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


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?)