Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Ride "In The FlashZone"

When I awoke this morning I wasn't even sure if I was going to join Team Alameda for a group ride, having the feeling they were going to a less-fond place of mine. The morning was gray, I was feeling a little groggy from a full day yesterday, not so motivated. I checked the website and it validated my instinct about their destination, but as I started sipping my morning cup of Joe, the idea of seeing what was up with the group sounded good so I began preparations for that.

Saturday I led an easy ride designed for my wife Cathy aka Flashette, and was joined by Sweeps and Z_rider, Shel, Bob, and Rick M. I explained the ride would be "touring paced". It was. Everyone was ahead of us as Flashette is just getting back her hill legs. But all was cool and mellow, and we even did a bit of Shel-cutting, as he led us...well, actually I led us up the back side of Leimert which is never easy and illicited some moaning, then Shel took us on a scenic cruise of upper Piedmont down to mid Piedmont, then I again led down to Lake Merritt. It was a very nice 25 miler and a good workout.

So today I set off with a big group of around 2 dozen riders out to Berkeley, which is a flat ride that meanders through west Oakland, then Emeryville, then Berkeley along the waterfront. What I usually do is separate at Gilman street and head for the hills, solo, as no one opts to join me. That is what I did today as well. I almost had some company, but at the last minute they went with the big group. So solo it was.

My first priority was to get some oil for my bike's dry chain. It was dry yesterday, and even dryer today, and squeaking constantly. I just forgot to oil it. As I pedaled up Gilman St. I visualized the locations of the nearest bike shops. None were near by except for REI and that seemed awkward to take my bike into that place busking for spare oil. Just then I happened upon a Chevron gas station and the solution hit me square in the brain: scavenge the trash can for an empty oil bottle. Even an empty quart always has swashbacks in it, and that would be enough. So I dug into the trash and there it was: a blue bottle of 5W-20 motor oil. Eureka! I got some paper towels and set about dripping the precious lubricant upon my chain. Oh this made me happy! There was more than enough "black gold" to do the job. Thus oiled, I set out again, with a smoothly operating chain. Ah, so much better!

Just a half mile further east, I was passing the outdoor cafe on Hopkins and Monterrey and suddenly it sounded really nice to get a cappuccino and sip it outdoors. So I did that, it felt good to relax and the coffee was as good as it gets, dark, robust, delicious. I also ate a just ripe banana and half a power bar, made a phone call and used the restroom. Good to go to somewhere...but where?

So I started up Monterrey, which, if you have ridden this, is a fairly steep residential street. It looks easier than it is. The last two times I turned up this street I regretted it, as it hurt and I felt the lack of conditioning I used to have. Then, after Monterrey turns into Marin, comes a 3 block street named Los Angeles, and this one really hurts as it is probably 12% grade, at least. After that is a turn onto Spruce and a short steeper section before it levels out. A hard way to start into the hills.

Today, half way up Monterrey, I had the realization that it was not hurting like the last time. I enjoyed the relaxed climbing effort I was having. A bit later, on Los Angeles, I found myself spinning in a low gear, still relaxed. What was going on? This was quite different than a month ago, and as I climbed up Spruce I exulted in the feeling that I was in the "zone", a mythical place in cycling lore where the body does what is required without pain or suffering, with a feeling of abundant energy and power. I recognized the zone. Long time since I've visited that place.

I used to play computer games with my son, role playing games where you are a medieval figure questing for rewards, items, and power. The structure is simple: you start from level 1 and work your way up to, say, level 100 over time. As you gain levels you benefit from increased strength, dexterity, stamina, energy and life. You obtain better items, armor, equipment that makes your questing better. Today it occurred to me that what was happening is that I had metaphorically "gained a level" along with a strength and energy boost reward. It certainly felt like that. Maybe it actually happened and I got off the plateau I've been on?

Maybe it was the double cap combined with the food. Maybe it was the vitamin supplement I started this week. Maybe it was the Pearlizumi gloves that arrived in the mail yesterday (better items!) Maybe I'm bi-polar and going manic. I can't say what it was but I knew I was experiencing the Holy Grail of cycling, the Zone Ride where everything comes easy, everything comes together. The humming of the tires on the road, the bright sun, the wisps of fog blowing over the hill, my legs motoring along, it all seemed seamless and connected, and as it should be.

