Flashblog 2007

A POSTCARD FROM SANTA CRUZ               061807

Greetings and Welcome to Flashblog! Without further adieu let the story begin!

Unfortunately, there are no pictures as I forgot my camera so you will have to use your imagination. Cathy and I set up a three day 20th wedding anniversary event in which we stayed at the plush Chaminade Hotel in Soquel, she visited old friends and I had to resign myself to riding in the Santa Cruz mountains. (There, my friends, is a clue as to how to make a 20 year marriage.)

Friday, after a lunch in Los Gatos, we arrived in Santa Cruz in the mid afternoon and we stopped in at one of her old professor's digs, where I said hello, gave her the car and took my bike and gear and set off. I did not have a map at this point so I ended up meandering around Westcliff drive which runs along the coast in town. I ran into two roadies and I engaged them in directions to the hills above campus. One guy told me of an awesome descent from the top of Empire Grade to Bonny Doon on the coast. He said just ride up to campus and I'd find the way. Well, the ride up to campus was like riding up Park Blvd to Montclair, I mean, man, this campus is up the hill! At one point I thought I was on the 3 Bears, and this was just a road between different sectors of the campus! I was pretty lost, so I took to asking students in the bus shelters which way to go, and I finally found Empire Grade Rd.

Empire Grade Rd, the southern approach

So I turned up the road and soon found myself on a typical mountain 2-lane highway with very little shoulder, and some poison oak reaching out into the roadway. Fairly rough pavement. The few cars traveling this road did go by pretty fast, like in the 40mph range. I soon saw a yellow sign that had the pictograph of a truck going up a 45 degree wedge- Ah! let the games begin! I entered a darkly shaded redwood gulch and saw a very steep left bend ahead, and just then a Ninja motorcyclist came screaming through the corner going around 80mph downhill, and scared the hell out of me! I continued climbing for a few miles and finally the road leveled out a bit in a meadow. I stopped, it was very warm, I was soaked in sweat, and I considered that I had probably just climbed something comparable to the summit of Grizzly Peak, if not more. Truth be told, my stomach felt knotted up and I wasn't riding at my best- I actually felt as if I hadn't ridden in months. Even my bike felt unfamiliar. I wanted to save the best for Saturday so I reversed course back to town and had some YEEHAA downhill.More...

22miles, altitude unknown.

Saturday: Highway 9 to Boulder Creek

For the longest time I have wanted to visit the mountain towns of Felten, Brookside, Ben Lomand, and Boulder Creek. My guide in this matter was an elderly gentleman watering his oceanside garden Friday afternoon. I started up a chat with him, and he said if he were to ride up to these towns he would take Highway 9 because the auto speeds are slower and the drivers more considerate. So there it was, my route established.
After a leisurely brunch I obtained a xerox copy of the local road map from the hotel, and hit the road at around 11:30am, made my way through town, and to the intersection of Hwy 9. The funny thing is, I was at this huge intersection where multilanes converge onto Hwy 1 out of town, and after I crossed it, I was suddenly on this quiet 2 lane mountain road, not 100' beyond the intersection! weird. Hwy 9 quickly becomes nicely wooded, then heavily redwooded, and I could look down over the side of the road and see railroad tracks running in the most unlikely, impossibly beautiful spots seemingly perched on the side of the gorge in lush redwood forest. This road was much smoother than the Empire grade of the day before, and sure enough, traffic did seem less threatening. I would say the climb was comparable to Tunnel Rd, but much, much prettier. I felt good, I had my legs and my bike was my good old friend once again. I was really digging the ride.More...

Surprisingly quickly I found myself rolling into Felten. A fairly non-descript town, rather drab, and being underwhelmed, I did not stop but continued on to Ben Lomand. It was dawning on me that I was in fact riding in a long valley, and the huge mountain ascent I was expecting was not going to happen, but the road was much fun with gentle fast rollers and nicely swept curves and I was soon in Ben Lomand, another unremarkable place, so onward to Boulder Creek. Along this stretch I caught up to another rider sporting Team Santa Cruz kit, and he said he had just gone on a huge club ride to Watsonville, and was limping home with a painful knee tendon. He talked like a surfer. We passed the very small enclave of Brookside, where there is a historic lodge said to be haunted by ghosts, and soon after, we were in Boulder creek where the TSC guy lived, and he pointed me to the best smoothie shop in town. I procured a Maui Wowee smoothy and enjoyed the Markleeville-like funkiness of this town. As I sat there my mind repeated this mantra: Flash...Blog. Flash....Blog. Then.... Flash...POINT! Yes! This was the coolest town of the four by far. I was feelin fine, the motor was hummin and I was jamming on tropical fruit juiciness.

17.5 miles so far, altitude gain, moderate

I could have gone onto do a loop called the Smith Grade which TSC guy recommended but said was "hard, dude". I instead reversed course back to Felten. I had noticed a sign at the main intersection there that said "BONNY DOON-8 MILES" pointing west, up a road called... Felten Empire Grade! So this was the end point of the grade I had partially ridden on Friday! I put the pieces together and concluded that if I rode up this side of the mountain I would find the awesome downhill road to the coast beach of Bonny Doon that the roadie on Friday had told me about.

The Felten Empire Grade

I pulled into the Fat Cat diner at 2pm for a sandwich, mulling my destiny as I chomped this tasty morsel. I considered that ANY road that is called a GRADE is something to take seriously. And I thought, well, hell, I'm here, when am I ever again going to get the chance to do this awesome MOFO? I decided.
I turned right to the west at the intersection and ahead of me loomed a literal wall, the ribbon of pavement heading towards the clouds if not obscured by the giant trees. I saw a knocked over yellow sign in a ditch that said "TRUCKS NOT RECOMMENDED". I steeled myself, grabbed a handful of shift lever and shoved it all the way to the left, and started grinding in my lowest gear, nothing left to fall back on.More...
In general it is like the upper half of Pinehurst, the part after the 5 mph hairpin, 4 miles long, and the sweep of the curves is broader. It is unrelenting- it probably averages 12%, there are no flat sections to recover on, and there are sections that must approach 20%. The saving grace of this climb is the smoothness of the road and the lush beauty of the deeply shaded redwood forest all around. I could look over the edge of the road down 300' into primordial dark creeks with ferns, it is just one of the most beautiful areas I've ever cycled through. I wanted to do a clean ascent, but at one point I had to stop, my legs were throbbing.
As I caught my breath I had to groan, then smirk as I glanced at my rear wheel and saw I was in my 21 cog! At some point I had upshifted and lost track of reality. Then in the eerie quiet I heard the distant whistle of a steam train Whoo- whoohoo! Like a ghost of an earlier century, a real ironhorse steam train was passing on those same tracks I had seen earlier- I had thought they were abandoned relics of the 19th century. The sound of that whistle echoing off the mountain walls gave me goosebumps. It all took on a surreal aspect as I pushed on, and I felt an almost religious experience whereby I gave myself up to whatever course of events would play out. I felt insignificant beneath these towering giants, the sun beaming between leaves as if through stained glass windows. Each pedal stroke was a rosary bead touched in prayer, penance for sins committed, each foot of elevation gained one foot closer to redemption. I pedaled on and I thought of Volmer Peak, and how I would no longer view that as just a fun stunt, but rather a solid accomplishment to fall back on and it saved me and kept me going on more than one mind-bendingly steep curve.

I pedaled on, head down, staring at my front wheel slowly revolving, and I felt a love for my bike just as I love my own son. It was giving its all for me, and running smoothly as a watch, my faithful steed tip toeing through God's own creation. I thought of myself, and what a miracle my life is that I am able to do this when others have to live their lives in misery through no fault of their own... just then my reverie was broken by the sight of a house on the side of the road, which just seemed so improbable. Then another, and another and I realized I must be approaching the summit. I crested the mountain onto a parched, clay colored, sunbaked 4-way intersection. I pumped my fist into the air and yelled YAHOO!!! and pulled off under a shade tree. Sweat was pouring off my head and I shoved my helmet to my forehead and a downpour of liquid drenched my handlebars. I had with me a soft "shoe mitt" from the hotel that I used to towel myself off, rested, ate and drank, and considered my options. I looked at the road sign and it read ICE CREAM GRADE. I thought "what the hell does Ice Cream grade mean and why did they name it that??" I Scream Grade would be more appropriate. Made myself laugh.More...

LEFT: Empire grade to Santa Cruz, 9 miles ( the way I had come up Friday)

STRAIGHT: Ice Cream Grade

RIGHT: Empire grade to... Smith grade

BACK: not an option at this point

I considered the descent to Santa Cruz, a known factor. The safe thing to do. Ice Cream grade looked like it headed west to the coast,
but all I saw was a mountain to the west. BTW, my map did not cover this area so I was best guessing. My fear was descending into a deep canyon and facing going up another grade. I did not think I had it in me. I concluded I could always hitch a ride out if I had to, so with that I headed down the Ice Cream grade.

It was fast and rough, dark shady areas, and soon leveled out, and started up again, and there I was, going up another Tunnel Rd with weakening legs, but by God, I was going to get to Bonny Doon hell or high water, so I pulled off, sucked down a Hammergel Espresso, manned up and started climbing again. After a while I encountered a house, then another, then a postman delivering mail, so I asked him directions. He said I was within 100 yds of the Bonny Doon road! WOOHOO! I thanked him, pulled on my arm warmers, and started this much anticipated descent.

Bonny Doon Rd.

It starts out as Pine Hill and turns into Bonny Doon. Right from the start it is a sweeping, consistent downhill where 35mph seems moderate, just coasting. Big corners, smooth pavement. Minimal to zero traffic. I was in the drops and soon averaging 40mph with little effort. A few cars passed me, but the shoulder is wide. I was in my new 52x11 ring combo and found that at 45mph I could still apply power to the pedals! Man, I was flying down this mountain, the conditions were perfect other than it was getting cold fast. The descent kept going and going and going, and I was just keeping an eye out for things in the road but it was remarkably clean of any obstructions. Every glance at the speedo was over 40, and in my head I was thanking that roadie for sharing this secret with me. All good things end of course, and after bottoming out I crested a small hill and found myself on a windswept Hwy 1. I stopped and took a deep breath. OH...MY...GOD!!! AWESOME DUDE!More...
Hwy 1 to Santa Cruz

I turned south on 1 and started grinding for town, about 10 miles away. I soon found I was enjoying a 20mph tail wind, so plugging along with little work at 25, going up rollers at 18, and descending at up to 38mph! Oh, let me tell you, this was quite the feeling, I felt like I was imbued with super powers, even though I was not fresh at all, the feeling was just spectacular, and I had another long stretch of reverie- this time one of just feeling good to be alive. Ya, I had a hot spot in the saddle area, my back and neck were starting to ache, but other than that I just felt like riding, riding like the wind. An extremely enjoyable 15 minutes along the edge of the world.

