Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Wet and Painful Six Dozen

Ever have a mediocre-bad ride?  I did.

A bunch of guys organized a ride in West Sonoma county.  Starting in Monte Rio, on to Cazadero, up King Ridge, down Skaggs, south on Highway 1, up Ft. Ross, down Meyers Grade, then back to Monte Rio on River Road.  72 miles, 6,200 feet of climbing, most of the climbing in two hills -- King Ridge and Ft. Ross.  Both are steep.  King Ridge is longer, Ft. Ross is steeper.  Rain in the forecast starting at 1:00 p.m.

Brian, David, Howie, and I came up to ride together.  Mike G came up with Jules and Marius, a 20-something French whippet-like ex-racer.  There were 28 other cyclists there -- 27 men, one woman, all looking serious and fit.

The ride was to start at 8:30, but in spite of e-mailed promises and threats it wasn't starting at 8:30.  The four of us were circling the parking lot anxiously, ready to get going and to minimize our time in the rain.  Finally, after a few inconsequential announcements by chief ride organizer Theoren, aka "Buck Johnson," we started riding at 8:45 under gray skies in temperatures in high 30s.  Somehow, Brian and I found ourselves at the front, riding into the wind west on River Road toward Austin Creek.  We realized that we'd been pulling for eight minutes, agreed that we weren't so interested in pulling 31 riders and retreated into the shelter of the peloton (guffaw!).  Soon, we all turned onto Austin Creek Road, a badly surfaced, quiet road that parallels an eponymous creek.  A few drops fell, as we optimistically agreed that they were from redwood trees that are known for collecting moisture, except there were no trees overhead.  Well, even raindrops were OK, we were well prepared.  I was wearing two wool base layers -- a short and a long-sleeved, a long-sleeved jersey, a rain jacket, wool knee warmers, thick wool socks, and toe warmers.

Austin Creek took us onto Cazadero Highway, on which we rode through Cazadero and began climbing King Ridge and I discovered I wasn't climbing so well.  Quickly I found myself in my bottom gear -- an intentionally and embarrassingly low 30x29.  I was making progress, but had no energy to spin.  I was pushing it and, though only Marius, two guys I don't know and Brian and Mike were ahead of me, traveling lousy 5-6 miles an hour I was harboring no illusions about my climbing strength.  We had perfect climbing weather -- it was still and cool, so it was very frustrating that my legs weren't working.  Perhaps this was because I was sick a week ago and hadn't recovered completely.  Maybe it was because I've been riding very easy at nearly no intensity.  I could have been just having a lousy day.  Hell, I was having a lousy day, but it was just too early to be riding so weakly.  The tendon on top of the ankle was bugging me too and there I was, riding weakly.  Now that I think about it, no one was passing me, so maybe it was the road making me suffer, and I was suffering along with everyone else.  Mike and Brian were in view, they waited and when the grade eased, I picked up the pace and caught up with them.  A few more drops fell in King Ridge.  The road was damp, but not soaking, so descents were reasonably safe.

The road crested, but these roads never seem to crest, there were quite a few rollers of varying length and grade.  Brian took the rollers aggressively, jumping at the bottom, usually making it to the top.  I took the tortoise approach, catching up just after each hill topped out.  After a few of these, we came to the intersection with Tin Barn Road.  There was a Honda Element with water and food.  We refilled, David and Howie rolled in, we remounted and took the high road to the Temple of Doom, a copper-domed Buddhist temple in the middle of nowhere, Sonoma County.  More climbing and descending ensued.  It seemed there was more climbing.  Soon after passing the temple, we found ourselves at the top of Rancheria Wall, the infamous Terrible Two climb, but we got there from the easier south side.  We turned left on Skaggs Springs Road, descended and climbed and descended to the coast at Stewart's Point.

We regrouped at Stewart's Point Store and rain started in earnest.  It wasn't heavy, but it was steady.  We weren't making rooster tails, but we were getting pelted.  Sonoma coastline is full of hills and little canyons with creeks that drain into the ocean.  Therefore, Highway 1 constantly turns, dips, swoops, and climbs.  These are short, big-ring climbs.  Today it was a little harder because the road was wet and we warily  slowed down before hitting the turns, so climbing was harder because we carried less speed into the ascent.  Somewhere in Salt Point, we went through one of these dippy turns and stood up to jam up the hill.  As I stood up, I glanced ahead and saw Brian just ahead of me, his rear wheel about three inches from my front wheel, riding in one o'clock direction just as I was riding in eleven o'clock direction.  Oops.  My front wheel hit his rear from the right.  Instead of bouncing off and going to the right, I did what almost every cyclist does and pushed back against Brian's wheel with predictable results.  Lucky thing we were climbing, so I just fell on my left side, bounced back up and, happy that the front wheel was pointing forward, jumped back on the bike.  I think all that delayed us only 30 seconds and I recon proudly this was the fastest post-crash remount.

Fueled by crash-induced adrenaline rush, I was feeling good and riding strongly.  After riding for close to an hour we came to our turn-off, Fort Ross Road.  Fort Ross is the last major climb on the Terrible Two -- two miles averaging 12%. I was glad I had a 29-tooth cog.  Almost immediately, I was in my 29, pushing and shoving pedals around.  No smooth, graceful circles for me -- colloquialism for good riding is pedaling circles and for poor riding is pedaling squares -- I was pedaling triangles.  I was not glad that when Merlin built my Spectrum they put the rear brake bridge about half a centimeter too low.  I run 25mm tires and there's just 2-3mm of clearance between the rear tire and the brake. When my tire picks up road junk it can get stuck in the brake and rub against the tire.  When roads are wet and road junk is wet, the junk is more prone to adhere to the tire and get stuck in the brake.  Fort Ross was a wet and messy road and stuff kept getting stuck in my brake.  Normally, I hear a piece of junk rubbing against the tire, but I don't feel.  On this ride, I learned that I feel it when I am riding four miles an hour.  Every time I heard something rubbing, I reached down and tried to rub the brake-tire juncture to de-junk it.  Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn't.  Eventually, whatever it was came off, inevitably replaced by another redwood twiglet, a piece of gravel, a leaf.  Let me tell you, it's not easy to ride a 12% hill one-handed while repeatedly reaching behind your, fishing for the brake.  Crampy twinges began as I approached the top, but the top was close enough that I managed to ward them off long enough to reach the top.

The SAG Element was at the top of Fort Ross.  It felt good to get off the bike.  We refilled and remounted again, proceeding southwest on Seaview, a lovely road with predictable views of the Pacific.  Before the road becomes Meyers Grade and descends to the coast there are a few minor rollers.  I was feeling strong and fresh, standing in the big ring up the first roller.  The second roller was a bit longer and steeper and, wisely, I shifted into the small ring.  As I spun ahead, crampy feelings in both quads returned.  I tried to change my pedaling style, focusing on spinning, using my hip flexors and hamstrings more, and immediately spinning myself into a severe right hamstring cramp, which required immediate action.

Immediate action consisted of screaming in pain, unclipping left foot, putting it down and trying -- with mixed results -- to straighten my right leg.  As I did this, most of my weight was on my left leg and my left quad was twitching threateningly.  Fortunately, I brought a licensed massage therapist -- Howie.  Howie grabbed my hamstring and squeezed.  This helped a lot, but I wasn't ready to ride yet, so I walked.  (Two years ago, I saw another rider walk up Rancheria Wall, explaining that walking is actually a good cramping remedy.)  I walked up the hill, escorted vigilantly by slow riding David and Howie.  I remounted at the top.  As we started, the rain intensified and the headwind picked up.  It was cold and I was getting pelted in the face by stinging rain.  Meyers Grade descent is 18%, it was wet and I felt my brakes almost bottoming out.  I focused on braking early and often to dry out the rims repeatedly, and to keep my speed down, so I wouldn't have to brake super-hard.  I made it to bottom uneventfully.  Brian and Jules waited for us at the Highway 1 intersection.  I explained and apologized for the delay and we set off on the last and easiest leg of the ride: south on 1, then west on River.  Highway 1 continued to dip and climb a bit.  Wary of more cramping, I took it really easy on the climbs.  Howie was feeling sympathetic and wanted to provide me with company and massage therapy, or emphathetic to the point of near-cramping, and he rode with me.  If it's the former, I'm grateful for the sentiment.  If it's the latter, I am just glad we were there for each other.

We rode into the wind and the rain, occasionally catching glimpses of David, Brian, and Jules in the distance.  After we turned onto River, it seemed they slowed down and I started pushing the pace.  We were probably within 50 yards of them, when we decided to back off a bit.  We sat up, they rode ahead.  Then we bore down again for a while and got almost within shouting distance, but backed off.  We kept making 3/4-hearted efforts, would get closer to them, then back off again.  Then I rode up next to Howie and said something to the effect that if we ride 17 mph than 20 we'd feel much better and arrive one minute later, so what's the point?  We backed off, but the whole smell-the-barn mentality kept re-rearing its head and we'd speed up, then slow down, then do it again and again.  We arrived soon enough; the River Road leg took about 25 minutes.

Just Brian, Mike, and Marius were in the parking lot.  I guess we were among the leading finishers of this non-race.  David and I got in the car as quickly as we could (the two us drove up together) and the rain really started coming down.  Glad we missed the dump.