Soon I was cresting the summit of Grizzly Peak. The view to the west was splendid. I took my hands off the handlebars, sat up and rode with arms hanging by my side. What a feeling of...freedom. Just then two riders in team kit summited South Park and turned towards me. As we passed I waved and said "South Park....Woohoo!" They replied "YEAH!" I felt a bond of kinship with those guys, and they felt it too.

I pulled into the Steam Trains for water. Young parents were lined up at the bathrooms with their kids. For some reason I wanted them to know this was me 20 years ago and hey, look at get your life back! Strangely I felt like connecting with strangers.

I continued on down Grizzly, across the ridge to Tunnel Road, and stopped at Sibley. I saw a cyclist there I know from Peet's Montclair...Mike from Berkeley. He could be my son in another life. I actually remembered his name the moment I saw him. Man, I was having a good day! We chatted for some time. He was riding a new old Colnago he built up. It was a "Dream" model, white with tiger stripes. I almost won a similar bike years ago on Ebay. Almost. So Mike's bike spoke to me about my bike that almost was. Mike said he could not go back to his Orbea, the Colnago is so sweet. How would my cycling life story have changed had I won my Colnago Ovalmaster Titanium? I don't know, but my workhorse Lemond was feeling almost as sweet, like an eager steed.

I continued South on Skyline and Mike caught me and zoomed by. He's young and fast, he could be a pro if things went differently for him. I rode past Chabot Space where I work, and suddenly I had the epiphany that Tuesday would be my ride to work days from now on. How did that happen? I descended Butters Canyon, Monterrey, 35th to 38th, I was really booking downhill.

When I got to Alameda I was getting the "hollow stomach" feeling, a belly crying for food. I know from experience that the dreaded bonk follows this feeling about 15 minutes later, but I rolled up my driveway in 10, the "motor" running on fumes. Perfect timing.

I didn't set any records today. No personal bests. I've ridden further and faster many times in the past. But those things don't matter. The reason I cycle is to find the elusive state that enveloped me today. I found myself living in a cycling dream, being altogether in the present but sensing the weight of my personal history at the same time, a moment of intense nostalgia of remembering it happening while it was happening, it was so good. Its as if every ride I've ever taken on a bike that has led up to today was to make today happen. That's the best I can describe it.

Yeah, I'm thinking it was the cappucino.

Ride on my friends,


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seeing What Condition My Condition Is In

MacGyver, Flashette, Z_Rider and Emily at Bike Party! photo McSweeps

Welcome back to Flashblog. If you were looking for regular updates last month, I'm sorry, I was... distracted by Life. That sounds like a lame excuse, especially to a reader of Bike Snob, who's prolific daily blogging output seriously boggles my mind. I don't know where he gets his ideas or his inspiration to keep it up to a high level five days a week. Maybe if I got paid to do this like Snob, I might find more inspiration. Then again, maybe not. The creative spirit can be a fleeting and unpredictable thing. Indulge me whilst I ramble here a bit.

My mother passed away a few weeks ago from complications of heart disease and plain old age. I was fortunate enough to be there with her. One thing that came out of it was that it steeled my resolve to live with mindfullness, to think about every bite of food I put into my body and consider if I really need to drive my car when I could use my bike instead. I'm actually very good on both counts already, but like most things, I could tighten it up more. Its very hard to eat like a Monk and live without convenience. Life is compromise. Whatever you do, ignore the old saw that "I can eat whatever I want within 30 minutes of a finishing big ride!" That's nonsense. Fat is fat and it won't magically disappear after eating. If I leave you with one tidbit today its "consider critically everything that you eat". Ask me about what I've learned. Preferably over coffee!

For instance, I could be riding my bike to work more often. I'm employed by Chabot Space and Science Center, and our facility is located at +1550' elevation, the uppermost point of the Oakland Hills. That sounds pretty ideal as a cycling commute, doesn't it? I've done it only a handful of times in 6 months. It is a lovely ride, but it requires getting up an hour and a half earlier than usual. It also takes a lot of energy that after a day of work leaves me pretty well spent. So I'm lazy in this regard. I have a great opportunity everyday, but I take my car because I prefer an easy morning routine.