I blew into town and rode with thick traffic back to Soquel. I got to the foot of our hotel which was perched on a hill, and started up its half mile 18% grade. I knew all along that this awaited me at the end, but when I had to do it it wasnt bad at all, I just chugged up, didn't think much of it. I showered and went to the spa and jacuzzi ed for an hour, my back was aching and it helped a lot.

49.7 miles, 13.4 avg. 3:45 riding time. total elevation: enough

Sunday: Took a casual ride with my wife along the beach, Westcliff drive, Natural Bridges park, 7 miles, nice leg stretcher, I was the only person on a road bike, everyone was on beach cruisers.
Total for 3 days of anniversary: 79 miles, not shabby and still lots of other celebrating went on to boot.

What I reaffirmed this weekend was the personal power of the solo ride. I confronted some lesser demons and slayed them, cleanly. I learned something about my will power, and more clearly understood my definitions of risk taking.

Back at the Hotel I spied a Prius with a bumper sticker that summed it up- the sticker read: The Meaning of Life is to Live It.

Ya baby, ya.


A SOLSTICE RIDE             062307
For the longest time I have had, at this time of year, the romantic notion of getting up at sunrise on June 21st, the longest day of the year, and riding until sundown as a celebration of that day. Maybe I did this once, I seem to have a fond memory of doing it, but perhaps my best remembrances are of imaginary events. Besides, the 21st was on Thursday and I can't get out of work for something like that.

I awoke particularly early for a Saturday, and looking out the window I could see it was going to be a fine riding day. I felt quite good as well, which is a bit unusual for this time of the week. After the usual preparations I rolled out at 7:40am for a Peet's piping hot beverage.

The "Big Dogs" were all out of town frantically shaping up for their respective Rides Of Doom, so that left me again in the position of proxy Ride Captain. You know what? I'm keeping the damned coffee cards - I think I earned 'em. Ahem...ok...where was I? The troops rallied, we rolled out for Berzerkely as a whole group, and once at Ashby Sweeps took his fold back via Montclair, I believe. The rest of us, after a weird regrouping at Ashby and Piedmont, went up Spruce.

The Plot Thickens

A certain cute-as-a-button blond lass who serves as club President had a fire under her tail today and was pushing the pace up the hill. I think Casey has temporarily "had it" being the good girl who mentors, pushes safety, and is always nicey-nice, and decided to put the hammer down again. I remember the pre-crash Casey being like that, I could hardly keep up in my early TA days, but I thought she had mellowed into a, um, less aggressive rider. My misunderstanding. I was feeling like chopped liver on most of the climbs today as her lead group went out of sight. Hmmm... ok, well, lets up the ante a bit, shall we?

Volmer Peak diversion

At the steam trains rest area I suggested we go up to Volmer Peak, mostly for the view, but also for the test of climbing prowess that the upper 25% grade provides. Around eight of us went up there, and Casey and Alicia just attacked the thing, summited clean, and owned it. Melne was right there with them but spun out and had to walk the remainder, shades of Jess and Brian, right at the steepest part. We all made it up, Reto took some pics, and we admired the view. Well done people and welcome to the 25% Club! That little climb will serve you well in rides to come.More...

So we headed south on Grizzly Peak and as usual, it was my plan to get on the wheel of The Greginator, Mr. Matthews, when he made his move after the short climb after the crossroads, but I lost him at the crossroads due to auto interference, so that plan washed out. In my mirror I could see the Woman on a Mission coming up fast behind me. I was going to let The Prez get on my wheel while I pulled, but no, she came blazing around me and I had to kick the turbo to bridge the gap, but the turbo was spooling big time and I blazed around her and this time she was on my wheel and I was thinking, ok, so thats how its going to be, and drawing on my lessons beaten into me by Greginator, I pushed a mighty tall gear over the camel's hump, just suffered to a greater level and got away. I love jousts like that, well done Mrs. Wilson! From the top of Tunnel Rd. we split into longer and shorter, and we longers did the Pinehurst loop. At the top of Redwood I bid them farewell and rode solo into Montclair for lunch.

I was hungry, it was noon, and I wanted a sausage and... what I really wanted was to be eating at Speisekammer, but the idea occurred to me to procure a malted beverage to go with the dog, and with that I had a fine ersatz German lunch on the steps of Village Dog. After that I rode the half block to Peet's for another coffee and sat on the bench for quite a while watching the world go by, and I started having a reverie just sitting there. It was, I'm sure, due to the perfect blend of processed meat, fat, sauerkraut, endorphins, malted beverage, and caffeine and it was a good feeling. After a while, I decided to strike out again, this time to investigate the former railway trestle that resides at the top of Montclair Village, as electric trains used to roll right through there. But before I got there, I made a discovery.

A Really Cool Discovery

I saw a small white and green road sign on the corner, just up from Peet's that said "Bicycle route 8-Skyline" and it was pointing up the hill. "What is this???"I thought, and climbed the small street to find the start of a path which led up to the top of the trestle, which was a dirt stretch, but heading south the path is paved, so I went that way. Soon the path turns into a small bridge that spans... Snake Rd!. It is a lovely oak shaded path and a plaque along the path states that this was the former right of way for the Sacramento Northern Railway, which went up Shepherd's Canyon, through a tunnel in the hills, and came out in... Canyon! Way cool! I followed the path up the hill and it soon parallels Shepherd's Canyon, on the north side, about 100' above the road. I could not believe this path existed, I felt like those characters in the Wardrobe story who enter the closet, find a secret door and pass through into a cool new world. It goes all the way to Saroni Dr. then gets bogus as Path 8 makes you climb Saroni up to Snake. I did this once, very tough route for a bike path. So I turned around and rode the path back to Montclair where I rode around in back alleys and found a tunnel that runs under the path between the parking garage and a steep side street of of Snake. Further junkets included portaging my bike up some stairs to get to a pink overpass that crosses the freeway which took me over to a cul-de-sac that dumps into LeSalle, and back to Montclair Village. By this time I was pretty thirsty so got a cold drink, sat under a redwood tree and watched some softball, then headed down into the heart of Oakland via the climb up Monterey and down to 35th.

The Solstice Festival

At 38th and MacArthur is the L District of town, and numerous bands were playing in various parking lots, Melne's band The Cover Girlz being one of them, and the one I went down there to see. After setting up, the girlz rocked out under the hot sun while Sweeps, who had driven there, and I sat on the shaded tailgate of Melne's No-Pinchmobile. Good times. My phone was taking calls during the music but I couldn't hear it, and it turned out my wife Cathy, working the Relay For Life walkathon at Encinal High, wanted me to REALLY, REALLY be there for a 5:00 performance of the Sun Kings, the local primo Beatles cover band.

The Relay For Life

A check of the watch said 4:15, so I rolled out of there along MacArthur, which has a decent bike lane, to Fruitvale, Alameda, up Santa Clara to the high school. A quiet scene with people, including my son Max, walking the track, tents all around, and hundreds of white bags with a candle inside circling the track representing someone who has died of cancer. The Sun Kings were late to play, but it was worth it. No, I didn't dance, I just sat there in my lycra and bike shoes, but had another kind of reverie that I was living out my vision of cycling through the live long day. As I sat there grooving on Beatle tunes I had a insight- the solstice ride day isn't about miles logged, its about just being on the bike, spending a day as my riding persona rather than resuming activities as me: being responsible, getting things done, crossing things off a to-do list. Its a choice to fully immerse in the bike culture, to group ride, solo ride, explore, do bike spin off activities, to join in family events too, to let the winds guide me in whatever direction.

As I rolled up the driveway this evening at 7pm, 11 hours and 20 minutes after I started, I was a shade sunburnt, more than a little fragrant, but I still had legs, and the bike never felt better than spinning down Santa Clara with a slight tailwind, the ocher rays of the evening sun painting everything with a golden hue. I rode my Solstice day today, what a great feeling.


MORE THAN A TEAM RIDE                       063007

It was a lament that I tried to put out of my mind, until, usually sitting alone in front of the TV with a beer watching my belly grow, it would hit me- "Damn, I don't have any friends". A simple realization, but one that carries a heavy weight of sadness and regret. Best not thought about, best to not dwell upon. The few friends I had I could count on one hand, and the truth was that we rarely saw each other and our interests were growing apart.

Its a hard thing to do after a certain age- this making of friends business. Life is so busy and goes by so fast, how many times have we said we would call or look someone up but never do? And as we get older we get more judgmental of others which makes it that much harder.

When I took up cycling 5 years ago I didn't know anyone who was riding. I went on countless solo rides around the island, and a curious thing is that I would notice other riders, begin to recognize them, wave, say hello in passing. Then there is the serendipitous occasion where you find yourself catching up to one of these people, quite by coincidence, and the hello turns into a coffee stop, and a wondrous thing- the start of a friendship.

So over a few years I came to know 3 or 4 island riders and we formed a little coffee group that would meet on Bay Farm every Saturday morning at 10am. I came to look forward to these pre-ride get togethers solely for the companionship they provided. Our rides were always the same- around Bay Farm and maybe down to the Marina, or around Alameda Point. That was ok, but I wanted more so I found myself starting to ride solo in the hills, and when I would overtake someone on Tunnel Rd., I made it a point to be extra friendly, chat it up, and usually ended up taking a long ride with many people. I really enjoyed this arcane art of rolling conversation with strangers and felt I was getting quite good at it. It made me feel like an Ambassador of cycling.More...

Still, I felt something was missing and I found myself thinking of group rides. It seemed more exciting, more dynamic. Around this time I was on the BikeAlameda mailing list. I had joined this list thinking it was a riding group, but it was entirely another animal, a political action group, and this was disappointing. I remember one BA member wrote a disgruntled post to the group saying to the effect "HEY, DOESN'T ANYBODY HERE WANT TO TAKE AN ACTUAL RIDE?? I'M LOOKING FOR A RIDE GROUP! I'M OUTTA HERE!!" The writer? Mark Pryor. I couldn't have agreed more.

This was, of course, before Team Alameda. I don't recall how I first heard about TA, but I was excited by the prospect and pretty nervous when I showed up for the first time. There were the TA originals sporting their superhero kit costumes looking like a well oiled Euroteam, laughing, high-fiving each other, and here I was in my noob garments and mid-80s bike, totally nondescript standing back in silence. I see people now in front of Kaiser standing the same way.