In sum:  two and a half hours in the rain, road rash, cramps, a nasty case of tendon pain, and unhappiness with my legs.  Then we got stuck in traffic in the rain in Petaluma.  We drove nearly four hours round-trip for a five-hour ride, and when I got home my formerly cramped legs were stiff as hell and my tendon ached so much I could barely walk, hence the title of this post.


Monday, October 17, 2011

A Vanity Project

Blogging is ultimate self-indulgence.  If readers are lucky, bloggers offer opinions on current events, share recipes, or write about knitting.  The rest of us are using blogs as public diaries in what amounts to little more than a "look at me!" exercise.

I'll take this navel-gazing to the extreme:  The other day, I was coming back from a ride and as I came into  the house and glanced at the mirror, I saw a hard edge in my reflection that I hadn't seen before.  That guy looked like a cyclist rather than a guy who cycles.  Someone serious about the sport rather than a hobbyist.  So there you have it, a man who has ridden 109 days in a row finally considers himself a serious cyclist rather than a dilettante.  Of course, previously he had thought himself a serious cyclist, but it appears he'd been wrong.  I hope he's right this time.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Back on the Rainbow

I was bummed about not being able to use the Spectrum during Knoxville and was determined to get it back in riding condition.  So, yesterday, in the garage, I found another wheel with a Campagnolo cassette body and put the 12-29 cassette on it, but the cassette body wasn't wide enough to accommodate all the cogs.  Damn!  I put the cassette back on the original wheel and decided to play with rear derailleur tension.  That improved things somewhat but not to my complete satisfaction and by then I'd exhausted my bike mechanic skills.  It was time to call a professional.  Not just any professional, Tim Parker at Cycle Sports.

Now, what I did wasn't completely kosher by bike shop MO.  I called the shop at 4:30 p.m. and asked to speak with Tim.  "Tim," I said, "are you really busy now?"  "Not too busy," he replied, "what's up?"  "I have a drivetrain noise issue. Any chance you could take a look at it now?"  Tim was willing, so I jumped in the car and sped off.  When I came in, Tim was working on someone's commuter and seemed glad to have my bike in the stand.  I demonstrated the rumble and the noise.  Tim took out the bike for a test ride, then, when he returned, he removed the rear wheel and played with the hub.  "Your cassette body is pretty well shot and the bearings on the other side are pretty rough.  It seems like it's been ridden in the rain a lot," was the spot-on diagnosis -- this was the bike that spent six hours in the rain of Solvang Double in addition to other wet rides I'd done on it.  Tim ordered a new cassette body and repacked the bearings on the other side with grease.  All that took just half an hour.  Short-term, the wheel is good to go.  I'll have the cassette body replaced when it comes in and the hub should be as good as new.  And the great news is now I have my ridiculously puny 30x29 gear.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Knoxville '11

Knoxville 2011

Dedication: To My Honorable Shepherd, Jeffrey W. Gould, who dragged my sorry corpse into the teeth of the wind up and down Napa Valley, Butts Valley, Pope Valley and who knows how many other dales and hills all day.  Without him I may still be somewhere in Lake County, among people who count their teeth on the fingers of one hand.

This was the first double since my triple ankle fracture and surgery six months ago, so having bagged a double, with considerable help from Jeff, was important.  It feels good to have completed a Comeback Ride.

Ride Preparation
Ride plan – and it was a good one – was to start early at 5:00 a.m., ride comfortably but quickly, spend as little time as possible at rest stops, and finish in decent shape and at a decent hour.  I had the same good plan last year, but we spent too much time dallying at early and late rest stops, then tending to cramps and heat and gastric distress at mid-ride rest stops, and finished at 8:45 p.m. or thereabouts, riding in the dark for an hour and a half, fearing light battery failure as we went.

This year, I had a fail-safe option for battery drainage – a dynamo hub light, which lasts forever.  I installed the light on my Spectrum.  In preparation for the forecasted heat, I installed a saddle-mounted gizmo for carrying two additional bottle cages.  Finally, I bought a 12-29 cassette that would allow me to spin, spin, spin, thereby preserving my legs for late miles and warding off cramps.  This cassette would replace the 12-27 that was on the bike.  The day before the ride, I took the cassette and the rear wheel to a bike shop, where the mechanic installed it.  I tested the shifting at 8:30 in the evening and discovered that with the new cassette chainline was way off and shifting was terrible.  Cursing, I pulled the cassette off and discovered that the 1mm aluminum spacer that had separated the 27-tooth cog from the spokes had been tossed or lost (thanks shop mechanic!).  I didn’t have another one, so this wheel would be of no use.

Cursing some more, I took the bike downstairs and brought out Goldie (not too stiff, not too flexible -- just right), my Colnago Monotitan.  Goldie had been on just one double – last year’s Knoxville, so at least it knew the course and Goldie's 11-28 cassette was close enough to the Spectrum’s.  On Goldie I’d have a higher big gear, allowing me to ride faster on pedalable downhills and a slightly bigger low gear, but I still should be able to spin up hills.  I pumped up the tires, moved the bottle cage gizmo from the Spectrum to Goldie and got on the bike for a 15-minute streak-preserving spin.  I got off the bike at 10:10 p.m. and, with all the pre-ride prep still to do, didn’t get to bed until nearly 11:00.  With the alarm set for 3:25, I’d have to do the ride on little sleep.

Rise and Shine
I woke up before the alarm at 3:07.  Feeling pretty awake, I got up and remembered that I’d forgotten to pack my lucky ice sock.  I went to the dresser and rummaged in the sock drawer in complete darkness.  Unable to find the sock quickly, I decided to search systematically by removing every piece of hosiery until I stumbled upon the right one.  This approach worked.  I put on a sleeveless base layer, a short sleeve 6ABC jersey, arm warmers, and knee warmers – there were predictions of a cooling trend and I wasn’t taking chances.  I had my usual pre-double meal of two bananas and three egg whites, put everything in the car, and left the house at 3:50.
Driving through Berkeley, I noticed that the car’s thermometer read 56 degrees and remembered that I planned to bring a vest.  Oops, no time to go back to get it, I guess I’ll have to suck it up until it warms up.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to suck it up for very long, as by the time I reached Fairfield and glanced at the thermometer again, it read 73.  I was glad again to have found the ice sock.
As I approached the ride’s start at Pena Adobe Park , I saw ghostly lights crossing the freeway and traveling alongside it toward Fairfield – early starting cyclists.  I parked, got out the bike and after a moment's indecision shed knee and arm warmers.  I traipsed to the starting area, where I got my number and met Jeff and Brian.  To my surprise, Ken, who led me through the second part of last year's, was there too.  A few minutes after 5:00 we were off.

Heart of Darkness
Everyone’s lights were on, there wasn’t a hint of dawn in the Eastern sky.  We rode around Pena Adobe Lake, through Fairfield and north to points unknown; unknown because I’ve never seen those places in daylight.  As usual, Jeff was pulling at slightly faster than comfortable speed and I was trying to slow him down.  Just as we rode through a subdivision, a trio of riders wearing PBP jerseys passed us.  I looked at the names on their numbers and realized these were some of the most accomplished Northern California randonneurs: Eric Norris (, Todd Teachout, and Rob Hawks (head of San Francisco Randonneurs).  We sped up a little, they slowed down a little, and the seven of us rode north out of Fairfield together.
The staying together ended when we hit rollers somewhere in north Solano County .  People began popping off – even Rob admitted the pace was a bit much for him – and soon there were just three of us: Jeff, Todd, and I.   We motored through nasty headwinds past single riders and small groups with all of them acting as moving targets for Jeff.  At this pace, it felt like my matchbook was out and I was ready to strike, and this was not a good thing so early in the ride.  Finally, we came to a T-intersection that led to a climb over Mt. George.
Dawn was barely breaking.  Jeff rode ahead and I shifted into climbing mode, trying my newfangled high cadence technique.  It took a few minutes to get used to it.  During that time, a few people came past me, but I passed them again once my cadence went back up.  The descent in improving daylight into Napa Valley was fun and chilly, as fog and ocean air had reached Napa , where temperatures were in the 50s.
Jeff was waiting at the bottom.  We rode past Silverado Resort amid a loose group of around 20 people, going past most of them except for a man and a woman who rode at our speed.  I thought they were together, as they seemed to be in matching kit, but later I found out they weren’t.  The man, Tim, was also remarkable for full leg-length tattoos that didn’t seem to match.  Visible parts of his upper body were tattoo-free.  Jeff resumed pulling at 23-25 mph, and these two slotted behind me.  We rode north on Silverado, past chateaux, vineyards, fancy restaurants, hills, passing many riders.  At one point, Tim pulled alongside me and said, referring to Jeff: "We suck him until he's dry?"  I responded: "He can go like this forever.  For him, this is a social ride."  Satisfied that he wouldn't have to work for a while, Tim returned to his place on my wheel.  The first rest stop was in Yountville, 6.7 flat miles ahead.  When we reached Yountville Cross Road and turned left toward the rest stop, I looked back for the first time since Silverado and realized, surprised, that Jeff had been towing at least 10 people.  Many thanked him for the pull, as we arrived at the rest stop.

There, we greeted Scott Halversen, the head Quackcyclist, and other volunteers, refilled bottles, emptied bladders, and set forth quickly before unauthorized wheelsuckers were ready to go.  I was an authorized wheelsucker :-).  (I say this in jest because Jeff was extremely generous with his draft, inviting rider after rider to get in the paceline with us.  Their problem was we were going too fast.)

