Sunday, November 24, 2013

Welcoming Myself Back With A Social Rant

Honey, I'm home!   Last time I think I excused myself to go to the  restroom and then ...suddenly its 5 months later.  I'm like that.  My esposa will be telling me something and in the middle her story I just disappear downstairs or in the back room, then shes yelling "where are you?  I was talking to you!" Something grabs my interest, and at the time it seems more important, and that interest leads me off. Sometimes for months it seems.

I've noticed that despite my total lack of updating, my blog is still getting regular reads, which is reassuring in a way that people like my old writing and new stuff is not necessary.  I'm guessing as no reader has actually said anything about that at all, and the vast majority of hits are probably key word based searches such as "drillium", and here you are.  Whatever.

Today I feel like venting a little.  The Holidays are upon us.  You know what the holidays are?  The holidays are a diet of crack cocaine force fed to a shell shocked, enervated consumer culture already stressed out on regular life, a culture drunk on its own self importance, enabled and acted out through instant social media. We must spend money now to show we care.  Our economy depends upon it!  Do your part to enrichen corporate greed by furthering your own personal debt.

But don't think about that.  It's a nice day so let's get in our petroleum fueled rolling bunker and go somewhere, buy something.  On the way, we have to stay updated on our social status, so lets make sure to check our phones are every red light.  If people know we are connected 24/7, we must be oh so coolio, no?  "Hey you, muthafucka in the Toyota, GO GO!   I gotta get to Starbucks fast.  And you other muthafuckas...get out of my muthafuckin WAY!"

You see, Flash cycles a lot in the urban Bay Area of San Fransisco,CA,USA,  and while the vast majority of motorists are decent enough not to run me over, there is always a percentage like the one I quoted above.  

Beautiful Lake Merritt

I took a ride this morning around and around Oaktown's Lake Merritt,which, although there is now a bike lane around the lake entirely, there are still numerous stop lights to contend with.  At the lights, when I stop along side them, I can see the drivers with their devices in their laps, texting, surfing, doing whatever, not seeing the light change, or worse.  Its appalling the percentage of people with phones on, in their laps, waiting for the next red light.  Even worse are the ones doing it while driving, they can be completely immersed and oblivious not only to me on  a bike, but the world of driving around them.  I watched a woman texting ahead of me who veered her SUV completely into the bike lane, luckily we were behind her.   Or, trying to obey the no-texting law, drivers will pull off the road to update or take a call, and often they will park in the bike lane to do so, or double park and text, which I also saw today, forcing me out into traffic.

This is fucking brain masturbation, nothing less.   Nobody is that important to need updating their Facebook status at the light.  "stopped at a light in Oaktown, LOL!!"   This mind wanking disturbs me on several levels. The first is that I'm out on the road cycling amongst these distracted operators of overpowered death machines.  I'm fully aware that their phone can kill me, and my death would be because these idiots could not stand to unplug from social for the duration of their drive.  That's the second thing, that people are so addicted to the smallest dose of approval, so Pavlovian conditioned for updates to prove their importance and worth, that they will sleep with their phones on under their pillows so as to not miss anything.

Even TV commercials are now depicting family quality time as meaning everyone sits in the same room while using their individual devices while enjoying super fast download times.  Never mind that the family tunes each other out, that the devices render the user emotionless, creating a family of wired droids.  Broadband quality is now the measure of family happiness and togetherness according to cultural media.

I think its all bullshit.  I have a dumb cell phone that barely makes calls and is so annoying to text that no one would want to.  I like it that way.  I quit using Facebook, my account is still active because some really annoying young people use it for messaging me instead of email.  I hate Twitter, hated it since day one. Google Plus is something no one wanted or needed but has been forced on all gmail users.