At first, I didn't seem to get any recognition at all, almost like I didn't exist. I was taking the short rides usually led by Greg, and he would sometimes nod to me. But nobody seemed to know me by name. So I decided I would learn their names and come up and say "hello Melder, or hey Jason". When I did this I would always get this look from them that was something between confusion, and "do I know you?" But in time this strategy seemed to pay off somewhat in that I found myself having a coffee with them (once or twice) while waiting for a ride to start. That's something. And I later came to know that that group is not easy to hang with, just ask yourself when is the last time you saw any of them? (actually Dave and Jenny at 3 Bears)

Meanwhile I found it easier to meet other new people, and some of them I knew, like Sweeps who was in the Bay Farm coffee group, and John Nideker as well. And I found that there was Proving to be done in order to gain recognition from the TA Big Dogs, and that was slowly happening as I made the jump from short to medium. I figured if I wanted to be known and accepted then I should join the group and be official, and I did. This move made me feel official and raised my confidence so maybe my changing made me not so glum appearing or whatnot, and on one ride Greg pulled his trick of grabbing my saddle to slow me down and at that moment I knew I was part of the team.

From there I got some kit clothing, tried to learn as many names as possible, and I took the ride leader training. When you lead rides, most people make an attempt to know who you are- perfect solution to the anonymity problem!

So here I am now, having savored almost one year of official membership, and how things have changed. I found that by writing about the rides I could reach way more people than just those that show up for the rides, and got huge positive feedback in that area, which I never had before about my writing. By leading rides I gained responsibility and authority, and people are naturally drawn to that, something I hadn't expected. It has made me a better, seasoned rider. And to cap it off, I am handed this empty journal called Flashblog and pretty much given a blank check as to what to do with it.

So this is a story about making friends at a time when I thought it almost impossible to do so. I now feel rich with friends and what a great feeling that is. I didn't really go to great lengths to make it happen, I just did what I was inspired by riding to do, and now I find myself immersed in a group of smart, funny, fit, good looking people who are a pleasure to spend time with. What was once a patch of barren dry dirt in my life is now filled with colorful flowers. I look forward to seeing you people as much as the rides themselves because your passion for riding is so positive, so exuberant that I can't help but be lifted up by it despite the trials and tribulations of my "real" life.

So for me its no longer about how many miles, or how fast, or personal bests anymore. Its about the shared experience of me, you and the ride; of being with happy, positive people.

Thank you, my friends.


If you haven't guessed by now, I like to throw into the group ride a small test of fitness and will, just to do something different, to mix it up, to keep people intrigued. My favorite challenge so far is Vollmer Peak. This tangent off the Grizzly Peak main route has everything- nice fireroad with no cars, lots of greenery, steep climbing to a great view, then the ultimate short OMG grade which peaks at, I believe, 25% (although I re-read Brian's original post about VP and he stated 28% max slope!) Everyone who has tried it has that look of awe about them afterwards. Its a special place for me, its my Stairway to Heaven.

But sometimes, like last Saturday, the Challenge happens spontaneously, as it happened that day. It occurred after our rest stop at the ranger HQs at Joaquin Miller. We rolled south to Redwood and at the intersection five of us had gotten ahead of the others, and we had a green light so we just rolled on down. Pedro and his Colnago buddy, President Casey,Daniel, and I formed a fast line down past the stables. I could tell this was going to be a fast run which got my go-glands squirting, and I have my new 52x11 gear which I just love to grind on, so I was ready, and engaging "warp drive" started passing people. Its just too bad this fine downhill features such a rough pavement surface, its chock full of vibrations and rough patches which break up my pedal rhythms. So I got into number two position and was gaining on Daniel who seemed to be soft pedaling when whoosh! Casey came bombing past! I mean, she was hauling, low down with pigtails flying straight back like tailfins on a 57 El Dorado. Then came Colnago guy in top gear: now, if you are wearing an all-white Euro kit and riding an all carbon Colnago then dude, you better show some speed, and he did and he passed us both. Meanwhile Daniel was on my wheel and my quads were straining under the load but we kept the pedal floored to just about Pinehurst. Pedro soon joined us yelling " YOU GUYS WERE FAST, OH MAN THAT WAS FAST!" Pedro is no slouch in the downhill department, he can out-coast me any day, so that was nice rolling commentary from El Jefe. High Fives all around!More...

Then, Sunday on Skyline before the Space Center I was rolling alongside John Nideker, with Melne and Oakland rider Laura behind us. One of my favorite sections was just ahead, a slight downhill then a sweeping uphill to the hump at Robert's Park. Nideker is an equal blend of wisdom and fire, and I've seen him take off after guys half his age who have passed him and trounce them soundly. So I saw a fine contest looming here and announced a race to the top of the hump, and John was game as usual, so off we went , side by side, gathering momentum, the gals positioning for draft. This would not be a game of getting on the other guy's wheel, no this was going to be a drag race, mano a mano, side by side, and our speed was getting up there. Now, this is an uphill sprint so the difficulty is amplified. The key is the cog selection, of choosing just the right gear to maintain top speed and summit before the bomb goes off. We were going really hard and John clunked up a gear while I stayed in what I was in, which was a little lower but we were both standing on it for all we were worth, his wheel slightly ahead, and when I was at max output, knowing I had but a few seconds left, I upshifted a cog with my pinky and that gave me just enough gear inches to take the photo finish. Damn, that was excellent jousting! I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I want to be John Nideker when I grow up. The man is a rare specimen of fitness and he rides a fine bike, the Serotta Concours Titanium, oooh, what a honey!

These two blow-outs elevated the weekend rides for me from merely very good to amazingly good. Short, spirited, all-out riding efforts that reward you with the feeling of being more alive than you thought possible. And that, my friends, is what it all about.

So heads up, keep your eyes peeled and your hands on the shifters for you might suddenly find yourself in the CHALLENGE PORTION! (cue audience applause)


As I was sitting on the back porch watching the chicken cook on the grill, my thoughts, as they often do, turned to cycling. These thoughts are invariably simple ones, more feelings than thoughts really, and an image of the hills is always there in my mind.

When I was a young boy living in Hayward, I had a powerful dream in which my house was a portal to a purple mountain. If I were to go through the side gate, I would find a path in my back yard which would lead me to this violet mountain. The mountain loomed close, it was dark, with white clouds above, beneath which shone golden rays of light. I knew that if I walked to the mountain I would find a wondrous land where there was no school, no rules, no parents to tell me what to do, I would find a place filled with magic and maybe some treasure. This was my secret inner place and it made me feel happy and content to think about it. This dream stuck in my mind for years and years, and oh how I wished it could come true.

While I watched the chicken being licked by orange flames, it struck me that maybe I am living in a form of that dream now. From my living room window I can just see the tops of the hills, some days covered in clouds, some days bathed in radiant light. The path to the hills are the roads out of Alameda, virtually at my front door. As the chicken blackened I realized that when I ride to the hills on some level I am recreating that dream of my childhood, I am riding to a simpler time, I am seeking a place of fun and happiness, of adventure and mystery, where all things are good and there is no evil.More...

As Pedro and I were riding up Pinehurst yesterday he mentioned that he vividly remembers the first time he rode up Pinehurst to Skyline, and how I was there, which I have only vague memories of. Too many group rides blurring together I guess. I tried to remember the first time I rode up Pinehurst, and I can't recall the day, it was long ago, but I think the impression of that day lives within me. The beauty of Canyon seen for the first time, the feeling of having discovered a secret land, the awe of the difficulty of the climb up back to civilization; these things impressed me at a deep level.

On recent group rides we have had some new riders experiencing these roads for the first time, and I see their faces light up with the sheer joy and excitement of discovery. It reminds me that the magic is still up there, that it is most apparent to new eyes seeing for the first time. It reminds me to look at these familiar roads in new ways, to not take them for granted or to get bored or complacent. No two rides on the same roads are ever the same. Nature constantly changes not only the environment we ride through, but it also changes us, so we are different than the last time we rode this way, and the way is different as well.

I think this is why we rarely talk of work, politics, or other banal cocktail party topics when we ride. We don't want that part of our lives disrupting the delicate magic that we are creating. We want everything to be distilled down to the simple truths- just our true selves, our bodies, the bikes, the road, the adventure, and friends to share it with.

I feel I am very close to finding my dream mountain. I can't see it, but I can feel it looming nearby, and all I have to do is walk through the gate and go there.

PINK IS A HEAVY BURDEN              072907

There are times when seemingly insignificant factors such as the overconsumption of coffee and water can help lead to a sea change of world view. My cycling world view. Such was the case today at the Ed Weiss memorial.

I found myself in the unanticipated role of Road Marshall, standing on the corner of Shepherd Canyon and Skyline, frantically waving to fast approaching cars and motorcycles to SLOW DOWN!!! because, unseen just around the next bend, were 100 milling bicyclists and pedestrians. The irony was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Here were all these roadies eulogizing a rider who was killed in the exact same spot they were standing in, while road racing motorcyclists were approaching the crowd at breakneck speed. The ride leader in me was freaking, so the only thing I could do was yell at oncoming drivers. Fred and Brian joined me which helped control things, but I had a bad feeling from all this. So much like a scene out of the mind of David Lynch.

I wanted to get away from there, and my top priority at that moment was the ache in my bladder, so I told the others I was going up the road to Skyline Gate to use the bathroom. It felt really good to ride away from all that, and in the short distance to the parking lot I felt myself again. As I turned left into the lot I saw a local riding legend standing there preparing to ride out, and I knew what I had to do.More...

The person I saw there was unmistakably the woman we call the Pink Lady. We've all seen her from time to time on the local hill routes. She has been seen ascending Mt. Diablo. And most recently some TA members commented that she was seen on the Death Ride. If you haven't seen her, I will give you a description.

The first thing you see is a riot of pink. She rides a touring bike with front and rear pink panniers. (luggage bags) She wears a pink jersey and pink gloves. She has a pink helmet on her head and a stuffed moose is tied on her rear rack with a pink ribbon. I have a vague memory of her bike being pink, but today it was a dark blue machine. The whole package is just, well, over the top and because of this my preconceptions chalked her up to an eccentric. A crazy lady biker.

It was the recent Death Riders who were speculating about what she carries in those bags. Crumpled up newspapers were agreed to be the most likely item, filling out the bags for effect. I have to admit that was my conclusion as well. It would be far too heavy to actually fill the bags with usable items and ride around that way.