Go Jump Into Lake County
We rode west toward Highway 29 and on it for just a bit before turning west on Oakville Cross Road, back toward Silverado.  We turned north on Silverado, for another 7.5 flat miles.  We saw more of the same picturesque dullness: vineyards, fancy houses, wineries.  All along Napa Valley we'd been riding in low to mid 20s.  All that faster than comfortable riding through Solano County in the dark and Napa Valley in daylight starting adding up -- I was beginning to feel tenderized.  Jeff told me repeatedly to let him know whether we were going too fast, even encouraging me to use profanity to slow him down.  And though I said several times, "too fast, motherfucker! :-)," inevitably, we'd speed up again.  I was reluctant to keep reining him in, so I sucked it up and rode.  Finally, we reached Deer Park Road, the first serious climb of the day.  Howell Mountain Road, the usual way Knoxville Double takes from Napa to Lake County was closed due to construction, so we detoured by riding extra couple of miles north on Silverado before turning up and heading east over Howell Mountain by a different route.

Unlike the Mt. George climb, I could see this one.  I also remembered this road somewhat, having descended it like a demon on Napa Century just over a month earlier.  I remembered a fast descent, which means a slow climb.  After 24 miles of flats we had 4.2 miles of uphill.  I shifted way down and spun.  It took a little while, but I found good spinning gears and decent spinning legs and went at it, almost at Jeff's speed.  I was working harder than he -- I think he was resting here after all the work he had done on the flat -- but I was just about keeping up on the easier, lower slopes.  After a couple of miles, the road kicked up, I shifted down, and slowed down.  Jeff pulled ahead, still riding comfortably.  I was working, but it felt OK and I thought I was riding pretty strongly.  I was more comfortable than on the flats, probably because I was in control of the pace now.  We passed a few more people.  By now, we'd passed at least 30 riders over the course of the morning and considering our fairly early start we had to be toward the front of the ride.  I told Jeff that if we keep going like this we -- well maybe he because I couldn't maintain this pace to the finish -- would "win" this ride.  He replied that if I thought we were going to win, I was suffering from delusions of grandeur.  To which I said, "maybe I'm deluded, but you're grand!"

Four miles up Deer Park and we turned left up White Cottage Road for more climbing.  At first the road rose steadily and steeply for a quarter mile, then mellowed and turned into rollers, frustratingly dipping and twisting, rising and meandering and slowly sucking strength from my legs for another three miles.  Finally, it leveled off and plunged toward Pope Valley.  Immediately, we were stuck behind a slow moving RV.  At one point, I tried to pass it in the opposite lane of traffic, but saw lights of an oncoming car, grabbed the brakes too hard, locking my rear wheel and fishtailing, and returned safely to the shelter of the RV.  A small adrenaline jolt is all that was.  The RV pulled over at a turnout half a mile down the hill and we proceeded down impeded only by potholes and wicked hairpins.

The next 10 miles was like riding in Vatican.  We went from Pope Valley Road to Pope Valley Cross Road, to Pope Canyon Road, which led us to the second rest stop at Lake Beryessa.  Pope Canyon Road lived up to its name with a few unpleasant hills, particularly unpleasant was the one immediately before the rest stop, which one (I) tends to climb harder than one should because one knows the rest stop is just on the bottom, where recovery awaits.  But it's all about burning matches and their number is limited and it's dumb to go hard 72 miles into the ride unless your ride is 75 miles long.  (Stop me if you've heard this before.)  I arrived at Beryessa rest stop tenderized further, my book a few matches lighter than at the start.

Kx 37
The 37-mile ride from the second rest stop to the lunch stop has one turn, a right into the park where we had lunch.  Before then, it was all straight on Knoxville Road.  Well, it's not all straight.  The road is quite three dimensional, as it climbs, descends and twists and turns many times, but you get the idea.  There's a flattish part that goes for quite a while along Lake Beryessa, where I was still feeling the efforts of the previous 70-some or 80-whatever miles, before the road leaves the lakeside, heading north toward Clear Lake's southern edge's imaginatively dubbed burgh of Lower Lake.  Again, as the road began to tilt up and its surface deteriorated, I began to feel better, spinning my small gears.  We passed a few more people on bikes and many more people with guns.  Knoxville Road is a popular hunting spot.  Some hunters wore camouflage gear, others wore bright orange.  Considering most of the game they were shooting is colorblind, I wondered why they wear camo.  Somewhere along here, my bike started making a rattling-jangling noise whose source I could not identify.  I worried that it came from the drivetrain, but when I reached for a bottle in my behind-the-saddle gizmo, I realized that David was right: those devices do come loose and mine was loose as a goose.  As I remembered, they required a hex wrench for tightening.  I didn't have one and neither did Jeff.  I began to look for the water stop, which was 22 miles into this leg.  I hoped to find the right tool there to fix my gizmo and hoped I wouldn't lose the nut that went with the bolt that needed tightening before I got there.

Well, around mile 90, I plain ran out of gas.  I don't now if it got hotter or I didn't eat or drink enough, but my legs felt empty.  My brain was OK, I wasn't cramping, but I had very little power.  Considering my two training rides for this double were only around 100 miles each, I suppose my body thought it was approaching the end of the ride and was behaving done and depleted.  As several times on other rides, I thought, "maybe I am in decent century shape, but I am not in double century shape."  Plodding was the only viable option, so I plodded.  Fortunately, most of the climbing of Knoxville Road was behind us, but some rollers remained.  If you are fresh and strong, most of them would be big-ring rollers, but I was neither, so I was in my 30x25 and 30x28 a lot.  On one of these rollers someone passed me after he sat on my wheel for a couple of minutes -- the first time that happened all day.  I would have been offended had I felt better, but I wasn't and, as he passed, I said to him, "not much draft at six miles an hour?"  He smiled, agreed, and rode away.  I was at peace with that, trying not to think about the fact that another 110 miles in 80-plus degree weather remained.

The water stop finally appeared as a tent in a turnout on top of another roller, competing for space with a Clif Bar tent, a rest stop for Clif's corporate ride that travels in the opposite direction.  Only two people were at our rest stop: Jeff and the guy who'd passed me.  I asked for a hex wrench, but volunteers said they didn't have one.  I examined the gizmo closer and discovered that I needed a 4mm Allen wrench, which I had.  Unwilling to rummage in my saddle bag, which was jammed behind the gizmo and access to the bag would be difficult, so I asked a volunteer for one.  He said he'd get one and went to the car, but either forgot or didn't have one.  With no tool forthcoming, however, I had to fish out mine.  Did that and tightened the correct screw as well as I could, topped off the bottles, filled the ice sock and set off again.

In spite of the stop, I still wasn't feeling great.  There was more groveling up rollers until the real descent began.  It was fairly long and fun and didn't require much braking, providing a nice rest.  Still, there were a few more small, stinging hills to climb, each taking a little more out of me.  The final flat drag to the lunch stop saw me gritting my teeth and hanging on to Jeff's wheel.  I was glad to have made it to mile 108.  The match book was quite depleted by now.

For lunch I had a very plain burrito, half a bag of potato chips, water, a coke, salt tablets, and Advil.  Refilled the ice sock and was ready to go.

When we left the rest stop, two things were bother me: I felt vaguely nauseous and my ice sock was giving me a brain freeze.  I figured that brain freeze would go away when I got used to the cold or when some of the ice directly on the back of my neck melted.  Or I could simply dump out all or some of the ice.  Nausea was more troubling because I couldn't figure out a way to get rid of it.  Running on fumes, I plodded along the false flat that is Siegler Canyon Road in my second and third lowest gears.  This was disheartening especially because double-digit grades of the climb to Loch Lomond loomed a couple of miles ahead, but I was ready to carry on.  I was willing to walk if I had to and was ready to barf if I had to.  In fact, on some level I wished I'd just barf and get whatever was bugging me out of my system.  Barfing wasn't happening, so I plodded on through this lovely, lush canyon with its rapidly flowing creek and happily chirping birds.  Jeff waited at the Loch Lomond Road intersection, but I was riding very slowly, so he rode ahead a bit.

The road tilted up and I shifted down, wishing for that 29-tooth cog.  No spinning for me now -- pushing and grinding.  I started cramping toward the top of this climb last year.  Mindful of that possibility, I rode carefully, trying not to over strain any muscle.  Trees line most of this climb and it's fairly shady in early afternoon.  Having shade helped, as did realizing that I was making decent progress even while feeling crappy.  Jeff was waiting half way up the climb and I announced that the climb was going better than I expected.  He offered words of encouragement, as he had done all through the day.  We crested at nearly 3000 feet, descended toward Cobb Mountain and climbed out of it.  I'd recovered substantially by then, but my climbing legs were pretty well gone.  I was still spinning well, but even on the tamest grades I found myself in the lowest two gears.  That was OK by me as long as I was making progress.

The Cobb climb from the north is mercifully short.  It is mercilessly steep from the south, but that was the side we descended, which was a blast.  What was not a blast was a feeling of shadeless heat from the valley, as we left what passes for cool mountainous climate in Lake County and approached Middletown.  We rode through Middletown and turned south into a nasty three-quarters side wind that blew me all over the road and must have been hell on Jeff, who pulled us manfully.  This was [kick my] Butts Canyon Road for 27 miles.  My computer died on Siegler Canyon, so I had no electronic way to tell where we were on the course, though I remembered terrain fairly well.  I remembered running low on legs and energy during these few miles that preceded the Pelican Lake rest stop and it was no different this year.