I'm happy to say I'm pretty much off the grid socially.  If someone wants to contact me they email me for the most part, and I read that email at home or in the office, not in my car, because I can't if I wanted to.  I like it that way.  I know what you're  thinking:  "uh, Flash, isn't Flashblog a social media thing?  Aren't you a tad bit hypocritical here?"  Yes and no.  I suppose if I wanted to be a total Luddite recluse then I'd scrap this blog and go completely under the radar.  The thing is that I like bikes, riding bikes, and writing about bikes.  What I don't do is write the blog while driving to work or the mall.  I don't even think of it as a blog anymore, more like a random thing I do when the inspiration hits, which these days is not too often.

Moving on to bloody wanker cyclists.  I hate it when other cyclists make me look bad in the collective mind of motorists.  Blatant red light runners, people who ride opposite traffic flow, bikies and cyclists who ride either with no lights at night or with gen 1 Knog blinkies, lights which have all the power of one miniature Xmas light, thinking this little blinky with an almost dead battery will make them visible even though they are wearing black while blowing through the red light at rush hour.  This includes Freds of all stripes including Lancewannabes who are too important to stop for red lights, their heart rates must not drop below a critical training threshold you see.  Motorist make mental notes of these incidents, bank them in their minds, and recall them whenever they see a person on a bike, and act out accordingly.   They see me riding along in my kit and think "Oh, its one of those arrogant prissy bastards who does whatever they want because they are on a bike and their fitness is SO important, and they have to talk to each other while riding and take the lane and block traffic, slowing me down precious seconds, I HATE THEM!"

Hey, I drive to work which is located in the hills, Skyline Blvd. being a prime road cycling road, so I see all kinds of cycling don'ts from the driver's perspective.  Some guys do ride side by side yakking, and no, they don't form up single file when a car (me) comes from behind, and I have to go WAY around, making sure not to take out cyclists coming at me in the other lane.  Self important idiots.  Again, lots of people wear black with no lights at dusk and when under the shadows of the big redwoods are nearly invisible, what are they thinking other than "black is so chic and makes me look racy".   "I DIDN'T EVEN SEE HIM!"

People, good lights are cheap, please use them.  Turn them on as soon as the sun starts setting.  Wear some article of clothing that is either light colored or has reflective properties.  Do not assume that the girl who just left the bar after a few drinks, forgot to turn on her headlights, and is updating her social status looking down at her lap is going to see you in your black Rapha outfit because your weak red Knog on the seatpost is blinking with all the power of a smoke alarm status light.

And with that, Cheers!  Stay safe out there my riding friends.

Nov, 2013.  Dr. Bruce and Flash  at Peet's Berkeley       photo Bruce

Keep Pedaling! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Nostalgic Summer Solstice Mt. Diablo Adventure

(Check back soon for update with Bruce's photos of this ride)

Welcome to Flashblog for what appears to be bi-monthly updated reports on my part.  Time flies by as I'm sure you will agree.  Today's story revolves around the biggest mountain in these parts, Mt. Diablo in Danville, CA.  Months ago, in a beer and pizza inspired daze, I signed myself on to lead a Team Alameda ride on June 22.  If I had been less dazed I would have considered the time of the year and the weather challenges of riding the Devil Mountain on the 2nd day of Summer.  Less dazed I wasn't, and yesterday arrived with a bit of trepidation, and here is what transpired.

What Diablo can sometimes look like in the winter

Gathering intel prior to the ride day, the forecast called for warm to quite warm (85) weather at the base of the mountain.  For me, this is acceptable, but anything hotter I would not want to do, as I've climbed D on hotter days and it is just too much suffering to be enjoyable.  I want to lead a fun ride, not put people in jeopardy of heat stroke.  Anyway, I green lighted the ride with the bail out option of turning around and riding down if it got too hot and unbearable.

At the steps of Kaiser a group formed, and to my relief I did not have to turn away any new or under experienced riders.  The pre-requisites for riding Diablo are considerable, and beginners are not encouraged.
There were 7 men and 2 women, we men had previous Diablos under our belts, but the women were trying the full climb for the first time.  Rens ten Holt, our Dutch rider, had ridden half way previously, and Julie Hirshon was experiencing the mountain for the very first time.  I've done many rides with both of them so I didn't have any doubts they would be less than successful under favorable conditions.  Of us men, my favorite photographer Bruce Bothwell signed on, international Indian climbing sensation Sri as well, Shel Milligan was testing out his new knee, Big Bill, Matt, and lastly, and leastly as it turned out, Big Tom were there as well.

