Creek wasn't going to destroy me today.

I made it to the correct starting point with time to spare ad met up with the gang. As we headed out through Half Moon Bay I was reminded of all the time the girls and I used to spend here when we were first married and had the mobile home over here....thinking of all the great rides I didn't even know existed.

The ride heads through downtown and up Higgins Purisma road. It's not too long before it angles upward and after a nice warm up of ups and downs and as we made a sharp left turn, Leticia made the comment that "now the climb really begins". and boy she wasn't kidding...I tried valiantly to keep up with Bill as he made smooth, easy circles, but it wasn't long before he was a full turn ahead of me then eventually out of my sight.

I concentrated on trying to spin while at the same time trying to keep my heartrate under control as the climb continued through turn after turn until. It wasn't ridiculously steep although I did see 10 and 11% on my garmin more than a couple of times.  Eventually we reached the top and had caught our breath as we waited for the others to catch up. 
The best part of any climb is when it ends and in the same way that dessert always follows dinner, a downhill always follows the climb. And this one was beautiful.

From here it was rolling hills and descents as we worked our way to the coast.  I was still trying to work through some issues from the previous week and putting my head down and powering the pedals is the best way I know how.  As I stood for every climb and hammered on the downhills the rollers the led west worked their magic on both my legs and my psyche.
Eventually we were dumped out onto Hwy 1 and once again I was thankful I hadn't bailed on today's ride.  At one point as a few of us stopped to take pictures, someone made the comment about how blessed we were to have this in our backyard when people come from across the country to ride these roads....I couldn't agree more.
 
As we rolled in to Pescadero and one of my all-time favorite grocery stores, Arcangeli Grocry we realized we were missing Bob and Leticia.  Assuming they had pedaled on without stopping for lunch, the rest of us went in and enjoyed a snack and a drink.

As much as I wanted to nap in the sun right there on the back lawn, everone else was ready to get rolling so we headed out.  Every time I've done the Pescadero loop, whether from the San Mateo side or this time from the Half Moon Bay side, Stage Rd is always one of my least favorite climbs.  I'm sure it has more to do with the fact that we've just spent 30-40 minutes lounging in the sun and stuffing our faces, than it does the elevation gain, but it's still a really tough climb for me.

As with all climbs though, it's followed by a nice downhill before beginning to go up again. This happens again a couple more times before we're dumped back out on Hwy 1 for the slog north.  Hwy 1 is a beautiful ride with the ocean guiding us along on the left, the problem is, it's usually windy in the afternoon and the traffic tends to freak me out a bit.

Amazingly enough, I actually felt pretty good and as we motored north, I could again disappear inside my head and spend some time cleaniing and scrubbing out the garbage that had been piling up there all week.

Eventually, we rolled back into Half Moon Bay and as we loaded up our bikes, used the rest room, enjoyed cold drinks from Jerry's ever-present cooler, Bob and Leticia rolled up.  Turns out they had decided to head firther south to the lighthouse whereas we had turned inland to hit the lunch spot.

I'm not sure how many bonus miles they picked up, my garmin showed a days total of 43 miles with 3470ft of climbing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Toxic sweat....

Pedaling through the golf course parking lot my brain begins to process what's to come like a kid waiting to tell his dad he wrecked the car....immediately my heart rate ramps up, my legs, though making smooth circles on the flat pavement, twitch in anticipation of the coming climb...

I wasn't going to ride today.  I knew it was going to be hot, I knew I hadn't been riding and, if it wasn't for a pile of stuff bouncing around in my head that I needed to sort through and dispose of, I would have followed my own advice and stayed home with a cold beverage to relieve my stress. But I knew I didn't want that.  I wanted to make circles with my legs and let the suffering of my body wash the dietris out of my head.

The twin posts that mark the entrance to the trailhead greet me.....this is the maginot line...the line between the civilization of smooth black asphalt and the pain of a recently graded, loose, dusty climb in the full sun that will cause me to wish I had found a different vehicle for blowing off steam.

