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 really should be well caffeinated before I 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 we really had no choice.
Other than the wind, the night wasn't too bad. The skies were clear and it wasn't very 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 I stop and wait or do I ride 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....