Backtracking a bit, there was some anxiety experienced by Flash over the route as I was informed just last Thursday that the north route up the mountain was absconded by another bike group to conduct their time trial racing event.  I had it all planned out nicely, then this came up, so I decided to go down south and come up the southgate route.  That way was not free of anxiety either, as my preferred route goes through the country club themed town of Diablo, of which the residents have been lashing out at the hordes of cyclists riding through their area to get to the mountain.  The offending cyclists make a lot of noise shouting amongst themselves, they ignore stop signs, and generally behave rudely towards the residents.  The town was talking of posting a guard to check resident IDs to turn cyclists away.  Yesterday I had no idea if they had implemented this plan.  The alternative is to ride on Diablo Road, which has no shoulder but plenty of speeding SUVs racing between Danville and Blackhawk. ( I used to drive it as part of my work and I do not consider it safe for cycling.)

It took us an hour and a half to get to Walnut Creek via BART, and after the required restroom stop, we set off under sunny mild weather.  A nice feature of the southgate route is the 10 miles of flat then mildly rolling hills route to get to the previously mentioned enclave of Diablo.  Once there, there was a bit of dissent about riding through the town, mostly from Julie, who is employed as a Federal Agent, and was alarmed by the large sign at the entrance which states;

The sign that greeted us is larger and more intimidating than this one

Julie stammered " Let's not go this way.... I don't want to lose my security clearance!"  She's by the book. I found thae idea twistedly wrong that riding her bike through a country club town might in some way shape or form trigger a Homeland Security violation.  Is this the world we live in?  Has it come to this?  My thinking was if a sheriff was on patrol, and someone complained about us, he would simply ask us to leave, no harm done.  I instructed the group to ride under 10mph, stop at all stop signs, and be nice and cordial to the residents.  We did this, and in fact, the resident were cordial to us, we didn't get any harsh vibes at all.  In fact, a resident offered us a gem of a shortcut, a shortcut camouflaged to look like a solid fence, but in fact was a gate out of Diablo onto the road just above Athenian School.  Awesome new Flashcut!

Finally, on The Mountain

If it seems I've written a whole lot just to get to the actual ride report, well, that is just what the actual ride is like---it takes a long time to get there, it takes planning and thinking.  Its a mini-expedition.  And this is why I like it.  I've climbed this mountain many time, but I never take it for granted.  Any mountain that is so high as to have different climates is to be respected and therefore properly prepared for.

We began our climb.  Sri, powered by yogurt as our joke goes, rocketed off the front as he is apt to do lately.  Sri has really developed as a strong climber, but I knew we would catch him after his yogurt energy burned off.  Bill and Matt, both strong as well, led the way.  I stayed mid-group with Rens and Julie, Shel and Tom were just back a ways.  Julie, whippet-thin, is a natural climber as was not stressing at all.  Rens was having a more challenging time of it, as the lower grades were sun baked, desert-like, and very warm indeed.  It takes time to settle into a long climb, the first leg being the hardest to acclimate.  Resting helps a lot, gives the body time to adapt and do what it needs to do to continue the work ahead.  We had a good rest a the entrance kiosk where cars pay to get into the park.  Shade and water after a couple miles of uphill. Tom rolled in last, several minutes behind, and was not in great shape, he needed to rest while we carried on, so we agreed to regroup at the junction.

The next phase of the mountain is my favorite, its a rolling flank section with a bit of downhill through a campground.  Good speeds and breezes can be had here, its refreshing.  After this, the climbing resumes with excellent views of the Livermore Valley, and a good pitch up just before the junction of north and southgate roads, which is at the 7 mile mark of the 11 mile climb.