I think I am now picking and choosing my cycling days more carefully. Two years ago when I was at the peak of my conditioning, I was riding all the time, preparing for things like the Death Ride. Yeah, I was in great shape, but yeah, I was tired and sore all the time. Yard work did not get done. Cleaning the garage did not get done. Ordinary chores were overlooked due to lack of energy to do them. My car was filthy. I gave it all to the bike. I successfully completed my epic ride. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Its something they can never take away that I carry with me everytime I pedal down to the fruit stand for an avocado. Ha! Not really, I don't think about it much but when I do it's a nice memory.

What I find myself doing these days is riding my Dutch bike to the market, to the end of town after work, on East Bay Bike Party night rides, to my dad's house for a visit. The Kaptein is almost ideal for Alameda. I say almost because Alameda features consistent afternoon winds off the bay. The Kaptein's 2nd gear is too high into the wind, and too low with a tailwind. When I ride it along the beach into the wind, you better believe my legs are getting a workout. The 50 pound bike requires downshifting to 1st gear at lights to facilitate a smooth start. I mention this because my time riding in the hills has been less this year, and I was fearing a drastic reduction in my climbing power because of it. But the Kaptein has kept my legs strong for power grinding, so for instance my Team Alameda ride of last Sunday with about 3000' of climbing was pretty normal, just a little slower than before. No suffering because these short around town heavy-bike trips really do make a difference and keep the legs fit.

It's funny how a chance ride up Grand Ave last year and finding the Kaptein at a used furniture store put my biking world down different paths, the paths of city riding and night riding. The night riding is almost totally inspired by the Bike Party. I have spun off into bike lighting and lighting effects, with the Kaptein as the test bed. It now has two 1 watt headlights, a less used dynamo powered halogen headlight, a solid red tail light, a 3 LED blinking tail light, two mood lights that shine down upon the frame and wheel hubs, and the green BikeGlow eletroluminescent wire. This is all great stuff for being seen at night, and I've gotten dozens of admiring compliments from other cyclists. However, it's not so great for actually illuminating the road when its really dark, so I've taken the next step and have ordered a 220 lumen LED flashlight/headlamp that should pretty much turn night into bluish day. Lighting is so much fun, I highly recommend it as a whole new dimension to explore. And with that comes the very cool aspect of riding at night, its so different and can be very beautiful and peaceful.

July's Bike Party travelled through Alameda with a party stop along the beach. It was awesome as usual. I missed the first part due to work lateness, but our group of Me, the McNultys, Flashette and MacGyver met the rolling bike parade by Fruitvale BART, did a U turn, and rolled back to the island with this tsunami of bicycles. What a great time. Tribal dancing on the sand and in the parking lot of a Dollar store, it doesn't matter, anywhere the migration stops is a prime party location. The vibes are so good, despite the watching eyes of The Man. MacGyver said it gave him hope for humanity. I have to agree. It is a world apart from the regimented type A roadie- training-for-a-Tour-de-France-that-will-never-happen mentality. I pretty much despise Bicycling Magazine. (grist for a future blog right there)

One other thing that has been on my mind lately is the still gestating concept that cars and their drivers are terrorists to us bicyclists. They may not strap bombs to their bodies and blow up the police station, but they terrorize and kill each other on a daily basis and especially terrorize us cyclists by taking on an entitled world view of the road and their ownership of it. Cars with blasting exhausts, blasting audio systems, DVD movie players, texting, phoning, distracted, angry, late, sad, depressed, over-caffienated, asleep, medicated, armed, drunk drivers---all on the road at the same time, passing us, cutting us off, dismissing us as children or bums, opening their doors without looking, they are nothing less than terrorists who don't know it.
Its part of the game and I try not to think about it, but sometimes I do, the full weight of what I am putting myself into out there sinks in and I admit, its frightening. So I usually don't think about it. All we can hope to do is change their attitudes and evolve our cities to separate us from the cars.

So in closing, eat well, love well, bike well. Thanks for reading.