Valley Boy
Refilled the bottles at the rest stop, chatted with Jason, Bruce Carroll, Alfie, Lisa, and Bryan.  Bless Duck volunteers at all the rest stops.  They filled our bottles, took food orders, parked our bikes, dispensed pills, and applied sun screen with great cheer.  I had another coke and a bunch of gel and refilled the ice sock.  Not wanting to spend more time here than necessary, we set off.  Again, I didn't feel so great and wondered whether the not-so-great feeling was related to sock shock.  The sock had served me so well on a number of other rides that I wasn't going to blame it for anything that happened.  I was riding on autopilot, operating on what felt like a quarter tank.  Bless Jeff, again, for dragging me all over these roads.  At first, Butts is almost completely flat and beautiful, starting in a valley with a head-side wind, a valley that gradually narrows into a green and shaded canyon that provides shelter from the wind and the sun.  Twenty-some miles down the road, however, one has to climb out of the canyon and that is where I slowed again -- no drafting Jeff on slopes.  I was making decent headway up the hill when I heard a cyclist behind me.  I had enough energy and determination to refuse to let him pass me here, so I sucked it up and sped up.  I held him off comfortably, picking up Jeff's draft at the top and we sped away from the pursuer.  Just a few more mostly downhill miles to Lake Hennessey rest stop and we were there.

At the rest stop, they were serving hot soup and not finding any takers in the 80+ degree weather, but they also had hot dogs and I asked for one.  I sat down in a lawn chair, armed with a coke and a dog.  That dog was the tastiest thing in the world and I inhaled it in no time.  I had to use the bathroom, which meant that I was at least somewhat hydrated.  Upon using the port-a-potty I realized that I wasn't so well hydrated, but the guy who used it before me was in worse shape than I.  Others were in the same boat; I wasn't the only one suffering and was lucky to have a friend and a team leader in Jeff.

End in Sight

This is the point in the ride where it feels like we're on the way home, but the way home lies over a number of hills, including one immediately after the rest stop.  As I began climbing, a strange feeling came over me, a feeling of having eaten the hot dog too fast, not a good feeling.  Even if I had better legs, my stomach would not have let me use them.  Jeff was playing, riding on gravel surfaces along the road.  I didn't mind.  If I had a much weaker riding partner I'd be somewhat bored with the slow pace and look for diversions too, and it was fun watching him do it.

Soon enough, we crested, rode over the plateau, and descended into a valley whose name I didn't know.  Cardiac and a few nameless climbs remained.  The road rolled and boat towing trucks rolled past us, but it wasn't even 5:00 p.m. yet, so we had plenty of daylight and were plenty visible.  I felt OK on the climbs, aided immensely by my grandmotherly gearing.  On descents, I discovered that the hot dog wanted us to become reacquainted when I got in the drops, so I stayed on top of the bars.

Just one climb to Putah Creek Dam remained.  We were at lake level.  I've climbed to a few dams and it takes at least half a mile to get up all of them.  This dam is weird, traveling eastbound, the road passes the dam at practically lake level, so the climb was barely a pimple.  We descended along Putah Creek into a valley, blown along by a howling tail wind.  This tail wind was stronger than the tailwind I had for the last leg of 2009 Central Coast Double, where I rode 25 mph alone for over an hour.  It was the first time I'd seen this part of the course in daylight and, as we were blown southward.  Yes, we were pedaling too, but pedaling was almost superfluous.

The last rest stop at Pardehsa Store (wtf is Pardehsa?) at Pleasants Valley Road intersection came into view about half an hour sooner than I expected.  Whether that was a result of wind, our riding, or low expectations I don't know, but I was thrilled to be there.  It was just 5:45 and with another 90 minutes of daylight and just 13 miles of flats and false flats before us, making it back in daylight should be a snap.  We left the rest stop quickly, climbed a roller, after which Pleasants Valley really feels like the final leg, and proceeded.  After spending significant time on state highways with their sometimes fairly heavy traffic, it was nice to ride on a quieter rural road.  For a change, we rode side by side, with Jeff entertaining me with stories from his junior tennis tournament playing days.  I found the story about his cowing of Malibu Cheater particularly entertaining.

We rode and rode.  The road is mostly straight.  We rode past ranches and ranch-like houses on large lots.  It was bucolic and scenic and looked like the residents were engaged in recreational agriculture.  After a while we started looking for Kx directional signs for the turn toward Pena Adobe.  The course was superbly marked and we hardly consulted our route sheets, but we just kept going south on Pleasants.  We passed a turn off toward Vacaville (literally, "cow town" in Spanglish) and it wasn't our turn.  Another mile or two later, a small yellow directional sign loomed in the distance and a car turned right from that intersection toward us.  I told Jeff that I thought that was our turn, from where less than a mile to the finish remained.  Jeff glanced back and looked just a little miffed.   He said there were a few riders behind.  "Close?" I asked.  "Pretty close," he replied.  "No way in hell," I said, and we went back to work, which means Jeff went back to work and I assumed my customary role of a caboose.  I turned around at the Cherry Glen intersection.  They group was about 100 yards back.  I told Jeff that we had a winning lead and were going at a winning speed.  That group had no chance.  Just to be safe, Jeff made sure that they really had none.  We arrived at Pena Adobe Park at a ridiculously early hour of 6:40.

Jeff nudged me toward the volunteer who was taking down arriving riders' numbers to announce my arrival first.  I told him that he deserved to be first, but he demurred.  So, to the volunteer, I said "207," Jeff's number, and then added "117," mine.

Just like that, my Comeback Ride was in the books.  I felt pretty spent, but in good spirits.  I hadn't cramped.  Considering that my two long training rides for this double were both around 100 miles, the huge jump in the distance on a hot day went surprisingly smoothly.  For the last time, I give a tremendous amount of credit and gratitude to Jeff for helping me not just finish this tough ride but to finish it in what for me was a fast time of 13:35.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Knoxville: T Minus Three Days

After a successful ride in Napa and a 6:38 unsupported solo ride to Morgan Territory and back over Dublin Grade and Redwood, I proclaimed myself ready for a double century and signed up for Knoxville Double, which will be run on September 24.  For the last few days I've ridden my Llewellyn and have really grown to appreciate its feather-light handling.  But for Knoxville, I'll use Spectrum 1.  It has a generator light, a computer (which I installed just this evening), and lower gears.  The last factor is most important.  I've gone as far as ordering a 12-29 cassette to give me even lower gears.  I haven't decided whether to put it on the Llewellyn or the Spectrum.  Putting it on the Llewellyn would give me the same gearing as on the Spectrum, which would make bike selection even harder (:-)), while putting it on the Spectrum would give that bike a preposterous low gear of 30x29 (not a typo), making it an ultimate climbing bike and allowing me to use the Llewellyn for slightly flatter rides.  This is still pretty silly because the Llewellyn's low gear is a relatively tiny 32x27, in which I climbed Hiller Drive last Sunday.  OK, so with aching arms, burning legs, and searing lungs that was not something I enjoyed and if I had a bigger low gear I would have been in real trouble, but it was still doable.  Glumly, I say that I need more training on super-steeps to get better at them, though I'll add that I managed Reliez Station Road seated on Saturday.  Reliez is almost as steep, though about two-thirds as long, as Hiller and is quite a test in its own right.

OK, I'll address the super-steep business after Knoxville.  Stay tuned for more about the latter.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

At the end of last post I proclaimed myself ready-ish for a double, so today I sent in my registration for Knoxville Double, which takes place on September 24.   If cool weather persists, I am optimistic that it would be a successful ride.  If it's as warm as it was last year, I'll arm myself with an ice sock and think positive thoughts.  If the forecast is for hot as blazes temperatures, I may just stay home.  I promised Brian to be his regulator this year, so he is registering too.  Jeff is riding too -- it'll be like old home week.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unorganized Discipline-fest or a Ride Around a Mountain

The plan was for a seven-hour ride to train for Knoxville Double, hopefully.  I wanted to do Morgan Territory Road, a road from eastern outskirts of Clayton, ending northeast of Livermore over a significant hill behind Mt. Diablo.  The road is on the route of Devil Mountain Double and is the second significant climb of that ride.  Gary and I agreed to meet somewhere en route.  He said he'd leave at 7:30, calling me just before he sets off, and ride counterclockwise.  I said I'd ride clockwise and hoped to be east of Clayton by then, so we'd try to meet somewhere on MorTer.

The MorTer loop from home contains just three significant climbs: Tunnel/Skyline, Morgan Territory, and Pinehurst.  I resolved to ride conservatively to make sure I had the legs to complete the ride.  Whenever I felt pressure on the legs, I shifted down, trying to reduce the pressure on the legs and keep up the cadence.  That was the plan.  I left early -- at 5:15 -- not sure just how long this nearly 100-mile ride would take and to make sure I'd get home at a decent hour.  Immediately, I rode into a cloud of torrential fog.  It was cold and the fog was preposterously thick.  Climbing Tunnel, I could barely see the road.  Not because of darkness, as my light was plenty bright, but because of fog.  Normally, I take off my prescription glasses to see better, as my prescription is pretty weak.  My eyeballs don't fog up the way glasses' lenses do, so I can see better.  Today, the difference was minimal.  Tree tops collected water and dumped it on my head in huge drops, as I rode underneath.  I rode almost by Braille, trying to follow the double yellow line in the center of the road.  When I couldn't see it, I looked for the white line on the right.  I nearly rode off the road several times, but managed to get to the top safely.  A few more anxious moments on top of Skyline and I found myself at the Skyline/Pinehurst intersection.