Nice shaded bench for resting

Its always a happy feeling to make the junction, there are always lots of cyclists there resting, milling about, its a real cyclist scene.  We all rejoined under a large shade tree and waited for Tom to arrive.  When he got there he wasn't doing well at all, said he was light headed.  He decided to rest on the bench  and wait for us while we finished the climb, then came back down.  That would take at least an hour, maybe two.  Better safe than sorry.  The others were all game to go on, Shel's knee was good, nobody was overheated or dehydrated, so on we went.

Not far above the junction is a climate zone line I call the inversion line, because in the winter Diablo can be very cold down below, then suddenly, right around this line of elevation, it gets unseasonably warm.  Descending through it is a shock as in a few seconds the temperature drops from comfortable to bone chilling.  Its like diving into a cold alpine lake.  But this day there were no inversions, just infrared heat reflecting off the road.  After a while, the road takes on an endless feeling, the climbing is constant with no flat areas to recover. The exposure to the elements is complete, shade is sparse, this is why temperature is critical here as the heat can wilt you completely, or worse.

Bill, Matt, and Julie were far ahead, I was riding with Rens, keeping up a conversation for both our sakes.  She implored me to go ahead at one point and not wait for her, but she overestimated my wants or needs, the pace we were going was just fine with me.  I'm not about personal records, or being first to the top, or even being all that I can be.  I just want to be what I need to be to get the job done.  That means not beating myself up, respecting my body-- not just in the moment, but also the days following when I have to live in it doing other things.  I don't like feeling wiped out and miserable.  I pretty much kept my heart rate at 130-140 all day which is a good workout, but not hard exertion.  That is pretty much my current philosophy on riding.

Rens was riding well, grinding it out.  She gets red faced, sweats, curses, breathes hard, but at the same time shows good steady form on the bike.  I told her she looked "pro" at one point, and what I meant is that some women transcend gender styles and ride more like the men..usually the pro women show this kind of form.  Its hard to describe, but I know it when I see it, and somehow Rens naturally has this.  Meanwhile, Julie had flitted off like a hummingbird, reminding me of Melne back in her glory day.  I'm sorry I missed not being there to see her summit for the first time.

Bruce was waiting for us at the foot of the last pitch before the top.  There are names for this pitch, things like Widow Maker, or Summit Wall, or The Ramp, its 17%  for 100yds or so  that will take every last bit of energy you have and max out your heart rate.  I enjoy extra low gears on my bike, but still, it took all the reserves I had to just ride up it without wobbling or zig-zaging.  Rens dismounted, tried walking but decided that was worse for her feet, so remounted and finished on her bike.  I had a minivan behind me, I could hear it right behind me, its radiator fans whining, but I was not going to ride on the gravely shoulder to give it room to pass me, I had decided that in advance.  Take the road people!  Especially here.

YES!!  Another successful Diablo ascent!  Its always as good as the first time.  One thing I really like about warm weather riding is the cold water head pour...fill a water bottle with the cool water at the top and pour over head.  It is truly one of life's great feelings, and I filled the bottle half dozen times offering pours not only to myself but to my teammates.  It was mild at the top, with a cool easy breeze.  We lingered then descended, Bruce rocking a Hero cam on his helmet.

The descent is very long, one of cycling's great downhills.  We took it easy, made it last, and took the northgate road back as originally planned, the bike race had packed up and left.  Everyone agreed to beat it back home instead of lunch in Walnut Creek.  Back on the island, Shel, Bruce and Rens joined me in my back yard for a wind down beer.

So in the title I wrote "nostalgic", and here's why:  I had a great time, probably as good a time as I can have on the bike.  Whenever this happens, I resonate with all the great rides that have come before it, the past merges with the present, gets blended into a euphoric soup in which nostalgia is the secret spice, so even in the moment, while I am riding, I feel the bond of nostalgia happening, like a sweet tailwind pushing me down Highway One towards Santa Cruz.  Its like I'm living in my own cycling Fairy Tale.  What's better than  that?
Keep Pedaling, 

PS:  Flashblog on the wall at Alameda Bicycle via Sweeps McNulty:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Where The Hell is Mines Road?