It's really hot.  Although, according to the thermometer, its not as hot as it seems which I can only assume has something to do with my lack of ride time lately. The first part of the ride, the section along the fireroad behind some of the nicer houses in the area and down to the golf course had been a nice warm up. The trail is in the shade, there was a nice breeze and I took it easy, stretching out the taut guitar strings that run up and down my legs where the relaxed flowing muscles are supposed to be.  Inevitably my mind begins to head toward the place I hoped it would go. It loosens up letting thoughts and ideas crash and bump against each other in the hopes of a brainstorm or at least a glimmer of a thought.

As I suffer and make horribly sloppy circles with my lactic acid filled legs sccreaming to stop, the bike weaves and wobbles all over the trail at the slightest incline. My heart pounds mercilessly in my ears like a bass drum at a pep rally and the stinging, salty sweat runs down my forehead and into my eyes blinding me until I can let go of the bars long enough to wipe it out. Still I pedal on....

Work has been insane.  Normal for this time of year although after the last three years who's to say exactly what normal is for the construction industry anymore.  This year though is almost like the "good old days" when we were backed up for weeks and couldn't hire guys fast enough to keep up.  I don't want to complain for fear of jinxing it.  Busy is good.  We want to be busy, we need to be busy, for three years we've been fighting for our lives and the pace now is good.  But will it be good enough? Can we dig fast enough to fill a three year hole that has left us no safety net, no cushion, no other option than to run like crazy in the hopes that we can pull a rabbit out of a hat?

Damn! that really stings. The sweat pours from under my helmet and into my eyes causing me to squint. Everything looks fuzzy and weird as I wipe my eyes time and again only to realize my sunglasses are coated with sweat.  Eventually I reach the top of the golf course climb having pushed much harder than I planned and paying the price.  I pull in to the shade to get my heartrate down, calm my breathing and finally clean my glasses and wipe my forehead.

Eventually I begin again. This next little section is nice.  It's a shaded flat leading to a nice downhill before getting to the rollers that make up the majority of the loop.  Originally I planned on adding in the Redtail trail but the pace up Brandon leaves me unsure if I want to suffer any longer.  The same pace that left me huffing and puffing has also allowed me to reach the place I hoped to be.  My body is tired but not destroyed.  My mind is empty, relaxed, ready to disengage from life and engage fully to the rest of the ride. I flip the lever on my shock with a smile plastered on my face where stress lines lived only a while before.

This is my place.  This is where I come when life is crazy or hard or discouraging.  This is that warm, empty, nothingness that is the ride.  Some days its easy to find this place, a few pedal strokes and I'm on my way.  Other days its a long, hard journey to get here... miles of road, thousands of feet of elevation, hours of saddle time, but its always here. Its always waiting to be found.

The biggest challenge in getting here is making the decision to step away from life long enough to start the journey. It's true the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...

Sure there are places that will promise to help, promise to relieve me of my burdens.  The bottle invites me in but only leads to time lost to stupor and the results of decisions made while there.  The couch invites me over to rest a while but leaves me with the same challenges only with a couple of hours gone.  The TV offers up some mindless drivel that promises to entertain and fulfill leaving me instead feeling guilty for squandering productive hours and a mind that hasn't been entertained, only turned off.  No, no place delivers like the ride does.

As I finish the loop I pour my guts out on the last climb up the road to the parking lot.  My heart once again pounding in my ears, my breath coming in ragged, gulping gasps, the sweat pours down my head again carrying with it the toxins and poisons from a life lived in this crazy screwed up world. This place where the size of our TV is more important than the depth of our character, where what we wear is looked at more closely than who we are and where our real goal should be not in making a living but in living a life.

A Quick Saturday Ride...

On the last weekend in February, Jer and the gang were planning on doing the Niles, Sunol, Calaveras loop which is a really nice ride. The route includes a few nice climbs, Palomares, Dublin Canyon and Calaveras for a total of just under 60 miles and about 3800ft of climbing.

Since I don't have the time for long all day rides lately, I decided to do a variation of my normal 25 mile loop and hook up with them at the start of theirs for the Palomares climb.  The route from my house to Fremont is completely flat and since I started fairly early there was no wind. This allowed me to make really good time and I actually averaged about 18mph for the first 8 mile segment.