Descending north Pinehurst's sharp, gravel-strewn, off-camber turns is no picnic in dry daylight.  Daylight i did not have; I hoped for a dry road.  Dry road -- that I got.  I descended carefully and confidently.  At the bottom of Pinehurst, where it's straight, dark, and downhilly and you can't help but ride fast, I hoped to see no deer and saw none.  I rode through the town of Canyon, as usual, cutting off the Post Office curve and turned onto Canyon Road toward Moraga,  I put my glasses back on -- much better.  I looked at my watch and it seemed that my slow and cautious climbing and descending set me back at least 10 minutes already.  Normally, I reach Walnut Creek in 1:15 and today it looked to be an 1:30 ride, which was fine.  In the flats of Moraga, I looked down at me gears and found myself in a surprisingly big gear.  I looked at the grass and the trees and they were bending in favorable direction, explaining my gearing.  I continued spinning and taking advantage of the wind.

Moraga seems to be a blob of a city.  It's a fairly compact suburb, as suburbs go.  The next suburb on the route is Lafayette, which seems to resemble an octopus, with tentacles reaching into numerous canyons.  Since I had to ride from the westernmost end of a tentacle to the easternmost of of another, so getting through Lafayette seems to take longer than it should.  However long it needs to take to get through, I got through it fine, reaching Walnut Creek in surprisingly fast 1:15.

Nothing was going to slow me down, I resolved, so I ran my first red light at the formerly antique gas station on Olympic Blvd.  I ran red lights two and three in Walnut Creek as well.  All the subsequent traffic lights, intimidated by my threat to run them too, paled into green.  OK, some of the times, I slowed down to allow them to change to green, but I did not put my foot down again during this ride unless I wanted to.

In Walnut Creek, I joined the route of DMD, my favorite double, on Ygnacio Blvd.  It was good to see DMD directional arrows again, especially since I missed it this year due to my ankle fractures.  I happily spun my way up the hill just west of CSU East Bay Concord campus and descended to Pine Hollow Road, a shortcut through Concord neighborhood to Clayton that avoids the main drags of Ygnacio/Kirker Pass Road and Concord Blvd.  There are a couple of 2% uphill drags through the neighborhood and there I felt my legs for the first time.  I remembered to shift down, so that felt OK.

I was just over two hours into the ride when I decided to try to get to Morgan Territory Road within 2:15, by 7:30, when Gary would be leaving.  So, I sped up a bit, turning right onto Marsh Creek Road.  Marsh Creek runs through downtown Clayton and out of town, east toward Brentwood and Byron.  The intersection with MorTer comes after a stair-step climb of three, increasingly longer and steeper rollers.  I topped out at the third roller at 7:30.  Concerned that Gary may call while I descended and with wind in my ears wouldn't be able to hear the ring, I hoped to get down to MorTer as quickly as possible, where the road was flat and I'd be able to hear the phone.  No dice.  I pulled out my phone when I got to MorTerMorTer.  I could tell he left a message, but I had no way to access it, so I assumed he was riding in my direction -- not that I was going to change my route -- and kept going.

Just as I turned onto MorTer, the fog lifted.  It was clear and cool.  I kept drinking, with just half a bottle remaining until I reached the top, where there's a water fountain in a park parking lot.  Oh yeah, a few words about provisions.  I did this ride on two flasks of gel, four bottles of water, and a bunch of Endurolyte and Thermotab pills.  That was enough food for six hours, I found out...

I seemed to remember that MorTer crested around 9.5 miles, but the last time I rode it was a year and a half ago, so I wasn't so sure, but there was a "Winding Road Next 9 Miles" sign, so I was reasonably confident in my memory after I saw the sign.  MorTer is flat, slightly rolling for the first few miles.  At first, it's hard to tell for how few miles, probably four or so.  Then stair-steps start.  They looked short enough and not so steep, that its' easy to take them in the big ring.  After the drag up, the road would flatten or even roll down a bit.  I stayed in the big ring until 5.5 mile marker, when I saw what looked like a longer drag, so I shifted into the small ring.  Even this one -- and a few subsequent rolling sections really -- wasn't so tough that it's entirely feasible to stay in the big ring until about 6.5 mile mark, where the road becomes a true climb.  There's a really nasty 0.2 mile pitch at 7.1 marker, after which the legs feel so tenderized and further up-steps are long and steep enough that it's a small ring ride the rest of the way, for me at least.

It got warmer as I gained altitude.  I really wanted to stop and take off my leg warmers, but didn't.  About a mile from the top I passed a camper parked by the side of the road with empty beer cans.  There was a an unopened six-pack of Bud next to the rear door.  No signs of life emanated.  I smirked and rode past.  Fractional mileage markers kept going by.  8.5 mile marker looked familiar.  The following markers did too.  It really felt like the top was near.  Nine really felt close.  At 9.2, I knew that I wouldn't see 9.3 before the parking lot.  Sure enough, the lot was just around the corner.  No phone reception there either.  I used the bathroom, filled the bottles, took off knee warmers, and set off again.

There were an additional 50 of climbing before the road plateaued.  As I turned a corner, I saw an adolescent coyote trotting ahead of me on the opposite side of the road.  While we were going uphill, we traveled at the same speed, but as the grade relented, I began catching up and he looked back, worryingly.  As I got closer and closer, he continued trying to run faster, finally ducking under a hole in the fence.  It disappeared and pulled out the phone again.  Miraculously -- service!  I quickly dialed Gary, he picked up.  He'd just turned onto Morgan, so our plan worked, we'd meet in a matter of a few minutes.  I looked ahead.  The entire Livermore Valley was socked in fog.  Immediately, I remembered one of my favorite mantras: "Never undress on top of a hill."  I winced at the though of cold legs -- meh, I'll keep going.  As I descended, though it was still clear, I was at altitude where there were layers of fog, and there, humidity skyrocketed and temperature dropped.  As I rode into the cloud, visibility diminished and I turned on my light.  The descent is notoriously known as "The Plunge."  It's a one lane, very steep road.  having the light on gave me a feeling of a modicum of safety.  Toward the bottom, a truck was coming up the hill and it got out of the way when it saw me.  I think the light had a lot to do with that.  Gary was a vision in green coming through the mist.  I braked, he turned around and caught up with me.

It was only about 8:30, ridiculously early.  I had another four hours before I had to be home with two of the three major climbs already behind me.  The legs felt slightly tenderized, but with lots of miles still in them.  I resolved to have fun.  Instead of riding toward Danville, then homeward, which would take about two hours, possible a bit longer, we decided to ride southwest and then see about the time and the legs.

We rode the rest of Morgan, then turned west on Highland, then south on Carneal, a direction I've ridden only once before.  I'd forgotten what a nice stretch of road it is.  It's gently rolling downhill through lovely ranch country with cows, horses, and alpacas watching us as we rode past.  Alpaca sighting prompted a lengthy and lively discussion of Alpaca sweaters.  I wondered what had happened to mine?

We reached western outskirts of Livermore where the road ended with an freeway ramp, so we turned west onto a road neither of us had seen before.  That ended in another freeway ramp, so we turned south onto a road marked "Highway 84" that also prominently featured a "Road Closed" sign.  I don't believe in "Road Closed" signs and insisted we proceed.  We crossed over I-580, heading south.  More "Road Closed" signs, but several cars passed us, going faster than local golf course traffic.  A female cyclist rode in the opposite direction, advising us that the road was closed.  "Bah," I said, "there's 'Road Closed' and there's 'Road Closed.'"  We kept going.  A quarter mile up the road we could see the cars that had passed us turning around and returning.  We got closer.  There was definitely a way to get through the barriers.  We saw a roadway covered with large gravel, larger than I wanted to navigate, but there was a way to get around it off to the right and what lay beyond was a well packed dirt road.  Tractors had graded that section, so it had many good size bouncy holes, which was OK.  At first, we thought we'd have to dismount and jump a foot long  barrier, but as we looked to the right, we saw that there was an entrance onto the westbound roadway.  That's where we wanted to go and that's where we went without dismounting, exulting at our good fortune and sense of adventure.  It appears that the construction project is conversion of a T-intersection to a T-intersection with a right turn on-ramp.

The former tailwind became a headwind, as now we rode west toward Pleasanton.  We rode past a busy vineyards on the left and a busy quarry on the right, through a typical suburb, on through downtown and past Alameda County Fairgrounds, still without unclipping.  We reached Foothill Blvd. and turned north toward Dublin.  A discussion of the remainder of our route ensued.  Gary needed to be home by 11, so we agreed that he'd accompany me up Dublin Grade and turn around on top.  I'd ride on.

We climbed into a nasty headwind at a steady, conversational pace.  Gary turned around at the top, I descended.  Today, I concluded that westbound Dublin Grade is my least favorite descent.  It's straight, very gradual, and always has a headwind.  The wind negates the grade, so you always have to pedal and there's no end in sight.  A busy freeway is on the right and the canyon is boring.  Well, it gets you from point A to point
B in a straight line, at least we can be grateful for the topography getting it over with as quickly as possible.