Welcome back to another photo journalistic attempt to recreate my cycling specific memories of yesterday.  Team Alameda took an away trip to Livermore to ride a bucolic route south through the hills from Livermore to the junction of Nowhere, where there is, I'm told, some sort of cafe roadhouse.  I didn't make it there.  More on that later.  Before that, let's start where all good stories start, at the start.

Ok... I don't have any photos of the pre-load at Kaiser, so fast forward to the Livermore staging area in a big empty parking lot.

Hi, I'm Ken and I'll be your ride leader today...please sign my sheet!   Ken at the business end of the Jones Mk1 MPCSV (multi purpose cycling support vehicle)  Limit 1 additional rider, offer may vary, some restrictions apply.

Cap'n MacGyver, Sri "I eat jet lag for breakfast" Sub. and Rotarian Doug waiting for Godot to arrive 

 Matt and Lucy.  Gee, this semi-abandoned strip mall is kinda creepy...can we just go?

 Madkow and Capt. Euro listen when Bob says that this restroom is OK, but the plastic fence and the camo painted transformer just harsh the overall motif.

Mile 2: we start out at at brisk pace along the vineyards, where we encountered the Cinderella Riders in full regalia. Sorry, I was so stunned I forgot to snap a photo.  I just don't have Bruce's photog instincts yet.

Mile 4, we get into the country proper where the livin' is rural.

 Beverly Brown came all the way from Marin for this all new route.  She was kind enough to give Flash a ride to and from, but as to the ride, well, I never saw her after this pic.  Why?  Because right at the steep climb at Mines road proper, I pulled off the road to take of my jacket, and upon resuming I heard psssst coming from my front tire.  This was a major vibe harsher, for I knew I would never catch the group after a fix and might be looking at a LONG solo ride.  Sri came by, checked in, and kept going, only MacGyver was left and as he came up he thoughtfully stopped to assist in my repair, which probably took 10 mins, but the die was cast, and he and I became a semi-dynamic duo the rest of the tour.

Soon after the puncture repair, a long steep pitch.

And a little later after that.  The road seems to go on endlessly. Beautiful, interesting, mostly uphill, and I found myself feeling annoyed by the length of it.  Uh, oh, not a good sign...

Mile 25
 Hey Flash...Where the HELL have you been??
(except MacGyver, who knew where the hell I'd awesome)
The "short"--only 50 miles---group waiting for us to arrive

A memorial to Ruthy.  I know how she felt, because I kinda died a little the last mile or two to this, the junction jump off point, at mile 25.  I suffered low blood sugar, which almost never happens, so I decided to have  a little teriyaki jerky/boiled egg/banana muffin picnic right here.  I decided not to ride the extra  ten miles to and from the junction, which was a much smarter decision than Harold made.  When Harold rode down to the junction he had nothing left and knew the buzzards would soon be picking at his bones unless he called his faithful partner Eric to come pick him up, royalty style.  Which did happen.  Harold, dude, that's what happens get when you wear a flower in your hair on a bad-ass ride like this.  Flash carried a survival knife on this ride.  Yeah, I was ready to take a squirrel if I had to, and I almost did, but I won't go into that.

A hypoglycemic Flash about to consume jerky and egg.  SO good!

Ok, re-fueled and upon resuming, I noticed my rear wheel was *almost* flat.  Awesome.  I had used my one tube on the front wheel earlier, and was now looking at a tube repair.  MacGyver started gearing my bike for wheel removal, and I said, "Fuck it, I'll just pump it up and see if it holds air".  I wasn't in the mood.  Bottom line is yeah, it held all the way back, which considering some 30mph corners, was a really good thing.

The Usual Suspects depicted  3 photos above got "cold" waiting for me to finish eating, so they left, stating MacGyver and I would "catch up", which we never did, battling a pretty consistent and loud headwind the entire 25 miles back.  Here Mac pulls me the first half, then we switched and I pulled him the second.