After hooking up with the gang at Niles, we headed out and up Palomares.  It's amazing to me the number of riding areas we have here locally where you feel like you're anywhere but within the city limits.  At this time of the year, Palomares is a tree laden canyon, shrouded in lush green beauty and dripping with cool wet shade.  This is a wonderful environment for climbing and Bob, Leticia, Bill and I chatted easily as the road slipped by beneath us...
There are a couple of short, steep sections and as Bob is always in shape and I'm currently not, in those sections, he kept chatting while I desperately tried to take in enough oxygen to keep the bike moving forward.  Eventually, the incline lessen to the point that I could rejoin the conversation and we moved up and along until eventually reaching the top.

At this point, I had to turn around and head home while they hadn't even finished the first quarter of their ride.  Where the cool shaded climb had been a relief and actually enjoyable, the descent was downright cold.  I'm not sure if it's because I was born and raised in California and expect it to be warm all the time, or just that I don't always think things through, but this morning I had thought about and decided against bringing a jacket.  My thinking was fine for most of the ride and it wasn't until this one section that I really stopped to think about it....it is February after all....I really should have brought a jacket.
 
As much as I enjoy Palomares, I hate Niles canyon the same amount.  Whereaas Palomares is quiet, pretty, and peaceful, Niles canyon is like a super highway with pretty scenery.  The shoulder is narrow, the road is busy and the speed limit is ignored....yeah, it's the worst of road riding all rolled in to one nice busy package.

The upside is, the fear of being run over usually motivates me to some pretty spirited riding and I definitely turned myself inside out trying to get through there.  Eventually, I made it back to Mission Blvd and the long slog back home.  The funny thing about Mission Bl is that no matter when I ride it, morning, afternoon, middle of the day....no matter when, it always feels like there's a headwind.

The other thing about Mission Blvd is that it's actually in pretty good shape. Nice wide shoulder, fairly new and smooth pavement and they keep the shoulder clean of debris....at least from Fremont through Union City and all the way up to the Hayward border....once you get there, things take a turn....for the worse. 

At exactly the point where Mission leaves Union City the smooth pavement stops, the shoulder gets narrow and evidently the City has gotten rid of all it's street sweepers because the amount of glass and debris raises the challenge of the ride to all new levels as I try to maintain my cadence, keep up my speed and play dodge the junk in the road.

Eventually, I turned off of Mission on to Industrial Bl which has the same crummy shoulder conditions, but thnakfully less traffic on a Saturday.  Pulling back in to the house I ended up with 34.5 miles and 1500ft of climbing. Not a huge day, but definitely a nice ride to be able to do in a couple of hours leaving from my doorstep.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Riding with the grandkid...



In keeping with my theme of trying to catch up on recent rides, I came across a couple of photos of my grandson's first "real mountain bike" ride.

He and I ride in the neighborhood pretty regularly but he's always asking me to take him on a "real mountain bike" ride.

Evidently, he's made a distinction between our rides together where I'm in regular shorts and t-shirt and no helmet and my rides where I'm in biking clothes and a helmet.

So, on a Sunday after church while the rest of the family relaxed, he and I loaded up our bikes, our gear, some snacks, and water bottles and headed over to Lake Chabot for a "real mountain bike" ride. 

There's a trail that although it's paved for the first section, follows the lake around to the back where it turns into dirt.  With only a couple of hills, it's a nice fun ride and I was sure there'd be a couple of puddles for us to splash through.

It was actually a nice day for the middle of November and there were quite a few people out on the trail. We played "dodge the walkers" for the first part, but once we crossed the bridge and the trail turned to dirt, we pretty much had it to ourselves.

One thing I found interesting was that I thought he'd be complaining on the uphills and zooming down the downhills....after all, that's what I do on every ride, but it was the opposite.  He did say "my bike is slow going uphill grandpa" (again, I have the same issue, but didn't have the heart to tell him it was our fault not the bike's) but in complete opposite to me, he was careful and tentative on the downhill sections....I'm pretty sure that will change with time and more confidence.

We made a couple of stops to throw rocks in the water, have a snack or sit on a dock and look for fish.  We also made a point of going right through the middle of every puddle we came across and actually found a little "secret" trail that wound through the bottom of a creek.

All in all it was an awesome day and we both really enjoyed our "real mountain bike ride"

Here's a short video of our "Secret Trail"
http://vimeo.com/53978305

caleb mt biking movie1 from Rich Sims on Vimeo.