So I rode up to her with the ultimate goal of finding out what was in her bags. I gave her a cheerful greeting and explained to her that, she being a legend in my mind, I was curious to know more about her. She was very friendly, about a half century in age, with a sense of vigor I hadn't picked up on in previous passings. I told her she had been seen on the Death Ride and she confirmed that. So I cut right to the chase and asked her what was in the bags. She looked me straight in the eyes and said bricks. I laughed and said something like... ya!.. sure...bricks! She smiled confidently and asked if I'd like to see one. I stopped laughing and in a sober fashion, I replied in a softened voice, "yes, please". I could tell she was enjoying this. She offered that the pink color is a safety item meant to alert drivers to her presence on the road. Nothing to do with Flamingos or strange color fetishes.

She opened her rear pannier and pulled out a tan plastic grocery bag with something big in it. Inside was another plastic bag, and when she peeled that back I could see something incredible and hilarious: a pink painted brick! She handed it to me and I felt all the poundage of a real brick. NO WAY! Yes, her friends had painted up some bricks and gave them to her. I was reeling from this reality- my brain refused to accept this, but here it was. She told me few people had been shown the bricks. I asked if she carried bricks in the front too. She said no, she carries lead ankle weights up front. LEAD! Then there are all the usual items such as tools, extra clothing, food, and who knows what else.
Oh man, this was too much! So I had to ask her if I could lift her bike. I had to-to grasp the ultimate impact of what she was showing me . She readily agreed, and as I straddled my bike I grabbed her top bar and lifted up. Nothing. The wheels did not come off the ground. In disbelief, I gave a harder pull. Nothing! I could not lift her bike! I shook my head and muttered "this thing must weigh 100 pounds!" Pink Lady replied, "no, actually its more like 85 pounds."
It was then that I had an epiphany. There should have been a golden shaft of light beaming down from heaven upon us. She was suddenly an Apostle, and I had found her- she waiting for me to ride up to her- and she had chosen to impart her Wisdom to me. As I looked on her I knew I admired her more than any other cyclist I know, for she is so outside the box of accepted cycling thought as to almost be a heretic. I knew in that moment that weight no longer matters. A few pounds here, some grams there, thousands spent on fabric and resin parts for a gossamer machine, it is all irrelevant. Weight is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we can create our own cycling realities, no matter how far-out they are, and live in them and prosper. It can be whatever we want it to be, as long as we do not succumb to fashion, fads, and marketing.

I asked her her real name and she replied Alison. As we shook hands, I offered that I was Jim from Team Alameda, and she stated in a playful way that she could tell from my kit, that it was a nice kit, and I looked dashing... wait a minute...my Flash senses were tingling... was she flirting with me? Oh Behave! Indeed, for the next thing she said was that the best thing about the Tour de France was the boys in their tight lycra! I had to smile, man she is a live wire!

I made a dash for the porta-can and when I came out she was gone, clean out of sight, replaced by the much less colorful graybeards Sweeps and Fred, who were looking around for me.

An impression has been made, indelibly. I see it all differently now. And my 50lb MASH army bike I so proudly ride around town? Turns out its only 38 lbs. I'm going to have lots of fun adding weight to this baby.

So long Pink Lady, you are a true cycling heavyweight...see you on the road.

A DEFINING MOMENT                     081107

About 20 years ago I found myself vacationing with my wife Cathy at Newport beach in SoCal. Back then we fancied ourselves bodysurfers and would spend all day having fun riding mild waves at the tame beaches. Someone told us that the best wave riding was down at the 19th St. pier, which was about a half mile south of where we liked to hang out.

So we decided to try it, and planned a day at 19th st. That day was overcast and gray, so we brought the wetsuits with us because it really was not warm out. Cath decided the weather was a good reason to stay under a blanket on the beach, but I looked out at the waves and got a good adrenaline rush- these were big ones, six to eight feet and made a loud roaring sound when they broke. The few people out in it were catching very fast rides, so I suited up and ran into the water. Cold!

The first thing I noticed was the much more powerful currents, and it was hard to swim out through the boiling waters with waves crashing down around me, but I got to the set up point and psyched myself for the great riding to come. I was floating on my boogie board, bobbing up and down, in a lull between sets, and was looking out at the horizon and my mind drifted into a reverie.More...

Then this youth, about 13, wearing only swim trunks, came paddling up to me, shivering, and I said "hey" and he said "hey", and we floated there a while. It occurred to me that I had been floating for quite some time, and...just what the heck was going on? The sound of the crashing waves sounded subdued. I paddled around to face the beach and got the shock of a lifetime.

We were a good 100yds out from the beach and heading out to sea in a rip current. The beach frolickers looked like ants. My heart started pounding, and trying not to scare the kid, I said, "hey, we're a little far out, lets paddle back towards the beach where the waves are". He said ok. We paddled together and made good progress and after a while I again felt the gentle rising of the waves deep beneath us, what a relief that we avoided that current! Thats when the kid croaked out an eerie hAigh pitched scream... "HEY MISTER!!"

I looked behind me to see a wall of green water looming over us like the side of a house. It was the largest wave I have ever encountered and it made my brain lock up- my mind instantly went numb. I only had time to take a breath and then my whole world became water and deafening noise as tons of water crashed down on us, forcing us down, deep. I was being tossed around upside down, sideways, and I rammed into something solid. The feeling of this immense force in which I was powerlessly trapped was terrifying.

I surfaced, gasped for air, and saw the kid also surfaced near me, sputtering. It was then I realized my arm was tangled up in something, and just as I figured out that our two board leashes had entangled, I gulped a lungful of air as another huge wave came down on us. I was shoved all the way down to the sandy sea floor and slammed against it, dragged along the bottom, then I was rising towards the surface but suddenly my right arm was pulled from the bottom, causing me to pivot with my feet over my head - this was the kid being pressed down on the sand pulling on me like an anchor. We were interminably knotted together by our leash cords, and through the vibrations in my arm I could feel him tumbling about below me while the foam boards were struggling towards the surface as well.

It was at this defining moment that I had a very clear vision of my death by drowning, visualizing the kid inhaling salt water and sinking to the bottom, taking me with him before I could untangle and get some air. I saw it so clearly, that moment. I thought, so this is how it happens, a totally random, unpredictable turn of events that no one would ever be able to reconstruct to anyones satisfaction. Simply, the newspaper headline would state "Tourist and Local Boy Drown in Surfing Tragedy"

As I was cartwheeling under the water I found a renewed energy. I thought of how I had just recently gotten married and how unfair that would be to my wife, but mostly I refused to die in this ridiculous manner, and I fought to not let that happen, to him or me. Its amazing how many thoughts can flash through a mind when time is about to run out. I managed to tear the velcro leash strap off my wrist, freeing me from my foam board and human anchor. I popped above the surface, gulped some air, got hit by a third wave, went under, but also got pushed inshore a good ways, swam some, and then felt sand under my feet. I hoped the kid, with two boards for floatation, would surface quickly, and sure enough there he was a ways away, also inshore, holding on for dear life to his board, with mine floating behind, so I knew he was ok.

I walked/swam to the beach and fell to my knees, breathing as hard as I ever have. I looked around and everything seemed perfectly normal. Nobody on the beach had the slightest idea that a disaster had almost occurred. There was the lifeguard sitting in his nearby tower, oblivious. The kid had run off down the beach, my board had washed up, so I collected it.

I staggered back to where Cath was lying under the blanket. "So how was it?" she asked in a drowsy, offhand way. I tried to reply.."I..... this kid....riptide... I don't believe this...." and I just stopped. Words failed at that moment. I plopped down in the sand and looked out at the waves. I was shaking, but not from the cold. I had tempted fate and was sobered by the knowledge that I had come this close...

So this story is not only about choosing the waves we ride, but also a cautionary tale about riptides... those unseen, unpredicted, random events that can occur on every bike ride we take. May we all avoid them.

THE ROADS LESS RIDDEN                        090507

Sometimes after a ride I go to the Alameda Bike shop and just sit on the bench in front of the burger joint. Its a spot rich in feng shui situated near a corner that collects the energy that spills out the side door to the shop as well as the vibes from nearby Park St. Here I sit for a while centering after the ride, and watch people shop for basic city bikes, which are lined up along the wall, secured by a very long thick cable. They look at the pink bike and go hmmm, then they look at the green bike and go hmmm. I wonder if they know what they really want, other than taking a step towards a probably unattainable dream. "If I had this bike, I could go places, see things, get in shape!"

I look at these people- usually very ordinary looking people who for some reason have decided to listen to that little, quiet voice in the back of their skulls, to dig out of their sedentary holes and reclaim their health and add some fun to their lives, and I think "My God, it wasn't so long ago that I was there, all the way back to starting from zip, and now, how do I measure the distance from there to here?"

What is the distance from noodling along the beach bike path for a mile or two, and riding 118 miles in a long weekend that includes climbs with names like Claremont, Butters, Wildcat, Pinehurst, Redwood, Alvarado, Roble, and numerous lesser hills? And recently others such as Ascot, El Toyonal, Lomas Contatas, Pinehaven, and Thorndale. Roads you may have heard of but never ridden. Why do I find myself riding up these tortuous paths? And why do a select group of others delight in joining me? How did we get here?More...

Lets go back in time one year. It was early September and I had just completed another frantic summer of work, I was tired and found the Saturday group ride to be a meat grinder for me energy wise, but still wanting to ride on the "other" weekend day as well, came up with the Sunday ride, which was designed to be easy on folks depleted by the ordeal of weekday working and Saturday training. It was a no-brainer in my opinion, if I didn't think of it first, someone else would have in short order. It fit my needs, and others as well, and for quite a long time worked well and still does as it has grown as large as Saturday and is a great learning ride for the new people.

But something changed. I'm not sure when it happened, or why it happened, but without realizing it I found the doorway through the wall that had been blocking my progress to the next riding level had inexplicably opened. The first indication was that I suddenly thought of the Sunday ride as too easy while at the same time my thoughts were always on hill rides. I had more energy and no longer desired help out to my car after my usual Sunday Safeway shopping duties.

One particular epiphany I had was that climbing the hills no longer hurt. The memory of suffering was still fresh but the actuality of it was that the suffering had been replaced by enjoyment, and inversely, that the more hills I climbed the better I felt. Up to a point of course. Not talking about the Death Ride here, but 40 to 50 mile rides.

So, reveling in this extra go power, I began riding the hills on Sunday, usually solo, and as I like to do, chose to ride up less usual routes. There is joy in these new routes, and it seems inexplicable that a score of little known routes exist up into the hills but 99% of the time everyone rides up the usual half dozen ways. Thus formed the thought to maybe create a Team ride up one of these explorations, but in the constraints of the Saturday ride it seemed too extreme- too steep, too technical, and the logistics of trying to keep everyone together nixed the idea.More...

This desire to create such a ride, combined with a crushing work load this summer, led to the creation of the Sunday hill ride. I wrote previously somewhere that having only one day a week to ride, I wanted to do everything in that one ride. So the question was, what is everything and how do I do it, and who wants to do it with me?