I had to stop at this...gate to nowhere... on the side of a steep embankment.  It's a glorified portion of a barbed wire fence meant an artwork?...a hanger for lost and found items?...and why the rock cairn?  One boot and glove?  A fanciful welded A.  Lucky horseshoe and harness.  Is this a warning?  Or an invitation?

Epilogue:  This ride is harder than it appears.  Lots of seemingly endless uphill and gusty breezes.  It makes up for it in scenic splendor though.   Mac and I were pretty beat at the end, but it was a job well done.  It was one of those not so great rides for me, but still, I feel accomplishment at having completed it despite some challenges.  

Thanks for reading, and as always, Keep Pedaling!



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Back With A Ride Report

Hello there!  Flash here, back after a long hiatus intergalactic journey through time and space.  I can say that literally as I work at a space and science center.  But I will add that the journey was merely virtual, compliments of our planetarium and computer technology.  The end result is the same, only the reverse of relativity has occurred---I've aged while the people of Earth have remained the same.  Or so it seems to me somedays.

Yes, I am still riding my bike(s).  Here is evidence of that as I took my camera along yesterday on a splendid, magnificent ride in Northern California's rugged coastal mountains.  Let's start, shall we?

click the pics for a larger view

That's me, looking at you, three weeks ago, but close enough.  Photo: Bruce

Often referred to mystery TA photographer Bruce Bothwell left, Ken Jones right, meticulously preparing.  Note the group up the street, who would depart without us setting up the major zeitgeist for the day.

International cyclist Sri paced me as we tried to catch the first group.  I didn't get my legs until mile 8 or so, and man, did that suddenly feel a whole lot better!

Our fearless leader this day, the famous Mad Kow aka Rovn Kow, aka "Rob" in full cow regalia.  Many of his bovine kin were spotted lazily grazing on this fine day. 

At around 9 miles we stopped at the Cheese Factory to figure out what went wrong as we never saw the first group, and we should have caught them, so yeah, they took a turn early on not on the route.

Heading north with Lucy and Ken, Rob out ahead

Bruce uses his trademark internal stowage system for stashing extra clothes

The always smiling and cheerful Lucy.  She was dishing out some vitamin D (pace)  the whole second half of the ride. 

This piece of road Flash approved!

Lunch stop in Tomales, mile 40 or so.  Old gas station turned into a bakery, see the old timey gas pump behind the benches?  Sri sniffs the air for cappuccino. 

A lot of people say life is too short, eat dessert first.  Sri and Bruce actually live by that creed.  Here they share gluten free chocolate cake.

The wayward first group had turned around and were behind us, here they roll in for well deserved rest and treats.

There was an informal classic car meeting in town, lots of eye candy to look at, and  this was my favorite, a former TR-6 with a hand made aluminum body.  This guy later passed us on the road and it sounded as good as it looks.

Heading south towards Marshall, 7 of us elected to climb the Marshal Wall, which is formally known as the Marshall Petaluma Road.

So this is The Wall, you can get some perspective if you look near the top you can see two riders.  It is a workout, but not the sufferfest everyone talks about, and we hit it at mile 50 or so.  Very scenic and pretty.
Near the top a car passed us, and a young woman "WOOHOO!" ed  us and yelled " I WISH I COULD BE DOING THAT WITH YOU!!  That meant a lot, we inspired somebody.

Taking a well deserved break at the Wall summit.  Still 10 miles to go into a headwind!
I seemed to have stopped taking pictures at this point.  I did take a nausea inducing video a little later, want to see it?  Ok, I warned you.

Ok...that... didn't... work.  I'll look into this and try to fix it.

So we finished the ride in Pt. Reyes Station at around 4pm, having started at 9am.  63 miles, 14.6 avg, 5,600' of climbing.  Ken is ready to punch out my bike computer, he refuses to believe that number, but I think its accurate.  I had a memorable day.  All new roads through gorgeous countryside, challenging terrain and sportive fellow riders.  It really doesn't get any better than this.  

Thanks for reading, and as always, keep pedaling!