I rode into Castro Valley, up Crow Canyon Road for a half, mile, where I saw a cyclist make a right and go uphill toward Redwood, where I was going too.  I waited -- without unclipping -- for the light to change, giving him even more of a head start.  OK, though tired, I felt like chasing.  I chased uphill, then down, then half-heartedly on he flat.  He turned onto Redwood.  With a quick "morning" I passed him, and kept spinning.  I climbed the hill out of Redwood faster than I would have liked, but my low gears at least allowed me to spin, saving my legs a bit.  It was barely 11:00.

I descended past the golf course and began climbing.  Redwood has two climbs: north, almost immediately after the golf course and again, after the Pinehurst intersection.  I bounced from gear to gear, depending on the wind and the grade, feeling reasonable comfortable, considering I'd been on the road for over five hours.  As I began descending, something whacked me in the right leg and stung and continued to sting.  I swiped at it.  When that didn't help, I glanced down, saw a wasp firmly attached to my quad, and swiped harder, succeeding in dislodging the wasp.  Apparently, just in time -- there was no stinger in my leg.  I had a bite and it bugged me, but it seems the wasp hadn't gotten the business end of the stinger into me, so I got off easily.  As there is no cell phone coverage on Redwood, calling for a ride would be futile.  Continuing to ride, however, promoted circulation in the leg, potentially carrying the toxin farther into the leg than it may gone.

I rode on.  Climbed the second part of Redwood to Skyline.  Instead of going home, I turned uphill toward Chabot Observatory.  As I climbed, I started running out of legs.  I was over six hours into this ride, subsisting only on gel, water, and salt pills, along with two bananas I ate at 5:00 a.m.  Yeah, I was on the verge of bonking, but I had enough energy to make it to the top, assisted, again, I am proud to say, by my wimpy gearing.  Once I got to the top, it was all flat before the descent home.

Instead of riding home, I rode to Montclair Peet's, where I had their biggest latte with lots of honey, a mango juice, and two pastries.  That hit the spot.  I pondered ride totals: I spent 6:38 on the road with about five minutes off the bike.  I didn't have a computer, so I estimate I rode somewhere around 105 miles with no drafting, riding sensibly, and drinking well.  I ate sufficiently for about five hours, then simply ran out of food.  It would have helped to have some variety in my diet.  I was pretty sure I may run out of steam on this ride on the little fuel I'd brought and I was wanted to see how far I could go on two flasks of gel.  Well, I found out -- 5:45 to 6:00.  With that, I am very happy.  I'm also happy with the fact that I'd planned to spend seven hours on a ride shorter than the one I did.  This means that I rode faster and farther than I'd planned.  I think I'm ready for a double.  If I'm not ready for it, I will be in three weeks with two more weeks of training and another of tapering.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Napa Century

Howie and I drove to Yountville VA facility where the ride began.  We left the start at 7:10 and after navigating our way out of the VA, found ourselves on a frontage road, paralleling Highway 29.  As all frontage roads go, this one was straight and boring.  Right around there, I realized that I had two empty water bottles in my cages.  I consulted the route sheet, which said that the first rest stop would be at 30 miles.  I’d have to stop and fill up.  There were riders in the distance; one about 200 yards ahead.  We were riding tempo already, definitely going harder than warm-up speed.  I said to Howie, “we are not chasing that guy.”  OK, we weren’t in a full-out pursuit, but we were chasing.  And when we passed him, I said, “I guess we were.”  We passed many more riders before we came to a right turn toward Mt. Veeder.  There was a Starbucks at that intersection, so I filled my bottles and we rode on.

During the flat couple of miles that preceded the Veeder climb we re-passed the people we’d passed on the frontage road.  We rode faster than most of the people on the route, though from time to time someone would just blast by.  I’d look over and see a rider with enormous legs, usually dressed just in shorts and short-sleeved jersey.  With only 5,000 and change feet of climbing, this wasn’t a climber’s course, so no beanpoles on this ride.  Howie and I wore base layers and arm and knee warmers.  This may – or may not – explain why I was overheating on this hill.  A couple of miles of gradually steepening climb and we heard bagpipes.  At the top of the hill stood a bagpipes player in full Highlander regalia, blowing his heart and lungs out, though I couldn’t tell you the name of his tartan.  There was a short descent , then a punchy roller before the final plunge to Dry Creek Road.  I burned a match on the roller and descended recklessly.  As much as climbs can bunch up riders early in the ride because people are taking it easy and misery of climbing likes company – it’s always easier to climb with a partner – descents bunch up riders even more.  At speed, roads seem narrower, we don’t trust descending skills of the person we just caught and we slow down and wait for a safe and clear chance to pass.  Thus, one or two slower descenders can cause a group to swell to surprising numbers.  I found myself descending in a group of 15.  Someone had gone down a steep and sharp “S” turn.  A bunch of people pulled over to check on the fallen rider, some of the group massing in the road.  My reflexes and brakes worked effectively, as did Howie’s, and we safely navigated around that.

Dry Creek Road is largely flat and invites hammering.  I succumbed and Howie succumbed with me.  We passed and passed riders for a few miles until we approached a guy on a Trek.  He had well defined cyclist’s legs.  We passed him too – he looked like an older guy – and kept riding tempo.  We rode and rode, then Howie said, “he is still here.”  I replied, “if he’s still here, he can pull!”  We all laughed and he went to the front and took a lengthy pull.  We rode together and chatted.  Gordon is 67, retired and in retirement rides all the time.  He said he is good on flats but climbing is not as good as it used to be, as he ages.   He ran track and marathons in high school and college, so he is genetically inclined to fast cycling, but still, the guy is 67 and is a kick-ass rider.  I’d like to have seen his climbing as a younger man, because he flew up a roller we encountered on the outskirts of Napa, where I burned a couple more matches to keep up with him.  Some of the pulls he took on the flat run-in to the first rest stop were just huge.  We thanked him profusely.

At the rest stop, Howie saw his friends Rafi and Dan, who started half an hour before us and were about to leave the rest stop.  There was little for us at the rest stop – our gel flasks were almost full – so we filled the bottles, I peeled off my knee warmers, and we set off at conversational pace with Dan and Rafi.  Gordon begged off in interest of self-preservation.  I guess he rode with us more enthusiastically than was wise.

We rode east toward Silverado Trail and turned north upon reaching it.  I’ve expressed my opinions of it already.  The morning stretch wasn’t bad, actually.  It was cool, we had a tailwind, and traffic was light so early in the morning.  A paceline of three passed us and pulled away gradually.  We continued riding and talking.  A few minutes later, with the paceline about 100 yards away, I told Howie I was going after them and , Howie in tow, aggressively set off in pursuit.  I rode with 8 to 8.5 effort and it took better part of five minutes to chase them down.  I burned another two or three matches in the process.  We got to the end of the paceline and sat on.    Predictably, the paceline worked harder to maintain its speed and Howie, feeling cramps coming on a few miles thence, sat up.  When I realized we’d dropped Howie, I let the paceline to and waited for Howie to catch up.  Rafi and Dan were some distance behind and we didn’t wait for them.  We rode at a mellow pace, finally turning off Silverado.  The second rest stop lay just a couple of miles away.

We spent more time at this rest stop than at the first.  Entering the rest stop, we saw a sign admonishing riders to use portable toilets rather than trees, so that put paid to my plans to avoid bathroom lines, extending our stay here.  Since fog started lifting a bit and we were entering the sunnier Lake County, I set off in search of sun screen.  Having found it, I applied way too much and had to wipe off half of what I’d slathered with paper napkins.  I grabbed a few pieces of watermelon and refilled bottles and we were ready to do, as were Dan and Rafi, who’d pulled in a couple of minutes after  us.

We climbed the dam to Lake _____, skirted the lake – quite pretty – and started a steady climb.  A very fit woman passed us at the bottom of the climb.  She rode ahead, then slowed a bit and rode at our pace.  As she dangled ahead and Dan, fell back a bit, Howie and I rode and talked to Rafi about Rafi’s plans to convert his old Bridgestone into a fixed-geared bike, Howie’s brief career as a kosher sausage maker, and his plans to make a small fortune by opening a bike shop (How do you make a small fortune running a bike shop? Start with a big fortune.)  A muscled-looking dude resembling a crit specialist spun by.  The woman latched on his rear wheel.  I bridged to them, using them for pacing, rather than a draft, as there was minimal drafting at 10 mph.  Howie came up to us.  We crested together.  The buff dude rode away.  The woman rode with us.  After about a mile of lightly rolling, almost flat, really, road, a tandem from Davis Racing Team flew by.  I gritted my teeth and jumped on.  Howie did too.

What ensued was a stretch of merciless spinning in my admittedly low top gear of 46x12.  We covered 10 miles in 20 minutes of merciless, blind hammering.  The tandem wasn’t pointing out obstacles on what was mediocre road surface, and I bounced all over the road.  The chain was slapping the chainstay, the bike was clanging in the headset and who knows where.   We flew up a roller in the big ring.  I downshifted as much as I could while remaining in the big ring in an effort to spin uphill to preserve the legs, but burned another match there.  Fortunately, the roller took something out of the tandem, as they slowed down appreciably after we crested.  We rode the next few miles in mid-20s rather than low 30s.  This was welcome relief, though somewhere deep down I perversely wished for more edge-of-out-of-control riding.  A few miles later, the tandem turned right up Ink Grade while we proceeded straight for another few miles to the lunch stop.  Ink Grade awaited us after lunch.