The answer came a few weeks ago with the Sunday ride that featured the climb of Pinehaven on the Oakland side, and El Toyonal/Lomas Contatas on the Contra Costa side, with a freeway descent in the middle. It was clear that everyone (Ryan and Jenny excepted- sorry you guys...) felt the magic. It was transcendent, and I'm not altogether sure why.

Now, one side of me is eager to try to deconstruct this magic, to try to explain it, to make it accessible for everyone, especially new riders who could then hope to look forward to something. But the reality is it can't be adequately explained, and trying to deconstruct it is an exercise in futility. You either know what it is or you don't. The best, simplest description is that we are transported to an altered state. An altered state that is body based, and the mind is along for the ride. We kneel at the alter of endorphins, we get the exquisite, almost sexual rush of our bodies performing to their maximum. It has been said that there is a fine line between pleasure and pain, and working an extreme hill is dancing on that line, urging those glands buried deep in our brains to squeeze out more of that delicious juice. Natural Ecstacy it is, the feeling we get for our ride partners is almost like love, the feeling of bonding, the sharing of the moment - of the experience, is one of our most basic human needs, a need rarely met within the confines and limits of our up tight culture. But we have found the way. Its a Summer of Love without the drugs, unless you count caffeine.

I was riding with John Williams the other day after one of these mega steep exploration routes, and at a stop light he tried to put what he was feeling into words. He came up with: "It makes me feel like a kid again". As good a description as one could hope for. We have discovered the true fountain of youth, each ride is a cup of its pure water dipped from deep within its well. We are getting younger. I see bodies transforming from week to week, getting leaner, fitter, smiling faces glowing.

Its easy to think we have gone as far as we can go, and just accept that, and live with some level of discontent. The magic is found when we refuse to accept that constraint and free our minds to let our bodies do what they so desperately desire to do.

GHOSTS RIDE AT NIGHT                     091107

(Flashnote: I wrote this one year ago, almost to the day. Little did I know then that this was actually the first Flashblog blog, my first story other than a ride report.)

Picture a sprawling landscape of gritty industrial commerce. Towering cranes, thousands of truck containers, chain link fencing everywhere. A few trees, stumpy and brown, refuse to die. Several idling locomotives emit the stench of diesel fumes. Overlay a descending curtain of darkness at the edge of night. Add ethereal riders on gossamer machines hell bent on a circular destination..What is this? A surreal cycling experience known as the Tuesday Twilight race. Or "race simulation", or fast training ride , or some other variation on the theme. Spoken of in awed tones in coffee houses throughout the East Bay, its an event that has attained legendary status among the racing in-crowd. A Team Alameda racer was talking about it on Sunday morning as he summed it up in two words "its HARD, dude!". Ok, three words. No reason to doubt that as I remembered very clearly how hard it was back in the day when I tried my hand at racing.More...Last Sunday, the Team Luna girl talked about how she liked to do this race and I guess that got me thinking about how if I wanted to check out this urban legend I better do it soon before the days get too short. So two days later I'm driving around the Port of Oakland wearing my team kit with a bike on top of my car, without the slightest clue of where I'm supposed to be. As I drove around all I could think was, man, this isn't right, this is like the middle of Pittsburgh, PA. Nothing but slow moving semi trucks here and there until I saw one guy in a kit riding around so I parked in the new and very beautiful shoreline park (!?) and rode with him. Derek from SF. This was around 6:50pm, I thought things started at 7 but he said it had morphed into a 7:30 ride, so we rode around the circuit, 2.5 miles of industrial parkway with no shortage of railroad tracks to cross. The skyline turned a fiery red behind the Bay Bridge as another rider appeared.

At 18 miles of warmup the other riders finally showed up. By this time the sun had set and it was almost dark. The streetlight were not yet on. I was wearing my trusty daytime dark glasses adding to the effect of me slowly going blind. Various soloists and groups gracefully congealed into one peloton going clockwise. This was the coolest element for me, the steetlights came on casting an orange glow muting the colors of the individual riders, the sky was black, some riders had red blinky lights on, and we were going at a brisk but comfortable pace of 22mph.

No one was leading or organizing, just casual chatting, things were evolving in an intuitive way. I almost never ride at this time of night, certainly never in this part of town, and the surroundings and industrial smells gave me a sensation of not knowing where I was or why I was there.

We formed into a total group of 20 in a double paceline as the speed started ratcheting up. At the 2 mile mark I was four riders back from the front and noticed the front guys peeling off after a pull. I inwardly groaned, as a glance at my speedo showed 27mph, and I liked being tucked into the wind vacuum back there. I knew I would last all of two seconds at the front, but was resigned to do it and fall off afterward, but luckily that never happened as guys from the back came up and the two pacelines reformed into one long one and I was now around 12th position. I made a mental note that I had successfully completed one full lap of the race just as the pace went up even higher and I found myself in that peculiar cycling Twilight Zone moment of knowing you are going to get dropped before it happens.

A fifteen foot gap opened up between me and the next wheel so I pushed super hard to bridge it- my tach was pegged in the red zone, turbo at max rpms, chunks of carbon flying out of my exhaust pipe. At first it seemed like nothing was happening at all, but after a few seconds I started moving forward and reeled myself back in, but at a huge cost ( I think this is when I hit my max speed point). This , followed by a disturbingly risky high speed turn under a dark overpass across railroad tracks had me seriously alarmed. A quarter mile later I fell off with three others and we formed a chase group doing 24 mph pulls, but that took its toll on me after a mile so I dropped off from them, and meandered for a while, did a lap around, eventually reversing direction to regain the peloton sooner.

So I was soft pedaling alone under the industrial lights and I looked far ahead and I saw this ghostly gray wisp, like a small bank of fog, almost invisible- not sure of what I was seeing, but it turned out to be the main group. I did a 180 turn and started building up speed to latch back on. As I looked back they appeared as gray wraiths, moving in a supernatural way, so quiet so quick. I sped up to 24mph when the group of ten came by- I noticed several Cal riders led by two guys from Trumer Pils- and I knew I was too slow so I engaged emergency power but realized I had blown the turbo two laps ago. I missed the join by eight feet at a speed of 28.5- they were doing 30mph! Here me now and believe me later, these guys are awesome. That was enough, I quit, and coasted to the parking lot and took off my cleats. Derek was there doing the same. We joked a little and he said "see you next time" and I just smiled and shook my head.

I'm not a racer. I wasn't good at it 20 years ago, and I haven't improved any since then. I thought I knew what fast was. I didn't. I do now. So why do it? Because four years ago I couldn't ride three blocks without getting leg cramps. I was at a low point, disgusted with my condition, resigned to middle aged decline. That's when I started riding again and turned it all around.

This was a shiny little moment in the process.

TARA LLANES SAD FATE               091407

Those who ride close while chatting with me may have noticed a signature on the right side of my helmet. A rather small phrase that reads " Tara Llanes 2006 US Nat'l Champ". The handwriting is neat and concise, it shows discipline and control, yet also has flair. The title refers to her frightening specialty of downhill dirt bike racing, in which she reigned supreme that year.

I met Tara at Alameda Bike's Specialized event early this year. I had read an advertisement that she was appearing in conjunction with Women On Wheels to lead a women's dirt ride up in the hills. For some reason, maybe her unusual name, I was intrigued and visited her website, got some background on her, learned to recognize her exotic face that could on one hand appear plain and boyish, then again look model gorgeous.

So I was at the shop that Saturday afternoon, and I saw her sitting at a picnic table eating a sandwich, sunglasses on, chatting with a couple people. I walked up to her and introduced myself, played myself up as a ride leader to TA, and she smiled and said something like she doesn't ride road bikes much. I mean, we both ride bikes, and thats about all we have in common, so I asked her if she would sign my helm, and she put down her sandwich and found her Sharpie and signed it. Cool! We shook hands and smiled friendly-like.

Since then I've looked upon the signature as a totem, some Mojo Hand for those times when I point it down and go. The blessings bestowed by the Queen of Downhill, and it has given me just the tiniest bit of edge.

On September 2nd, at the Jeep King of The Mountain competition Tara took a very bad crash, went over her bars and landed hard on her neck and back, fracturing vertebra and her spinal column. She is paralyzed from the waist down.

When I heard the news I was stunned. I'm not sure why, I didn't know her, just interacted with her for the briefest of moments. But in the awkward conversation and the handshake that followed there was, I think, a mutual acknowledgment that we were kindred spirits, acting out our impulses in a generally mutual way, its all about the living the biking life.

Its just sad when someone so full of life, so passionate about riding suffers a fate such as this. Its sad knowing that she knows she may never walk, let alone ride again. On her Myspace site there are photos posted of her in the hospital, being brave, being strong, fighting. One photo of her brushing her teeth is ...pitiful... it almost brought me to tears.

Best of luck Tara, you have a long road ahead of you. It was an honor to meet you. I will take your spirit with me on every ride.

FINDING YOUR INNER HERO                092207

You may have noticed that the name of this column is FlashBlog. Not JimBlog. And for a very good reason. Since assuming this nickname I've come to find this moniker has unlocked my alter ego, an alter ego that is shaping me in ways I would not have expected.

Ok, I should be honest here and admit that Flash is not the author of these blogs. The guy who actually writes these blogs is Gordusmxus- you might remember him from the Yahoo group. He's the guy that wrote all those ride reports last year, well, he's still the guy who writes everything that Flash takes credit for. Flash just channels Gordus and the writing happens. I honestly feel that there are three distinct entities at play here- Flash takes the rides, Gordus processes the reality and produces the product, and Jim does the day in/day out grunt work that allows these two to play. But I am digressing mightily here.

This taking on of a ride name is a key thing. Think about the process of preparing for a ride. We look through our collection of brightly colored tight fitting spandex apparel, our specialty shoes designed for maximum power transfer, our high tech high flow helmets, our coated aerodynamic glasses. We choose either consciously or otherwise what vibe we are going to present to the world we ride through. When we get geared up we become almost unrecognizable to those who might otherwise greet us on the street. (think secret identities) Our bodies are revealed, rippling muscles, six-pack abs and butts of steel, *wink*. We are proud of what we have done with ourselves, the hard work and suffering, the many miles ridden to get to where we are.More...

We have donned out superhero costumes and we are ready to go out and do battle for all that is right and fit and ecologically correct. So only one thing is missing... what proper hero goes out to save the world without his or her hero name? The name defines the persona, and therefore to fully develop our personas we must have the name.

