Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Quince de Mayo de Diablo de Amgen

Part 2 as it were of the Duel Diablos rides, unplanned but not unwelcomed, as this mountain is always a pleasure to climb and I never go out there enough, like once a year normally.  This 2nd Diablo in ten days came as a result of the Amgen Tour of California cycling stage race.  Looking at the first 3 days of racing schedule, it was clear to me that viewing the race from atop Big D would be the most Velominati-cally correct way to worship the Gods of Racing.  Mt. Olympus....at least as close as we get to it in these parts.

My partner in Bike World today was Ken Jones, retired SF fireman and enthusiastically addicted veloman who rides a sweet Moots Ti  Ultegra Dura-Ace bike.   We always seem to be within 10% of each other's fitness levels and climbing speed, so we make, in my opinion, a well matched pair for distances up to and beyond 50 miles.   He supplements his power with quiet smoothness.  Nice combination.

Just in case you thought this whole "Flash" thing was an elaborate fabrication to obtain untold wealth from blogging, I offer non-Photoshopped images of me in action, courtesy of Ken.  This spot was 1K from the junction.  I'm not kidding.

There were thousands of cyclists on the mountain today, and the vast majority of them were wearing their local team kits.  Lots of cowbells and lawnchairs.  It was a very pleasant feeling climbing and being cheered on by the crowd.  Like I told Ken, this was more than taking a ride, it was improvisation, open air theater, and we were players in this unscripted play.  I also remarked that the Bay Area economy must have tanked today as all these able bodied people were not at work.  They were playing, as we were!  That's why we live here.  For the lifestyle other parts of the country cannot abide by.

Famous fast winning bicycle racer Levi Leipheimer in the light blue kit on the left

We took our watch at the junction ranger station, where the bright orange King Of the Mountain line was adhered to the pavement.  I took some spare time to buy a Mt. Diablo T-shirt in bay leaf green color from the friendly park volunteers working the hut.  Other friends were there.  Warren from Alameda Velo, Brian and Janet from TA/GP/AV and whatever other clubs they are in.   Debi Palmer, Flashblog fan #1 was there with Wayne Stetina's wife.  Google that former racing powerhouse and you will see Ms. Palmer is hanging with the legends of the sport.  Anyway, the peloton blew past us in 10 seconds, my camera saw much more than my eyes.  It was just a blur.

Observe the Three Faces of Suffering

 But seeing the peloton was not the main reason we were there.  We were there to worship at this magnificent mountain, this magnificent alter to climbing, and racing while climbing.  We were there to collectively celebrate our passion, to honor those elite riders we could never be, to indulge our senses for however briefly in the knowledge that we are all devoted riders, we all share knowledge of suffering as well as Volupte, we live, and breathe, and think of riding.  This is our world, we earned it with hard work, sweat, and endless miles beneath our wheels. 

After it was over, there were so many cyclists rolling down the hill it looked like Levi had thrown a second edition of his Grand Fondo.  I played the safe and sane card on this descent as many, many Lance wanna-bes were bombing down on the left, even though cars were trapped in the swarm below us.  Ken and I had picked up a third member of our little party, and although he is named Fred, he is anything but the stereotypical "Fred" riders out on the hill today.  This Fred rocks an authentic inner city vibe, his loud talking, over energized ADHD vibe is fascinating.  But I'll tell you what---he's the real deal.  He rides hard on an old bike and keeps attacking all the time.  He makes the best of what he's got.  He's my new favorite rider, seriously.  So we bagged 52 miles and 4,200' of climbing at 13.1 average.  Not too shabby for a Tuesday in May.

Keep riding, no matter what bike you got


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cinco de Mayo de Diablo

Today was my day to lead a Team Alameda group ride.  Months ago I chose for today's route to ride up Mt. Diablo, the tallest mountain in these parts, save for Mt. Hamilton, which is a bit out of bounds to be considered "these parts".  3,848' to be exact.  Today was also the Wine Country Century, which is very popular among the members of our club. Rolling terrain, deluxe food stops every 24 miles, wineries abounding, its a gorgeous ride in the Napa Valley.  Thus, most people were out of town for that,  but I, and 3 others, did not do that ride.  Our ride turned out to be quite a challenge.

Mt. Diablo State Park

The first challenge was to find a working bathroom without a line a mile long.  The second challenge, after exiting the BART train,  is all the stop lights getting out of downtown Walnut Creek.  None of them are timed, so we had to stop at everyone.   By we, I mean Rick and Amy, Tom, and myself.  All seasoned riders we four.  Now, at this point I should mention I listed this ride as a C paced ride, and any B paced people should form their own group.  A pacers were advised to do some other ride.  This was my way of psyching people up for a workout at a good pace, but I may have scared off the vast majority of people with this semi-bluff.  But my group today was up for it, and its nice to know I don't have to worry about them.

Amy got a flat early on, a nail went into her rear tire sideways.  We stopped to fix that in Alamo.  Resuming, we climbed the false flat of StoneValley Rd. and following a rider in front of us, found a new entrance to the Diablo Country Club, a very pretty community built around a lush green golf course.  So we were able to avoid Diablo Road entirely, a good thing as I deem it hazardous for riding because of the narrow roadway.

We merged onto the road past the Athenian School just at 10am.  It has been repaved for the Tour of California coming soon.  Ironically, it took a bike race to pave a road that has been falling apart for 30 years.  Anyway, it was much better than the cracked, potholed menace it was before.

Starting into the climb, there was a quick selection as I led off the front with Rick, but soon he went back to ride with Amy, so the remainder of the climb I did solo.  Tom rode his own pace as usual.  I felt good and springy up to the saddle junction of north and south roads, which is around the 7 mile mark.  I stopped once along the way to refill my bottle and once to use the restroom, but didn't stop at the saddle, I felt good so I kept going.  Not much later I considered the wisdom of that decision.