Lunch stop was huge.  It was in a large park and was completely inundated with cyclists.  Metric century riders had joined us on the course.  It seemed there were 200-300 riders at the rest stop.  More sun screen, a peanut butter-dipped banana, a bottle of Nuun-infused Cytomax and we turned south toward Ink Grade.  In 2006, I had a horrible ride up Ink.  I was in no shape to ride a century, it was warm, and it’s a four-mile, fairly challenging climb.  I thought I was fitter this time, but I was coming back from a broken ankle, after all.  The stretch toward Ink was into a headwind and the legs were a little tight from the 60 miles already in the legs.  We reached the foot of Ink, which kicked up immediately.  We took it easy.  I was in my 30x24, spinning comfortably.  Howie’s leg speed was good, but he didn’t sound happy.  We rode, talking to each other and to riders we passed and the riders who passed us.  Someone had provided quarter markers to the top of the hill, so we knew how much of the hill remained.  A quarter took a while.  The second quarter took a while too.  There, I started riding a little harder.  Howie let me go.  I poured it on, spinning up a serious climb as I’ve never done before, passing rider after rider, going past almost everyone who had passed us, and then some.  With a quarter of the hill to go, I shifted up nervously, not sure how the legs and lungs would respond, but they responded just fine.  I went at it hard and continued pouring it on all the way to the top.

Turned around and rode back a bit to collect Howie.  We proceeded up a little to the true summit, then descended toward Angwin.  This wasn’t a mountaintop rather than a true descent, with a couple of rollers thrown at the riders, there were great opportunities for someone feeling strong (me :-)) to separate himself from other riders.  I spun feverishly up the rollers and descended with even more effort and aggression.   I must have been fuelled by a mix of joy at the conclusion of serious climbing and aggression of a man too tired to care.  Thus, I flew down the hill, past everyone on the road, riding in my Praying Mantis position (forearms on the bars, hands up in front of my face, deflecting the wind).  Toward the bottom of the descent was a sharp right turn, where a marshal waived a flag to inform riders of the turn.  I braked in time and pulled over to wait for Howie.  In the couple of minutes I waited, a half dozen people overshot the turn and had to retrace their steps back uphill to rejoin the course.

Howie joined me momentarily and we proceeded on a flat route into St. Helena.  After four miles of fairly strenuous climbing followed by a coasting descent, Howie’s legs tightened up and we stopped, as he worked out his cramps.  Endurolytes that he had taken all day had not helped, so I gave him a Thermo Tab.  We continued riding slowly, soon returning to Silverado Trail for the final 18 flat miles back to Yountville.  We took it easy for a while, then Howie waived me ahead, so I put my head down and rode hard, overtaking rider after rider.  Soon I came upon one of the guys who had been in the three-man paceline I’d chased down on northbound leg of Silverado in the morning.  He was riding alone now, his companions were left behind.  I went past him and he jumped on my wheel.  I hammered for a good while, with him in tow, then flicked my elbow and pulled off.  He dutifully came to the front and rode.  I slotted behind.  He took a long and strong pull to the final rest stop, which lay 12 miles from the finish.  We expressed appreciation to each other for the worked we’d done and parted.  I waited for Howie.  He rode in a few minutes later. 

We refueled quickly, Howie taking two more Thermo Tabs, and set off again at a sensible pace.  We had a stiff headwind, so it made no sense to beat our tiring and cramping legs against it with 12 miles remaining.  We rode at 16-18 mph and talked.  This ended when two tandems towing a single came by and invited us to jump on.  Of course we did.  I worried that Howie may drop off, but he hung on strongly.  I was riding behind the single, a large man in SPD sandals, who had an annoying habit of pedaling for a dozen strokes, then coasting, repeatedly messing with my rhythm.  Upon reaching the outskirts of Yountville, we turned west and our head wind became a side wind from the left.  I found myself on the edge of the gutter since that’s where the draft was, warily watching the besandaled coaster, whose bike handling skills I didn’t trust.  A nervous couple of miles later, we found ourselves running a Stop sign in downtown Yountville and sternly admonished by a stoker.  Howie replied, “but I did stop.”  This was technically true, though he didn’t tell her that the stop he was talking about had been back at the last rest stop.  And with that, we entered a half-mile bike path that parallels Highway 29, where Howie took off like bat out of hell.  Howie was riding the way I was descending.  It took me a good minute of hard chasing, expending energy I did not have, to get back on his wheel.  “I feel great!” he exclaimed again and again, “I don’t know what that stuff was you gave me back there, but it’s awesome!”  I think there weren’t many matches in my book to begin with, as the last one, I burned chasing Howie.  Luckily, we were back at VA, with just half a mile of riding through the facility to the finish left.

That was that.  We opted not to eat event food and found late lunch at a casual restaurant in Yountville.  Casual was key, the way we looked, most self-respecting Napa Valley restaurants would have found reasons besides “no shoes, no shirt” to refuse us service.  And then we drove home.  Howie cramps at night after hard rides.  Not a single cramp after this one -- a great sign of fitness and hope that he found the right product to deal with cramping.  I think I should take Thermo Tabs during rides, eh?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Turning a Corner

I did a 4+ hour ride on Sunday.  Today, two days later, it occurred to me that as I planned that ride, what worried me about it was whether I was fit enough, not whether my ankle would hold up, whether it would swell too much, or whether there would be some sort of muscular weakness in the foot.  I was concerned about whether I would run out of legs, aerobic fitness, cramp, or fall victim to some other calamity related to my physical unpreparedness for the ride.  Physical unpreparedness rather than failure to heal.  As you can see from the post about the ride, it went very, very well and I could not be more pleased.  Pleased enough to attempt Napa Century next weekend and if that goes well, I'll sign up for Knoxville Double in mid-September.  If I manage to finish that, I'll consider my cycling comeback complete.  I'm not ready for tennis, squash, racquetball, or soccer, but this is a cycling blog, so never mind those other sports.


Monday, August 15, 2011

PSA: Goat Poop Update

Kudos to the goat herder -- he cleaned up after the herd the day the goats made the mess.  On Sunday morning nary a dunglet on the road.

The new car has been in the shop a bit and not for discretionary items described previously.  The bloom isn't quite off the rose, but I am confronting the practical implications of owning an 18-year old car.  I took it to MAB (Mercedes-Audi-BMW) Motors, which has a spotless 31-0 Yelp rating and is just two blocks from West Oakland BART station, making it unbeatable for convenience.  First, I had then install a rear window wiper blade.  Mine was missing.  Then, I had them go over the car to make sure everything was fine -- a couple of hoses needed replacing; not surprising and not outrageously expensive, then the car developed a rattle.  I brought it in again today -- that's three work days in a row I've been at MAB (had to leave the car overnight last week) hoping the rattle was nothing serious.  It wasn't.  I must have driven over something high, which knocked something in the exhaust system slightly ajar.  MABsters bent it back in place, the rattle disappeared and they charged me nothing.  As Jessica observed astutely, "they have a good customer in you, you have an 18-year old car."  Fair enough.  Hoping not to see them again for a few thousand miles.

Meanwhile, I went to an upholstery shop and ordered a cloth dashboard cover.  My dashboard is too nice.  It's been polished and Armor-Alled to such an extent that in bright sunlight I get such a glaring reflection on the windshield, that it seriously reduces visibility.  A cloth cover will not reflect.  Next on my agenda is a trip to a body shop to deal with the dent.  After that (bike content!), to a car rack store to get roof rack bike mounts.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

PSA: Goat Poop

Goat poop on Skyline just after Tunnel turns into Skyline.  Looks fresh enough to be from last night or this morning.  It seems a weed-eating goat herd moved a quarter mile up the hill by walking the road, which the goats liberally used as a bathroom.  Tread carefully!


Sunday, August 7, 2011

New Bike Car

Soon after my surgery and after I accepted an offer for my new/current job, I started perusing classified ads.  As I sat in bed with my leg elevated, I decided it was time to start driving a car with an automatic transmission (I was tired of constantly shifting in traffic), a car befitting my new job status, yet a practical car -- a safe and spacious family car that would be comfortable on long trips and also would be a good bike trip car.  Not a minivan.  Not an SUV.  A car that would last forever-ish.  A low mileage, mid '90s Mercedes wagon seemed to fit the bill nicely.  I looked on Craigslist and eBay and Autotrader and every other web site I could find.  The better exemplars seemed to fly off the shelves.  One car was literally sold from under my nose.  I kept looking...  And looking.  Every car seemed to have something wrong with it.  Bad upholstery, rust, questionable mechanical history...  Or it was sold already.  A week ago, I was looking at a promising late '90s car on a web site of a dealer in Santa Barbara (yes, I was searching far afield), when I decided to look at the dealer's other inventory and found the burgundy car up there.  Owned -- yes -- by a little old lady from Santa Barbara.  With 54,000 miles!  Coincidentally, we were going to Santa Barbara the next weekend for a three-day FVC booster shot.  The dealer wasn't marketing the car terribly aggressively and it was still there when I arrived at the lot on August 6.  A thorough inspection and a fair price later, and on August 7, we caravanned back to Oakland in two cars.

It's a '93 300TE wagon.  Late '90s and later e320s feel like much smaller and faster cars.  That's dangerous for an impulsive driver like me.  Mid-90s e320s feel like boats and I am a land guy.  This one feels like a tank.  It feels massive and ponderous and stable and incredibly secure.  It's not that much fun to drive, but it's a hell of a lot of fun to own.  It's a perfect car for family trips -- my Mazda 6, which we drove many times to Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, and to many double centuries, is not a great road trip car.  I am looking forward to more comfortable and easier-on-the-body long trips with and without my bike.