Now, I have to admit I naturally inherited "Flash" by virtue of my last name, and I accept this bit of luck thankfully. I've been called Flash on and off over the years, but it never really stuck. My dad used Flash as his nickname, and as he was something of a ladies man, used it in different connotation.

It was Sweeps, Mr. McNulty, who first called me Flash, and I have to admit it seemed cliched at first, but the more I was called Flash the more natural it seemed, and I found myself growing into it nicely. I pondered the original hero, Flash Gordon, from the old movies, and saw a dauntless character who was looked to to save the day, provide some leadership and inspiration, and rid the universe of Ming and his ilk.

So I found before a group ride, in the process of preparing, I would start to transform from work-dazed Jim into the ride junkie Flash, and become this other persona for a few hours. Maybe its easier for me seeing as how I am a Gemini anyway. I have found qualities in Flash that are not really there most of the time in Jim. In Flash I have opened a door into a different aspect of my personality - a door that has been for the most part locked for the greater part of my existence. Flash has an exuberance for life. Flash is a risk taker. Flash is a social animal. Flash is positive and optimistic.
Jim is not so much those things. Jim works long hours all week, comes home and drinks his beer, is tired and doesn't want to deal with much. Its always been this way. But lately, Flash has been helping Jim out during the week, giving him pep talks, getting him out of his rut. Flash has come to Jim's assistance, just when he needs it most. Flash is my best friend.

I see it in you guys as well. You are getting stronger, fitter, happier, riding heroically, and looking damned good in the process. I'd like to see everyone have a unique ride persona, everyone to discover their inner hero and find that part of themselves that "completes you".

So... be a Sweeps, a Z Rider, El Jefe, Double Rider, Mac Guyver, Diva, Cal Guy, Flash, Sweet n' Sour, Queenbee or whatever you want to be. Even flatrideleader will do. Yourself will thank you.

A BACK IN THE DAY STORY                    101407

One long, hot summer day, a long time ago, I looked toward the hills and decided to ride, ride....ride until I died, or made it up into those far away mountains. My previous long ride had been into Oakland and up Telegraph Ave, almost to the border of Berkeley. That had been a taxing adventure in itself, having survived a ride through the Posey Tube to get there. But I had cleverly avoided any hills on that day, this day would be different.

I put on my lucky bike shirt- it was an ersatz "jersey" made from a Mervyn's polo shirt. It was red with black and yellow "bumblebee" sleeves and orange pockets in back that my mom had sewn on. Cut off denim shorts and Adidas style running shoes completed my European racer look.

I gave my bike a pre-ride inspection. This sleek beauty was a gold metalflake Hawthorne distributed by Montgomery Wards. Gold wrap plastic bar tape, imitation Brooks type vinyl saddle, all steel components- she weighed in at a trim 30 pounds. Other features included the "English flatlander" 52/48 front chainrings, shifters on the quill stem, and a full 5 cogs on the rear wheel. This was my trusty steed, and upon it I would conquer the unimaginable heights that lay before me.More...

I only knew of one route through Oakland to the hills, and that was up Fruitvale Ave. The trek up this avenue went quite well, and just past the 580 freeway I jogged over to Lincoln and began the arduous climb up the 50' hill to the 7-11. Attaining this lofty summit, I pulled into the parking lot, parked the bike, procured some fast food and took a lengthy break.

Fortified at the 4 mile mark, I steeled myself for the hill ahead and proceeded up Lincoln Ave, the first part of which is moderate rollers, but the second part pitches up alarmingly. I stopped to rest before the second part, and felt the breeze drying the sweat on my unarmored head, long brown hair touching my shoulders, but it did nothing for my soggy shorts. I resolved to make it up to and past the private school below the Mormon Temple, so off I pedaled. I remember weaving and wobbling, an intense pressure in my head, interminable heat, and heaving for breath. I had to cut short my goal, and at the school I veered into the parking lot.

Blue....nothing but blue. "Why all this blue", I thought? Ohh... its the sky! I'm looking at the sky---on the ground---flat on my back---Far Out Man, I must have passed out! Yep, a quick check confirmed that my bike was resting on top of me. How long had I been laying there, I wondered? I got up--I felt remarkably refreshed and rested. Maybe I took a nap? This was a good thing, because now all I had to do was pedal up the short distance to the Temple and I would be at that freeway way up in the hills! There was a store there where I could get an ice cold Coke and a Hostess fruit pie!

I swerved and weaved my way up to that store and felt like I had achieved Everest base camp! As I was enjoying my phosphoric acid beverage, congratulating myself, I saw this Oldster riding his drop bar racer straight up Joaquin Miller Road. He had to be 85 years old, dressed in long legged and long armed gray wool togs, but the amazing thing was that he was riding at the physics defying speed of maybe 2 miles per hour. His pedals were barely rotating. I did not believe what I was seeing. I was stunned that an old fossil like him could ride right up the hill on a hot day like this, while me, a teenager, had to sleep in a parking lot just to get this far.

There was only one thing to do, and that was to chase him down. In a literal hare vs. the tortoise reenactment, I mounted my bike and sprinted up the road trying to close the 100 yd gap the elder gent had gained on me. I got maybe 50 yds closer, and gasping for breath, my legs seized up and I vaulted off the bike to walk. The old guy kept on going-- he had no idea how close he came... to being...to being... ah, forget him anyway.

Somehow, by riding, walking, or crawling, I made it to the top of Joaquin Miller. It must have been a great feeling, I think I must have jumped up and down, but actually I don't remember any of this part, or the next part, where I discovered a tantalizing downhill named Redwood Rd. The lure of its dark passage, its promise of cool wind, its unknown dangers were too irresistible for this young lad and so down I plunged. I'm sure it was a hoot.

The next thing I recall was gasping up the small Pinehurst hill off of Redwood. I had never gone out this far, ever, I was at the ends of my cycling Earth. The sun was beaming late afternoon rays of copper and gold as I started rolling down the hill, north, ever faster into shaded, twisty corners. My heart was pounding from exertion, sweat was stinging my eyes, my wet shorts were burning wedgies into my nether regions.

It was the fateful 4th corner, a left hander that changes line in the middle of the sweep. I know it well now, but on that day it came as a horrifying surprise as I tried to muscle my lead pipe machine into the tighter line and it refused, its geometry never having been designed for these speeds, it's gumwall tires squirming and deforming, and the Precipice Of Doom looming at the edge of the road.

I went down hard in the middle of the curve and slid on my side into the dirt on its edge. Trees... so green. Such quiet and peacefulness. That ringing in my ears. So thirsty... where's my water bottle...there in the dirt- take a drink... ah. Where are my glasses? Oh crap, my leg... its bleeding and all that dirt in it. My arm REALLY hurts. I guess I crashed? Feel my left ear... pulpy, soft, bloody. I think I'll sit here a while.

A car drove up, slowed, and the driver asked "are you alright?" I replied "yes!", smiled, and waved him on. Not much later a green park ranger truck roared up from the Redwood direction and the officer insisted I get in the truck, so I did, and he heaved my bike into the pickup bed. He drove me to the ranger station where they had me lie down on a bed in the "nurse's office", or so it seemed, and they called my dad to come get me.

Dad took me to the ER at Alameda Hospital where I was told I had a broken left wrist and a level 3 road rash, a good patch of it in my left ear, which got stitched up. I got a nice plaster cast on my arm, and returned home around 9pm. It was July 4th, the sound of fireworks were in the air, my arm hurt like hell, and I didn't sleep at all that night. I replayed the images of my crash over and over, trying to figure it all out, but I never did. It is only now, having ridden that corner dozens of times, that I know how it happened, as it happened to one of our Team members there just a few months ago. Talk about deja vu.

These days, when I descend that section of Pinehurst, I always acknowledge to myself "the spot", and I salute my young self of then, like an identical twin that sacrificed himself that day, gave himself up completely so that I could go forward into my future cycling incarnations.


FIRE WALK WITH ME                       101607

You discerning film buffs may recognize that headline as the title of the Twin Peaks film created by David Lynch after the demise of his television series of the same name. A dark and disturbing film which only made sense if you carefully followed the two seasons of TV plotline. This blog is not about that film. Its just such a cool title.

Back in the late 80's, my spouse Cathy, was studying courses in hypnotherapy. I was skeptical of the whole hypnosis deal and challenged her to make it work on me. My dental hygiene was less than it could be due to my aversion to flossing, so I told her that if she could get me to floss my teeth regularly, then I would be a believer. I quickly became a believer, and have never looked back, and that was one of the smartest things I ever did.More...

As part of Cathy's ongoing training, she somehow got wind of a weekend seminar being held by Tony Robbins, who at the time was a traveling motivational speaker, who later turned into the Info-mercial Guru he is today. But at this time in his career his weekend theme was rapid self improvement through neural linguistics ( a kind of hypnosis) and capped by a walk on fire. Cathy got an assistant position at this gig and was allowed to bring a guest- and that guest turned out to be yours truly.

The success with flossing got me to thinking there was something going on I didn't understand, and this idea of firewalking was just TOO MUCH to wrap my brain around so I said, sure, I'm there! There were a few hundred attending in a large building somewhere in San Fransisco. We sat through 5 hours of thoroughly entertaining stories, demonstrations and one-on-one training with each other. Tony is a commanding presence, and by 1am in the morning he had us all believing we could walk on fire. What I didn't fully grasp at the time was that the 5 hour seminar was loaded with "subliminal" type messages which was crucial for the prep.

So everyone filed out into the night and lined up to walk across the beds of coals. From my position in line, which was around 120 or so, I could see huge piles of orange coals off to the side, and people with shovels digging into the pile and throwing coals in front of the line. As the line started moving forward, I started to feel the heat penetrate the chilly night. Soon enough my time came, and one of Tony's helpers reminded me not to look down at my feet, to make a fist, raise my arm up and chant "cool moss, cool moss". Then there was a slight shove and off I went cool mossing my way across 15' of burning coals.

The closest approximation of what it felt like is popcorn- walking on popcorn. Funny, because I've never walked on popcorn but thats what it felt like. I didn't feel anything other than crunching under my feet. I was initially elated, but as time went by I started to doubt whether it had happened at all. I actually convinced myself that all the people ahead of me had stomped out the coals, and by the time I got there, there was just cold ashes. Thats how my mind worked back then, cool, rational, scientific explanations for everything.

So when Cathy had another chance to attend a second firewalk a month later, I jumped at the chance to do it again. This time, my rational mind would prove without a doubt whether or not this was real. We sat through another 5 hours of prep, and when the time came to firewalk, I already had my shoes off and I got a running start ahead of everyone else, and sure enough, I WAS FIRST IN LINE! I was so pleased at my cunning plan! I stood there looking at 15' of fresh grass sod- the same stuff you buy at Home Depot in rolls, layed out on top of the asphalt parking lot. There were two tremedous piles of burning wood to either side of the two sod strips, and it was HOT, my face was burning from the heat! The people with shovels started heaving red hot coals onto the grass until the strip was glowing orange. I could hardly contain my excitement! Tony finished his motivational spiel, and sent one of his cronies into the coals ahead of me!! Damn it! I would have to settle for number two.