The winds were up on Diablo.  It was not as warm as forecast, not 75, not 70, maybe not even 65.  The first 7 miles seemed to be a climbing tailwind, which is very nice, but then after the junction they turned into gusting, chilling headwinds.  When you are climbing, this is like letting air out of your tires, or loading your bike with bricks, or feeling like you lost your energy.  It takes mental toughness to battle a steep climb with wind in your face.  This is just what we had today.  My lower back was starting to throb for some reason, my legs lost their snap, but several things happened that motivated me to continue at a steady pace.

First, I had been riding a short bit with a woman who had the same pace as me, and we chatted casually on the lower slopes.  It was her first climb of Big D.  I encountered her again on the upper stretches,  and felt a kinship in shared experience, which was nice.  Second, I pulled off the road at one point to stretch my back and Warren, an Alameda Velo rider, came up from behind and greeted me, so I rode a mile or so with him.  Thirdly, I encountered a woman on a Lemond similar to mine that had been signed by Greg Lemond himself, and we discovered we had been on the '09 Death Ride together but didn't know it until now.  Again, nice.  In fact, she outrode me on the "Wall" portion:  the heinous last stretch of steepness before the parking lot.  She had lower gears.  Enough said.  Throughout the climb I thought of "summoning the V", which means digging deep when the going gets unpleasant.  I think I did a fair amount of that, especially that last part.

The wind was really bracing up at the top, 20-30mph steady, and almost cold, although the sun was out in force.  Stan, from Alameda Velo, was shivering in the museum's stone portico, out of the wind.  He had no jacket or arm warmers.  I did have arm warmers, but no jacket either, but I was warmer than him.  After a while he entered the museum and returned wearing a green Mt. Diablo T-shirt.  He also had some Diablo Review pamphlets that he stuffed under his jersey.  Great Idea.  So I stuffed some under mine too, but didn't buy a T-shirt.  I ate some roasted potatoes I brought.  I watched people trying to fill their water bottles from a fountain whose water was flowing out sideways from the wind...funny!  My phone started beeping, but I couldn't retrieve the message.  I figured it was a call from my people below aborting some part of the climb, so I decided to head down.

Rick and Amy were just below the parking lot, in the more sheltered overflow lot, and Amy shared a peanut butter and banana sandwich with me, which tasted mighty good.  Tom had stopped below somewhere, so we embarked on our descent to find and regroup with him.

It was a skin penetrating cold that met us.  The pitifully thin papers under my jersey did help, but not much.  I found it hard to be in the drops, as my neck was locking up.  The cold wind was constricting my muscles and they were no longer supple.  It hurt, so I rode more upright on the brake hoods most of the time.  The wind that seemed to push up from below were now pushing against us, blowing us around.  But soon we were down at the saddle and it was warmer already, still windy.  Then the long descent north, the wind howling in our ears the whole way.

Back in the valley of Walnut Creek, it was warm again and nice.  We made our way along the Contra Costa trail as far as we could, then a section of Ygnacio Valley on the sidewalk to the BART station, where the others bid me adieu at mile 40-something.  I had decided to go into town and get a coffee, eat something, and ride back to Alameda, a further 25 miles or so.  It was so nice out, and I was feeling good.

At Peet's, sitting out front on the sidewalk, I had a funny encounter.  A middle aged woman was trying to get a senior citizen to get into her pickup truck.

woman:  "Al, get into the truck please.  Sit down Al.  No, Al, now just get in and sit down.  Sit down Al!"

Al was having none of it.  He stood there defiantly.  The woman's phone rang and her attention was diverted.  Al took the opportunity to wander.  He saw me, maybe my bright kit colors attracted him, so he came over to my table.

Me:  "hey Al, how's it going?"
AL:  : (mumble mumble mumble...points with his finger towards Peet's and says " they put all the things in there"
Me:  (making circular motions with my hands)  " we orbited around then landed here"
Al:  nods in agreement, then mumbles some more, pointing into Peets
Me:  "I agree completely.  Why even try to pick one place over the other?"
Al:  smiled at me then walked to the truck
woman to me:  "thanks for talking with Al!"

No, I wasn't just fucking with him.  His reality was so random that it seemed appropriate for me to be just as random.  I nicknamed him Al Z. Heimers, the poster senior for that terrible affliction. I don't mean to make light of it.  I did connect with him on some level rather than shun him.  That means something.

Coffee'd up I hit the road once more and had a splendid ride along the Lafayette-Moraga trail, a beautiful tree lined path through the hills where the train once rolled.  I felt good, all I wanted to do was ride, and I was doing it.  All seemed right with the world.  Eventually I had to climb Pinehurst road at mile 58 and but by that time my body was on autopilot and kind of numb, and it just rolled beneath me in due course.  I was a little shaky at the top so I stopped and ate the remainder of my potatoes and a Powerbar.  I dropped down Shepherd's Canyon then over to Fruitvale Ave to do battle over road space with the crazy muthafuckas that drive around on that street.  I don't apologize for that remark.  They honk at me for no reason, cut me off, pull out suddenly, open doors, and one time, a long time ago, threatened to "pop a cap in my ass".  But it is the fastest, most direct route back to the island.

I finished the ride alive and intact.  67miles/107 kilometers.  One big windy assed mountain.  8.5 hours from start to finish... riding into overtime!  Drillium saddle comfort?  Thumbs up!! A great day to be out giving it all to the bike.

Thanks for Reading, and keep Riding,