The car isn't perfect, but the imperfections are cosmetic and minor.  There are some discretionary things I will do:  replace the tape deck (remember those?) with a CD player and get the windows tinted for more privacy and cooler environment.  Otherwise, I'm thrilled with the car.  As for its name, it's a tank, it's red, and I'm from Kharkov -- it must be "T-34!"


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Signs of Aging

When I was younger I did lots of physical things and never broke anything.  Not body parts anyway.  I've crashed 16 times on my bike (remembered one more, in L.A. on Sunset Blvd. -- hit a pothole at 20+ mph) but never broke anything.  Road rash, yes, but nothing worse.  Played hockey and ice skated for years until I broke my ankle three months ago.  Is being injury and illness-prone a sign of aging?

I don't know.  The reason I'm talking about this is my friend David, who rode Davis with me last year and Solvang this year, contracted a blood infection that nearly killed him.  He's been sick for a week and a half, running a fever as high as 108(!).  He was lucky because his brother in law was visiting him and he took David to ER.  David was in renal failure and his gallbladder walls thickened.  Worst thing is doctors don't know what he has, so they're treating him by deduction.  Tests are showing nothing they can identify and they're just eliminating things that are knowable.  Now they think he contracted it when he swam in a triathlon in Russian River two weeks ago.  Hopefully no long-term repercussions.  Apparently, these things can leave nasty residuals: susceptibility to kidney failure, premature death, and worse.  Wait, what's worse than premature death?  Never mind.  He's improved tremendously in the last two days.  I hope he recovers completely.  Fingers crossed.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Progress Report

A friend, who had ankle surgery some years ago, says his ankle does well for 50-mile rides, but that's its limit.  I rode 47 miles today and the ankle did fine.  Fine is a relative term.  The ankle swells at the end of the day daily somewhere between the instep and the ankle bone, toward inside of the foot.  It's sore to the touch.  The soreness is either from scar tissue or screw heads hitting the skin.  I'm seriously contemplating having the screws removed.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28: When Dr. Jake Reappears

Yesterday afternoon, the foot felt almost good.  Well, I know all about that and then hurting myself in new and unexpected places, so I didn't push it, not at all.  Today, though, I had to go to court.  My nice shoes aren't as roomy as the tennis shoes I've been wearing 98% of the time since you-know-when.  With a compression sock under my dress sock and a swollen foot to boot, the shoe was very tight and the foot felt bad.  I walked gingerly all day.

Not having heard from Dr. Jake for a week and assuming he was on vacation, I decided to email Dr. Fagan, another podiatrist I saw at some point on this journey.  I logged in to my Kaiser account and was pleasantly surprised to see an email from Dr. Jake.  "No fracture," he said.  I guess it's a sprain.  I wish there were a way to wrap up the foot where I hurt it to keep the swelling down, but compression sock is the best I can do at the base of the toes.  I should also work on rest, ice, and elevation part of RICE course of treatment now that I know it's not a fracture.

Fracture or not, I'm riding.  Twenty-eight days and counting.  A slight change in plans, no Marin/Mt. Tam century -- we're going to Santa Barbara that weekend.  People from VeloSF are doing the Leipheimer Gran Fondo on October 1.  I'm seriously considering riding with them.  It's a very hilly century, which should be good training and a good gauge of my condition in preparation for Solvang Fall Double.


Monday, July 25, 2011

My Left Foot, etc.

Somehow left foot blogging has usurped bike ride stories, which migrated to MY OTHER BLOG perhaps taking up temporary residence there until my next birthday.  Who knows what I'll do with it thereafter.

Unfit to ride in as a carpool passenger because it requires more walking than I can handle, I resumed driving in.  Jessica suggested that I practice walking gradually by parking the car farther than a block away from the building.  (Caution: bike content ahead)  I ran (very much figuratively) with that suggestion and parked in front of VeloSF.  During lunch hour, I went to the gym and spun for 52:25.  The foot felt better after the ride.  I was quite encouraged and walked back to the office comfortably.  As I walked to the car after work, however, it was two blocks too far and the the still undiagnosed (paging Dr. Jake Lee) "stress fracture" bugged me again.  But it's not as bad as it was late last week when it was sore to the touch.  It seems that recovery process for this injury will be the same as with the ankle: a gradual improvement with occasional setbacks.  I can live with that because I have to.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Few Changes

This is still me.  Messing around with the design -- the old one seemed staid, Victorian, and looked oddly indoors-focused.  This one is more outdoorsy.  I also added a photo of a Llewellyn stem.  It's not my stem, but I like the picture.  Mine has identical design, but it doesn't have polished stainless lugs.


Biking and Hiking

I broke my chain climbing Pinehurst this morning.  I walked the bike up to the top in my cycling shoes.  Jessica came with the car and the dog and my tennis shoes 15 minutes later.  She parked, I stashed the bike in the car, and we walked the dog on a single-track trail in Oakland hills, I, now shod in tennis shoes.  We walked out about a third of a mile and back.  Not sure what possessed me to attempt this, but the foot has felt significantly better, as I've been nursing it for the past couple of days.  During the walk it felt OK.  I made sure to walk cautiously and slowly and came through unscathed and inspired.  But no brisk mile-long walks on hard surfaces in the near future.  Not yet.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I swallowed my pride and at Wayne's suggestion rearmpitted myself with a crutch.  OK, walking feels better with a crutch, but what a step backward in the recovery process that is.  I can walk short distances without pain and seemingly without damaging myself if I walk very carefully, carrying my foot as a club.  Because of the crutch and careful walking the foot hurt less today than any day in the past week.  But that's because I am nursing the injury, not because it's better.  Dr. Jake has suggested an x-ray and it looks like I'll get one tomorrow.  Not looking forward to what it may reveal.

Fingers crossed.


Now What?!

Pain is not responding to Arnica or Advil and there's some swelling at the base of the toes.  Perhaps I can try an analgesic that starts with a different letter of the alphabet.  Though short-term it won't be much use, as it appears I have given myself a stress fracture, says Wayne.  All that enthusiastic walking coming up on the toes and going from relatively little walking to walking over two miles from carpool to the office and from the office to the bus was too much too soon.  Treatment: immobilization!  Wayne recommends going back to a crutch -- waaaaaah!

Good news is that it doesn't affect my riding.  Because soles of cycling shoes are very stiff, they don't allow the foot to flex and the foot is effectively immobilized.  A silver lining.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Incremental Improvements

Complaining about the weather had the desired effect.  Even though it drizzled in the morning again, the fog lifted in the late morning and stayed away the rest of the day, making the afternoon ride with Jessica a pleasure.  Our intrepid forecasters are predicting a warming trend.  Perhaps this will motivate me to ride in early mornings with my friends again.

The hole in the foot seems to be shrinking, but very slowly.  It also feels a little shallower.  Surprising how walking differently, something that felt good at the time, has made me feel so bad.  Jessica swears by Arnica gel, so I used it last night and this morning, with little noticeable improvement.  I am back to hobbling and am contemplating driving to San Francisco again, as I don't think I can walk half a mile from carpool drop-off to the office in the morning and from the office to the bus after work.  Of course I can continue cycle commuting.  Mercifully, this ache does not affect my riding.

A good thing, too.  Jessica said many times how glad she is that I ride double centuries rather than run marathons.  I am too.  I wonder how long it takes runners to start running after similar injuries.

A Santa Rosa TV station runs ads for Snoopy's Home Ice Arena, an indoor rink 75 miles to the north.  This makes me muse about getting back on the ice.  How would that feel? Physically? Psychologically? Emotionally? Three months ago, I told my friend Steve that I thought of playing very stationary tennis in July, which could still happen, especially if this damn base-of-the-toes pain ebbs soon.  I've also talked about skating before 2012.  I fully plan to do so.  Maybe even before I get on the court.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Hole in The Foot

So the ache at the base of three middle toes is still there and now it affects my gait and I even feel it on the bottom of my foot and I don't like it.  it hurts on top of the foot and on the bottom in roughly the same place, as if there's a hole in the foot.  And I'm tired because I sleep badly, lying awake at 3:00 a.m., then at 4:30 a.m., then at 5:30 a.m. thinking about my job, worrying about what's going to happen to some of our more serious cases.  This has been going on for years and I'm used to it.  Lately, though, it's been more frequent, which is surprising because I have a new job where instead of one person working with me I have five.  Where in the past I worried about everything that needed to get done, now I know that it will get done.  I think because I have others doing the work, the control freak in me worries because I have ceded control over day-to-day handling of most of the cases to my able colleagues and I don't know what happening in the cases every minute of every day.  This is a good thing in theory.  I have to appreciate that this is a good thing and quit worrying.

Today, though, my job committed the unpardonable sin of infecting my ride.  I rode home on Lafayette-Moraga bike path, worrying irrationally about work.  This made me angry and unhappy.  Cycling is my sanctuary, an escape from work and daily worries.  Work worries on the ride -- no way!  I think the realization and appreciation that lack of control is a good thing will improve matters.  I just remembered that I used to banish worries by imagining a swirling toilet with my bad thoughts going down the drain.  Will have to resurrect this method of dealing with these troubles.