The Man himself came over to me and put his ham fist on my right shoulder, asked me if I was ready, I nodded, he said look up, do the cool moss thing, and off I went to my destiny. I knew this was the Real Deal. I saw the burning wood, felt the intense heat, saw the fire before me.

Cool moss, one step forward, cool moss, two steps into the fire- feels like popcorn, cool moss, three steps into the---my left foot suddenly dropped through the sod and plunked onto the asphalt and this was so unexpected that it made me go "HUH??" and that was it- I was out of the Zone. Instantly I felt fire around my ankle, so I pulled my foot up, took another step forward with my other foot, coolmosscoolmosscoolmoss and man, it was HOT, then another step, HOTTER, OH MAN, cool moss was NOT working anymore, then another step BLAZING HOTTNESS was all around my feet, and then I was off the sod strip and someone hosed down my feet with cold water. I stood there just stunned and meekly stuttered that I had burned my feet, but no one was listening, everyone was cheering the other people on, and I stood off the side, in the dark, in a puddle of water for a while, my left foot throbbing.

Back inside the building I assessed the damage. The skin around my ankle was red, like really bad sunburn, as was the bottom of my foot, but the sides and top of my foot were completely normal. Where was the charred, blackened meat? My right foot was perfectly normal. I asked an aide for a first aid kit. She looked at me incredulously and asked why would they need one? I just shook my head. Late that night, in the wee hours of the morning, I lay in bed with my foot hanging off the side of the bed, just in pain, my foot felt afire. Cath woke up and did an amazing thing. She did a hypnosis on me while I lay there, and the next thing I recall was waking up the next morning feeling quite good, with no pain whatsoever. My foot still looked scalded, but it didn't hurt-at all! Damned amazing!

My mind had refused to accept the results of the first firewalk, and I had to come to grips with the idea that I had wanted to get burned to prove that it was real. I did and it was. I am here to tell you there is no trick to it, the fire is real, it is walked across, and somehow the feet do not end up like Cajun steaks. The bottom of that foot was dry and cracked for two years after, a constant reminder to myself to be careful of what I wish for. It should have been much worse, but it was just enough, but not too bad. I don't know why, but I've come to accept that there are forces at work here that we do not understand.

So, this is a cycling blog after all, so I suppose I should tie this story to cycling. How? I now know that some impossibilities are possible. I have greater faith in what I can do, I push myself further, I trust in a force I can't define but know exists. I know it exists for you too, and as a ride leader I will try to reveal this intangible magic in what small way I can. We will find the fire and ride through it.

Ride on my friends!

THE MILE HIGH CLUB                  111307

I suppose a good story should start at the proper place, and the proper place for a good story is always at the beginning, a thing in space and time which is not always easily placed, so I will arbitrarily mark an X on the mental landscape and proceed with an outward bound spiral of a story which will hopefully knit itself together like your Grandma's new sweater.

Somewhere along the timeline of self progress I developed a taste for little known, little ridden, arduously steep side streets in our East Bay hills. Perhaps it was a backlash to riding the "same old" routes as one veteran rider, the one known as El Doble put it, or maybe it was in response to a need to find ever more challenging, more technical climbs. These routes offer all new scenery through unknown neighborhoods and are like little gems, hidden away, in plain sight. Most riders avoid these routes precisely because they are unknowns, and if the rider is not in good shape for this discipline, they can exact exquisite tortures upon the mind and body.More...

There are a few people however, tempered climbing creatures that have tasted these forbidden delights and thrive in their harsh micro climates. Or perhaps just a rider blissfully unaware of what awaits him, but full of enthusiasm nonetheless. A rider such as this would find himself suddenly and unexpectedly tempered by the hot fires of burning, unrelenting climbs. We had one such rider today, and he survived to tell the tale.

I should say at this point that I developed a route meant to extract the maximum masochistic pleasure from point A to point B, a 9.1 mile traverse over four hills from Claremont Canyon in Berkeley to the Chabot Space Center in Oakland using obscure side streets as much as possible. Recently I have ridden individual legs of this route and at some point got the idea to put them all together in one megaride. I call it the North-South Passage, in the spirit of exploration, and just a short time back as I looked at it on Google maps I thought it might be highly improbable, what with all the climbing-4000' in 9 miles.

At the assembly point today I knew only of melne, my agreed co-leader, as comprising my group, and several potential riders fled at the last moment to tamer rides. However, four others came forward and like Knights of the Round Table, pledged their allegiance to forging the Passage. So we had Flash, blogmeister and instigator (aka coffee stop king and a good rider), World Famous melne, (guitar hero and most improved club female rider 07), David Chueng(sweetnsourbiker and a very good rider), Daniel Civello, (always very good in all ways) the one and only MacGyver (enough said) and relatively new TA prospect-the upbeat and adventurous Rick Laverdure.

Melne has written a very good report of the day's route and adventures and I refer you to that, as she has captured the spirit and flavor of the ride in her unique style that is very readable and entertaining. Read her story for the actual flow of events because I can't do it any better than she did.

Group dynamics is a very curious thing. Sometimes on a group ride, nothing ever gels and the ride is just an assemblage of individuals together on the same road. But sometimes an intangible thing happens and the individuals meld into a unit; roles, although unspoken, are defined, and so we get a team working together, and that is when the magic starts to happen. Melne was assuming leadership by her own initiative, pointing out important leader bits that I was spacing on, showing the way by memory in one of the most baffling sections of labyrinth-like streets, and generally being leaderly by example. Hey, if you represent in a blazing orange-purple-and lime green ensemble with KOM red and white polka dot helmet and a Diva bike, then baby, you better show it, and she did.

David and Daniel were consistently off the front, rock solid in their hill mastery, so no worries there, as there are none with McGuyver, even though he was favoring a sore knee the entire ride. Its great riding with people you have total confidence in because everything and anything suddenly becomes an option. The possibilities open up wide. Rick was the unknown factor, but he has shown he is a good consistent rider and like we agreed, there were numerous bailouts just in case. As for me, well, I feel like I'm at peak form, at the top of my game here in early November, so with fine weather forecast, today was the day.

We all rode well together, formed an an unspoken understanding about the lead people waiting a minute or two for a regroup, then off we would go again, climbing, always climbing it seemed, until we reached our destination just south of the Chabot Space Center. At this point, I had underestimated how much the group was just digging the climbs, and when they agreed to drop down and climb Tunnel again, I was kind of amazed, amused, but a tad disgruntled that I had created this kick ass hill route, and when we all got to the end, they wanted more! Melne in particular had that big grin that shows she is in the zone, and her climbing lust is nearly insatitiable when she gets like this.

So down to Montclair we went for a fine, well deserved Peet's stop, then up again via Tunnel Rd, which seemed like a flat ride, and ended up on Diablo Ct, a steep little pitch that affords a splendid view of the bay area. We had set our sights on a nice round figure of 5,000' of elevation gain, attaining that figure somewhere along Skyline on our way back, but the group pushed the figure to 5,286'- exactly one mile, so we had to do some amusing antics to obtain that figure and we eventually reached 5,310'. The Mile High Club.

My expectations were far exceeded by the group. Not only did we knock off this route in good style and form, the magic happened and the bar was raised far higher than I thought possible. My personal best glass ceilings were shattered today. I saw the best of each rider today, and admired each of them for their strength, fortitude, and above all, their love of the ride. Today was one of those days where it all comes together, all the rides before seem to lead up to this one, to make this one ride possible. I thought I was thinking big, but you know what? I need to think much bigger!

Thanks for showing me the way.

FLASH VS. GRAVITY---GRAVITY WINS                121007

It was a fine Indian summer day, I unexpectedly had the day off, and I had already done a morning's worth of chores. Time for a ride, but this time I chose my silver Rockhopper; time to hit the trail and taste some dirt.

I haven't ridden the trails in about, oh, two years, but I took the ATB to the TA party and really enjoyed riding it the half mile to and from. Also, Mike Romo had just dived into the dirt in a big way and splurged on a Ferrari red Giant hardtail, and if he's doing, it then I must be missing something, I thought.

So I was driving up Fruitvale Ave, just past 580, with my bike on top the car when a voice in my head said " um, how are you going to ride your bike without a front wheel?" DOH! I'm an IDIOT! I had left the wheel lying in the front yard of my house, so I doubled back, fully expecting the wheel to be gone, but when I got home, there it was, propped up and leaning against the rose bush, where some walker by had placed it. That's why I love this town.

I made it to Skyline Gate and put my bike together and rode southeast on Westridge trail, at least I assume its called that on that side of the valley. This part is a gas, easy rolling uphills, and some nice long downhills before a really technical downhill to Canyon Meadows, which is that park off the right of Redwood Rd just west of Pinehurst. Now, I've ridden this before and I know what to expect when you are in the meadows: nothing but suffering uphill to get out of the valley, either direction, but west is worst so I chose that way, considering myself in fine road climbing condition, and maybe , just maybe, I could make it up cleanly.More...

The west way is a gnarly, twisting, very pitchy trail that requires the lowest gear on your bike, and even then the front wheel tries to lift off the ground with each pedal stroke. Then it gets even harder, then it gets OH MY GOD steep, it must be 35% easy. I made it to this hairpin turn, rode through it, and just gulped at what lay up ahead of me. I was fighting for control of the bike, I was going so slow that it pushes the physics of riding a bike, and then, I felt the physics leave the building and gravity just grabbed me by the back of my jersey and tossed me off the bike. Backwards down the slope. I recall the front tire hopping into the air and the rear tire spinning out simultaneously, then WHAM!

Now I've heard people joke about falling off your bike backwards, or rolling backwards downhill , and I've made jokes about it, but never thought it could really happen. It can and it does. I fell onto my right side, slid a few feet with the bike on top of me. Damn! Talk about steep! Trying to balance on a bike and pedal at the same time seemed impossible at the point I fell. I've heard rumors that some guys actually make it up this. I don't know how. I brushed myself off, checked for damage- none, just worse for wear and tear.

So I aborted this side and returned across the canyon to the east side and started climbing that, made it about 100 yds, and stopped. This was hurting my back, its hardly less steep than the west side. Screw it, I decided to ride back on Redwood rd, and that felt almost effortless in comparison.

I pedaled by a roadie drinking water on the side of the road, said hey, and he said hey, and he soon caught up and passed me. He had all the right gear, looked strong, had tats on his arms and legs, but he stayed the same distance ahead of me instead of dusting me, so I sped up a little and got 10 feet behind his wheel and let him pace me at 11mph. This part was deviously fun, as I was enjoying the vrum-vrum-vrum-vrum sound my knobbies made with each pedal stroke. He could hear me back there, and he tried a few cat and mouse moves to drop me, but I caught back up, biding my time until the steeper part at the horse stables.

Before the stables he moved but I had more gas and the tires were going VRUMVRUMVRUM as I moved around him on the left, and that was the last I saw of him. Stayed in the saddle too, didn't have to stand. The guy was probably coming back from a Diablo ride for crying out loud, but we will never know, will we? Poor guy's self esteem took a big hit on that one, no self respecting roadie EVER wants to get passed by a dirt flinger on the road. I shouldn't have enjoyed that but I did.

Up on Skyline, I turned into that scenic trail at the staging area and rode it at a very sedate pace, enjoying the scenery over to the area around the Space Center, then hit the road again for a very smiley downhill run back to the Skyline Gate. Get a mountain bike up to around 25mph and it feels like a really fun mini-motorcycle. Once there, I still had some energy so I rode up this steep street called Pine Hills at the edge of the parking lot just to see where it goes. Its steep. It has a cul-de-sac at the top. Never been up it before. Came down and put the bike up on the car, carefully noting the location of the front wheel in the back seat this time.

Total ride distance: 14.5 miles but if felt more like much more. This ATB business is not easy! So, a very different flavored ride that I heartily enjoyed. Need a fun change? Get out your dirt bike and hit the trail, or the road and just randomneur it and see what happens.

Ride on my friends!

ON BEING PERFORMANCE ART                       121207

On a recent ride I had the rather breakthrough thought that what I was doing was beyond just riding my bike, beyond fitness training, beyond route exploration. The crystalline-like thought that I had was that I was performing in an improvisational art piece- one that comprises a man, a machine, some bright clothing and protective gear, and take that and roll it through traffic and other people's neighborhoods and see what happens. Whether I am appreciated or even noticed by an audience is secondary- the piece is performed for the sake of performance itself. Sometimes there is an audience, and they will wave, honk their horns, or shout Allez!, but that is rare, and not to be expected.More...

There is a school of art in which the artist creates his art in whatever form it may take, and when it is finished, the artist destroys it, or purposefully allows it to be destroyed. I would call this the art-as-process philosophy- a philosophy in which the finished product is irrelevant. Andrew Goldsworthy in his film Rivers and Tides, created elaborate botanical artworks that were meant to be destroyed by moving waters over time, symbolizing the impermanence of things, and ultimately life itself.

So it is with the ride. There may be an artificial end goal such as distance or speed or feet climbed, but its really about the process, its about the doing, in the doing is the art. The ride is an intricate but fleeting assemblage of a living organism, highly manipulated metals and organic materials, of willfullness, of speed, and all constrained within an ephemeral bubble of time. To the observer, it is a very short story, it comes and goes in a moment.

When I solo climb streets in unknown neighborhoods is when I feel the performance art aspect the most. Probably because there are very few folks out and about up there, and of those who are, most of them don't notice, or don't care, or are astounded that some silver haired guy just rode up their hill on a 20lb bike- the hill that insulates them from the flatlanders below. The hill they bought their mondo SUV with satellite navigation for so their ride home would be effortless and luxurious. If they stopped to think about it, in their way of thinking, they might consider the ludicrous nature of the performance, of some person of questionable sanity in tight clothing willingly riding their bicycle up the hill the hard way, when there is an easier way, but why would anyone do that either? Perhaps in seeing, in questioning, the performance has served its purpose. I think my goal is to have somebody look at me riding and for them to ask themselves what does it mean to see me riding? Like the bumper sticker in Berkeley said, Question Reality.

The performance art feeling also takes hold during the instances I have ridden up extremely challenging pitches like Volmer peak. At these times I've had a sense of being on stage and the whole universe is watching, waiting for the successful culmination of the trick or hoping for the whole effort to fall apart, and making the top I can almost hear the joyous clapping and cheering of the laugh track audience enjoying the show.

Sometimes, more often in a group ride, I script the performance, I act it out, I perform it like a minor celebrity riding in the back seat of a limo on the Fourth of July, smiling and waving mechanically as if anybody cares. But actually I do care, for it is art that gives our lives meaning, it is art in its various forms that we look forward to after toiling away at our meaningless jobs, art gives us a greater sense of purpose, a higher meaning to existence, a reason to go on.

When I think about it, the group ride is probably the highest form of cycling performance art in that people in general like a parade with bright colors and shiny, spinning things, people like their sports figures, they like fit, good looking people, and a peloton of cyclists provides all this eye candy. I bet a lot of them wish they could be that. So maybe the audience is both secondary and primary, the art itself dissipates immediately, but perhaps a lasting impression has been made, a molecule of change initiated, the course of a life ever so slightly altered for the better.

So on your next ride try thinking about yourself as an artist and how you want your art to be expressed and perceived by the larger world and go out there and dent the Establishment, rock the boat, and spread the love.

FLASH MENTORS...MRS. FLASH                         122607

Flash has a better half, her name is Cathy, and she too likes to ride her bike- locally to the beach and around Crab Cove. That's a nice 5 mile loop, and that's been fine for her, for, oh, the last couple of years. She's a smell the roses and watch the ducks kind of rider, but lately she has been proud of the fact that she is getting stronger and is using higher gears when tackling our local grade we call the Grand Street Grinder. True, its not really steep, but it is mentally challenging, as it is a false flat, whereby it causes a disconnect between mind and body- looks easy, feels hard.

So, feeling emboldened by her improvement, she got the idea that maybe she could become "Mrs. Flash"- that being more of a frame of mind concept than actually trying to match my eccentric hill climbing tastes.

The day after Christmas I was planning a late morning solo ride, and as I was about to prepare for my usual randomneur type adventure, Cathy asked to ride with me over to Oakland to "check out the route" there and back, and then I could take off on my usual ride in the hills. I thought this was an interesting idea, and it occurred to me that upgrading her from her usual mountain bike to a road bike might help, so I quickly tweaked my Miyata road bike by installing platform toe clip pedals, a shorter high rise stem, and a lowering of the saddle. Unfortunately, the gears are kind of high, higher than a compact setup, but oh well, not enough time to change that. My rough idea was that I would take her over and around Lk. Merritt, and she could find her way back as she did once before. We layered up and set off.More...

The very first thing to check out was if Cathy was going to be able to manage the road bike. Her position was good and she said it felt good other than the hard saddle on her butt. She was a tad wobbly when shifting, but thats to be expected, so after a shake down cruise of a few blocks, we crossed the Park St. bridge over to the Embarcadero. The 16th Ave overpass was approaching, so I suggested we try that out as an introductory hill, and I told her as a hill it was steep because it has to arc over the freeway. She asked about standing up or using low gears and I suggested she stand up first and then shift down and sit, and she performed those two skills quite well. So on the other side I suggested we tackle the larger 16th Ave. hill down the street next to San Antonio Park. Cathy rode this determinedly, but was winded at the top, but after the nice downhill, wanted to go on.

So it looked as if we were now riding to Montclair(!), with the option of turning around when it got too hard. 14th Ave was not a problem until we got to those rollers before 580- those three humps that have turned back many a Sunday rider. We climbed past the freeway on ramp- so far so good, then made it up that micro Mofo to the first light- still good, then rolled down to face the third hump, the one that always kicks the butt. Cath was struggling, but made it, and we stopped on the corner to rest. She got off the bike and lay down on the front lawn of the corner house. She didn't look so good, I think she had the spins and the start of the horks, but controlled both. I thought this was it for the climb, but after a rest Cathy regained her determination to carry on and up we went through the Glenview shopping area.

We took a pit stop at the gas station then continued on, and I warned her a steep pitch lay ahead up to Leimert, ( I had vivid memories of Sweeps McNulty in years past having to stop at the top of this hill before going on) and I have to admit this part worried me, but we took it steady until we passed the light and started up the last part of Park blvd. I asked her if she wanted me to push her and she said no, she said she could do it herself. However, a few hundred yards more of grinding took its toll and she asked for the push over the crest opposite the church. We stopped at the triangle and I asked her if she could make it to Nelly's up the hill. She said lets go for it, so we pedaled up through town and then we were there- at Nelly's! Wow...she made it!

I took care to ask her often how she was doing getting up there, and would have turned it around at the first serious sign of trouble. But I know Cathy, she is determined. She has a black belt in Aikido, she has walked on fire, she recently climbed Half Dome in Yosemite. The mental game is huge in cycling, and she showed it today.

Inside we got a table and sipped hot drinks, and I told her how awesome it was that she made it here on her first try. She was flushed, overheated, and her legs hurt, but I could see the pride of accomplishment in her eyes.

That was the end of our climbing and we turned around and I took her on the St. James downhill roundabout, which she really liked, and we returned via Lakeshore to 5th Ave. and the Embarcadero. Back in Alameda I reported that we had done a 16.0 mile ride and she smiled broadly. Well done, and with the powers vested in me, I christen you Mrs. Flash!

For me, this ride opened my eyes to several things. First, it made an impression on me of what an ordeal hill climbing is for the newcomer. Its a whole different animal than flat riding, and you don't "just do it", you really have to work up to it unless you are very determined, or you have Flash to mentor you. (wink) I've gotten a case of climbing fever this season and its skewed my perspective on what is "normal". This brings me back to reality.

Secondly, I tend to view this route as "just getting there" miles, and going slow today, thinking about each little rise in the road, and how that would effect Cathy, gives me a new respect for the micro foothills. Somehow, I felt like I had ridden much farther today, even though very short by my standards, it was not vegetarian, it had meat in it- the meat being going slow and concentrating on every yard of the road and making sure my wife had a positive experience.

Thirdly, again, I found that patience and encouragement go a long way in helping the new rider. Being positive, alone, helps a huge amount. Frequent breaks are welcomed.

Lastly, taking your spouse out for a ride like this is a sobering, delicate proposition. If successful, all is good. If the endeavour fails, well, you can't just say "goodbye, hope you come back some day", oh no...

Cathy told me that she already, by virtue of my ride stories, held the Team in awe for our exploits, but now having actually experienced a part of it, has a newfound respect. She won't be doing this kind of ride again in the near future, but she does want to do some flat Sunday riding if she can find the time. And now she can proudly boast she awed the Montclarians with her feat of bicycling prowess.

Her Crab Cove ride will be slightly... different... next time out.

Ride On my Friends